Whenever I tell some I lived in Las Vegas, the response is often the same. It follows a predictable, two-step process.
First, there’s confusion. With access to almost every vice known to man, Vegas doesn’t seem like a place to call home. Why would you choose to live there?
But then, there’s curiosity. To live in a city as debaucherous as Vegas must be interesting. What is that like?
Yes, there’s temptation, and yes, there’s insanity. But, these qualities aren’t part of a Las Vegas local’s everyday experience.
I moved to Las Vegas for a job in nightlife marketing and lived there for a year. I found that beneath its exterior as a world-renowned city, Las Vegas is just a small town with plenty more growing up to do.
What Are the People Like?
If you plan on living in Las Vegas, it’s fair to ask what kind of culture permeates the city. After all, Vegas has a reputation that precedes itself. From the year that I lived there, I came away with a few general impressions.
Most people you meet in Las Vegas aren’t from there. And like the rest of Nevada, Las Vegas is a city of transplants. According to 2017 US census data, more than 50 percent of the total population were born in another state. Also, 21 percent were born outside the country.
Most of my colleagues at the company where I worked were like me. From Washington to North Carolina, they moved to Vegas from around the country also. There was also an international vibe as well, since I worked with people from England and Canada, too.
I’ve never lived in Los Angeles, but I’ve spent enough time there to know what it’s like. And living in Las Vegas sometimes felt like a suburb of LA. Many times, your social status feels attached to your appearance and how much money you make. There’s no question that many people in Las Vegas often put a premium on the superficial.
But, not everyone in Vegas is shallow. Most people I met were the opposite. The friends that I made, who were natives, had good intentions and values. Growing up in Sin City didn’t bankrupt them of their morals.
The transplants that I worked with weren’t much different, either. No doubt that some gave in to the temptation of the Strip at times (myself included). Granted, regrettable behavior is bound to happen when you work in Vegas nightlife.
I’m a believer, though, that it’s possible to find good people anywhere. Living in Las Vegas was no exception. Will you cross paths with people with shallow values? Of course. But, is that every person you meet? No. The people of Las Vegas might seem superficial on the surface. Yet if you give them a chance, they might surprise you with good qualities, too.
What Are the Upsides of Living in Las Vegas?
For the most part, I found more good than bad about living in Las Vegas. There were two things about living there that I liked in particular.
Family and Friends Will Visit
Almost every month during the year that I lived in Las Vegas, there was always someone who came to visit. It was fun to share experiences often reserved for the super rich with friends and family. And once I became a local, I enjoyed showing out-of-towners the other things beyond the Strip, too.
The Downside: Those frequent visits can get overwhelming. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes I tired of friends asking for nightclub hookups. I’d also feel guilty knowing I gave preferential treatment to some more than others. It’s not something I’m proud to admit, but that’s the influence of Vegas nightlife culture.
Vegas Is a 24/7 City
Most people living in Las Vegas work in the hotel and casino industry, and jobs like that come with odd hours. As a result, other businesses around the city cater to clientele at any time of day. You can go grocery shopping at Smith’s at 3 a.m. Or you could grab a late night drink and snack at a Buffalo Wild Wings at 4 a.m. If you’re a night owl, you’ll enjoy the 24/7 nature of living in Las Vegas.
The Downside: It’s easy to lose track of time, especially in casinos. I remember one evening, a friend and I went to South Point to hang out and watch basketball. Who needs to pay for League Pass when you can watch for free at a nearby sports book? Anyways, after the games finished at around 9:30 p.m., we stuck around to chat and have a few more drinks. But before we realized, the clock had fast-forwarded to 3 a.m.
The Cost of Living in Las Vegas
Living in Las Vegas is not that expensive. Many people have left states like California for the affordability of Nevada.
If you’re looking for more bang for your buck, you might want to consider a move to Sin City. Doing so could be a wise financial decision.
The Silver State has one of the lowest tax rates in the country and offers residents many incentives. Nevada doesn’t have personal income, estate, and inheritance taxes. And in 2018, Kiplinger placed Nevada fifth in its rankings of most tax-friendly states.
