Destination: Las Vegas Shopping
Las Vegas shopping malls—if you can call them that—blur the line between real and faux, but the entertainment value is genuine
BY BARBARA PECK | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANTHONY-MASTERSON
|A romantic gondola ride on the Grand Canal at the Venetian; glass sculptures at Ripa di Monti, part of the Grand Canal Shoppes; shoes displayed like jewels at the Christian Louboutin boutique in the Shoppes at the Palazzo.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but to Las Vegas regulars it must have seemed that way when the Forum Shops sprang up at Caesars Palace in 1992, launching a whole new world of theme shopping in America. Till then, visitors had come mainly to try their luck in the casinos. Suddenly, they could marvel at replicas of Roman buildings, gaze up at ceilings painted with clouds so lifelike you’d swear you were witnessing an Italian twilight, and watch bizarre animatronic figures perform mythological scenes on the hour every hour. Oh, and they could also browse high-end shops they might not find at home: Armani, Bulgari and the like.
Since then, the shopping scene has exploded. It suits Las Vegas, the place where Americans come to reinvent themselves—at least temporarily. People who might be too busy in their hometowns to stroll through a humdrum shopping mall find themselves lured to Sin City’s incarnations—to buy, browse or simply gawk at the excess within. Sure, some stores are familiar, but here they’re often in stunning settings, accompanied by chic restaurants and free entertainment, plus the best people-watching anywhere. And for a therapeutic swim at the end of your shopping day, your hotel pool is waiting.
A word of warning: pace yourself. Resorts look close on the map, but it’s always a trek. Free trams run between some resorts and there are always cabs, of course. A day pass on the Monorail costs $13—but since it runs behind the Strip, it’s a walk to reach the stops. Luckily, most shops stay open till 11 p.m.
NEW KID IN TOWN
The big news is the opening last December of Crystals, the retail portion of the new CityCenter development on the Strip. (CityCenter also includes four gargantuan—is anything small in Vegas?—hotel towers, one a Mandarin Oriental, for a total of 6,291 new guest rooms.) Crystals’ exterior, designed by the renowned Daniel Libeskind, is a whole new look for the Strip: an angular three-story jumble of glass and stainless steel. Inside is a glittering array of luxury retailers: Prada, Dior, Vuitton (North America’s biggest, naturally), Tiffany . . . you get the idea. New to Vegas are Marni, Paul Smith and Kiton, where men’s suits fetch $6,000-plus.
Crystals’ interior design, by David Rockwell, celebrates nature with hanging gardens of flowering plants, a wooden sculpture called “Treehouse” and a water feature in which water jets carve ice sculptures into constantly changing shapes. For dining, there’s BESO, Eva Longoria Parker’s restaurant, as well as offerings from Todd English and Wolfgang Puck.
If Crystals doesn’t slake your thirst for high-end retail, take a stroll through the Esplanade, the name for the shopping areas at both the Wynn and Encore hotels. These malls (though the word seems too meager, somehow) are anything but sterile. With richly colored carpeting, shining tiles and whimsical light fixtures, it’s clear that no expense was spared. The shopping is for high-rollers, too, starting with the Ferrari store. Yes, you heard me. Unless you already happen to own a Ferrari or Maserati, you’ll pay $10 for the privilege of strolling past the gleaming autos. The car prices? Easily over $115,000.
Don’t worry, browsing is free in the other stores. Step inside Alexander McQueen, Hermès and Manolo Blahnik—the only U.S. shop outside New York, as locals are quick to point out. Jo Malone, the inspired British scent-maker, is here as well. The Homestore and Wynn LVNV sell the same items used to decorate the Wynn hotels, from vases to faux-fur throws. Next door to the Wynn is the Shoppes at The Palazzo. Several high-end retailers made their Vegas debut here when it opened in 2007, most notably the two-floor Barneys; Christian Louboutin, whose brilliantly conceived red-soled footwear can cost more than $3,000; Catherine Malandrino (French fashions); and Anya Hindmarch (sophisticated handbags). Look for one-of-a-kind couture at Annie Creamcheese Designer Vintage, such as a lurid James Galanos top and skirt that’s going for $1,850. (There are also plenty of options for less than $100.) And finally, for your edification, head to Bauman Rare Books to see a 1935 illustrated edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, signed by Henri Matisse.