Residents save on taxes because tourists foot most of the bill. In 2018, Nevada redeemed about $1.5 billion in taxes paid by state hotels/casinos. Those gaming revenues supplied about 47 percent of Nevada’s general fund, and that was more than any other industry that year.
Growing, yet Affordable Housing Market
Housing prices have been on the rise in Las Vegas since the Great Recession. But, the market for buying and renting is still reasonable.
According to 2017 US census data, the median home price in Las Vegas was $209,700. Compare that to the cost of a home in California. The same data shows that the median home price in San Francisco was $927,400.
Median gross rent takes expenses like utilities and fuels into account. And in 2017, that census figure was $1,024 per month in Las Vegas. Compared again to a city like San Francisco, where median gross rent was $1,709, Las Vegas comes out ahead.
When I lived in Las Vegas, I rented a one-bedroom condo in a gated community in Spring Valley. From late 2014 to early 2016, I paid $750 in rent plus energy, which cost an average of $60 per month.
The cost of utilities and fuels doesn’t vary much. Energy expenses rise when the weather heats up. But those costs drop when the climate becomes mild. I’ll have more on the weather in a later section below.
The Strip is what powers the Las Vegas economy. So if you’re coming to Vegas without any work, your easiest bet is to start there with your search.
More than a quarter of Las Vegas’s workforce is in leisure and hospitality. In December 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 300,000 residents work in that industry.
The Strip’s economy has enjoyed steady growth over the last 20 years. Despite the Great Recession, leisure and hospitality has grown close to 45 percent.
At $21.37 per hour, wages are 14 percent lower than the national average, per data from the BLS. But, the median household income in 2017 was $53,159, according to the US Census.
How to Deal With Las Vegas Weather
Weather is a chief concern for anyone considering a move to Las Vegas. Most people cool on the idea of living there because of its desert climate.
Yes, it gets hot. But the city has a dry heat, which is bearable to manage compared to the humidity in other parts of the country. I loved summer nights in Las Vegas. To me, the desert heat is enjoyable when you don’t have the glare of the sun piercing your eyes.
As I mentioned earlier, Vegas reserves heat only for summer. From late May to mid-September, it’s scorching. High temperatures peak in July to an average of about 106 degrees, according to Vegas.com.
But for the rest of the year, the weather is mild. Vegas enjoys plenty of desert sunshine, which makes fall nonexistent. Also, colder months like December and January aren’t too chilly either.
Transportation in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is a car-centric city. If you decide to live here, the most convenient way to get around is by owning a car.
From the grocery store to the gym, everything is a short drive away, no matter where you live. Owning a car is also useful when you want to get out of town. Cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix are only a four-hour drive away.
If you prefer flying, McCarran International Airport is close to every part of town. It takes about 20 to 35 minutes to drive there from anywhere in Las Vegas. Few places in the world have the luxury of an international airport within their city limits.
Things to Do If You’re a Las Vegas Local
No one can ever say that Vegas is boring. If they do, they’re lying. From live concerts to 24/7 gambling, you name it, Las Vegas has it.
But the world-class entertainment you find on the Strip isn’t all that Las Vegas has to offer. In fact, unless they’re working, most locals spend little time there. If you come to Las Vegas with an open mind, you’ll learn that there’s plenty to see and experience elsewhere, too.
Below are a few experiences I enjoyed while living in Las Vegas.
Mount Charleston has something to offer all outdoor enthusiasts. The Mount Charleston Wilderness has 40 miles of hiking trails with varying elevation. And for those into winter sports, Lee Canyon is the place to go. It’s the closest skiing and snowboarding resort to the greater Las Vegas area. A season pass costs about $550.
Red Rock Canyon is Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. And, more than 2 million people visit each year. Hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding are only a few of the many things you can do. The schedule varies, but Red Rock usually opens daily to visitors at around 6 a.m. Buy an annual support pass for $30, which gives you unlimited access for a year.
Hoover Dam is one of the seven modern civil engineering wonders of the United States. Constructed during the Great Depression, it took less than five years to build. I visited Hoover Dam for free while driving back from a trip to Phoenix. But if you want to learn more about its history, there’s a tour that costs $15 for adults.
Bars and Nightlife
Atomic Liquors is a downtown dive bar that’s steeped in Las Vegas history. Beginning first as a cafe, it went on to become the first bar to receive a tavern license in Las Vegas. Most of Atomic’s patrons have been working class residents. But from Barbra Streisand to Clint Eastwood, it’s enjoyed visits from the rich and famous, too.
Downtown Container Park is an open-air gathering place with shops, restaurants, and bars. Constructed from large shipping containers, the park opened in 2013. It’s not hard to find because of the giant-flame throwing mantis that sits in front of the entrance.
Gold Spike is a boutique hotel in Downtown Vegas that turns into a literal playground for adults. In its courtyard, you can play four square, cornhole, giant beer pong, and more. Inside, there’s darts, billiards, and arcade games, plus a live DJ.
PKWY Tavern isn’t too different from Gold Spike. It has oversized kid games like giant jenga as well as video games, too. The original PKWY Tavern even has a miniature bowling alley. Since opening in 2015, PKWY has since expanded to four locations in Las Vegas and Henderson.
Video poker pubs are everywhere in Las Vegas. Rarely will you drive around the city without passing one on each block. With bar food and a solid selection of drinks, these 24/7 taverns are good if you’re in the mood for a laidback evening. Two of my favorites were Steiner’s Nevada Style Pub and PT’s Pub.
SkinnyFats has a simple concept: cater to both health fanatics and those seeking comfort food. Whether you’re looking for something fit or fattening, SkinnyFats has you covered. Diners will enjoy American-inspired cuisine served in a lunch-counter setting. It has several locations around Las Vegas and Henderson.
BabyStacks is a Hawaiian-inspired diner with five restaurants around Las Vegas. Order island-influenced favorites like the spam scramble or kalua grilled cheese. But save room for BabyStacks’s specialty – the red velvet pancakes.
Juan’s Flaming Fajitas & Cantina is a must-visit for Mexican cuisine. As the name suggests, its forte is its flaming fajitas of steak, pork, chicken, and shrimp. Find Juan’s in Spring Valley as well as in Henderson.
Firefly is a Spanish-influenced tapas restaurant located on Paradise Road near the Strip. Chef John Simmons started the restaurant in 2003. But before that, he served as executive chef of Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel.
Eat serves American comfort food made with French culinary flair. Like the founder of Firefly, owner/chef Natalie Young first honed her chops on the Strip. That included a stint at the Eiffel Tower restaurant with renowned chef John Joho. Eat has two locations in Las Vegas – one in downtown and another in Summerlin.
Hot N Juicy Crawfish offers an Asian-meets-Cajun take on steamed crustaceans. Order by the pound and flavor your shellfish with a medley of seasonings and spices. Hot N Juicy has three locations – two in Chinatown and one at Planet Hollywood.
Tacos El Gordo brings an authentic taste of Tijuana to Las Vegas. From adobada to suadero, choose from nine varieties of meat to top your tacos. In 2010, Tacos El Gordo opened its first location in Vegas. It has since expanded to three more restaurants in the area.
That was only a snapshot of what Las Vegas has to offer off the Strip. There are many other things to do, like Lake Mead or the Neon Museum, that I didn’t experience. But now you know that Vegas has more to share beyond the bright lights of the Strip.
Summing up Living in Las Vegas
I enjoyed my time in Nevada. I wouldn’t work in nightlife again, but I sometimes consider moving back. The cost of living and mild desert weather make Vegas an attractive place to call home. Despite its reputation, it’s possible to live a quiet and comfortable life there.
Las Vegas is a city of extremes. On one side, you have lavish opulence and excess. On the other, you have suburban simplicity. The life of a local is more of the latter.