You don’t even have to go outside to connect with the Palazzo’s sister mall, the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. Like at the Forum, you’ll feel as if you’re strolling cobblestoned streets under a twilit sky, but here you’re in Venice rather than Rome. The storefronts resemble Venetian villas, and a quarter-mile-long canal runs through the property, complete with gondolas and warbling gondoliers. Rest your feet by taking a boat ride ($15 per person) over the dyed-blue water.
Many shops at the Venetian are chains, but you’ll find actual Venetian glassware at Ripa de Monti, which carries colorful blown-glass jewelry, vases and sculpture. At the center of it all is St. Mark’s Square—just like in Venice, though with a notable lack of pigeons. There are, however, “statues” that suddenly move, revealing themselves to be costumed actors, as well as performances by roving opera singers. Take time to drink it all in over lunch at Postrio Bar & Grill, Wolfgang Puck’s patio restaurant (702-796-1110).
A visit to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace should definitely be on any shopping agenda. Expanded since the 1992 opening, it now offers some 160 stores and more than a dozen restaurants. Every hour, those animatronic figures do their thing, a startling show about the fall of Atlantis punctuated with mist, trumpet music, bolts of lightning and flashes of fire. A 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium helps set the scene, while the neon Cheesecake Factory sign adds a discordant backdrop. A second animatronic show at the Forum stars Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
Even the more traditional malls in Vegas offer glitz and entertainment. True to its name, Fashion Show puts on weekend shows, with models strutting the 80-foot-long catwalk dressed in outfits offered by the mall’s retailers (Fri.–Sun. hourly, 12–6). The mall is near the Palazzo and the Wynn, and you can’t miss the giant steel canopy called “The Cloud.” Suspended 130 feet overhead, it serves as a sunshade for the plaza below and doubles as a gargantuan billboard. Fashion Show has 250 shops and restaurants; its six anchor stores include Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Visit Boot Star for a throwback to Vegas’s cowboy days. Some 1,500 pairs of cowboy boots line the walls, ranging in price from $200 to $2,500. Most are handmade, fashioned from everything from ostrich to shiny, pebbly stingray hide.
Though still relatively new, these mega-shopping malls have already begun the grand Vegas tradition of reinvention. To see this firsthand, head to Miracle Mile Shops, on the Strip at Planet Hollywood. Formerly part of the Aladdin resort, this mall still includes sections with a Moroccan-village look. Other parts have been updated with contemporary color-morphing light fixtures, Warhol-style artworks and even upholstered benches (a welcome rarity in this go-go town).
Prices are more affordable at many of Miracle Mile’s 170 shops, compared to other outlets in town. H&M is here, and a DC Shoes just opened, along with Billabong and Steve Madden. For a more permanent souvenir, stop by Club Tattoo, partly owned by a band member of Linkin Park.
SLOW IT DOWN
Almost everywhere you go in Vegas, there’s music nonstop, piped in from hidden speakers or blaring from above. Add the clang of the casinos, the rush of traffic and perhaps the distant gunfire from the pirate show at Treasure Island, and you may wish to get away from it all. In the slightly seedy Arts District, close to downtown, low-rise storefronts are being converted to artists’ studios and co-ops that open their doors on the First Friday of every month. But visitors are welcome any time (except Sunday, when many places are closed). The Arts Factory (107 E. Charleston Blvd.) displays and sells works by local artists, as does the Place on Main (1054 S. Main St.). Many newcomers discover this district when they visit the Attic (1018 S. Main St.; 702-388-4088; closed Sun.–Mon.), where you climb the zebra-patterned stairs to find a vintage-clothing heaven. (The neighboring Rainbow Feather Co. is where showgirls buy their headdresses.)
When asked where locals shop, taxi drivers like to suggest two-year-old Town Square, an open-air mall just 10 minutes south of the Strip. The tenants will look familiar: Whole Foods, Old Navy, Borders, even an 18-screen movie theater. But it’s a welcome break in Vegas, with its stage set of “urban” streets, its village green (covered in AstroTurf, mind you)—and the absence of slot machines. It’s a good place to refresh yourself before returning to the high-rise fantasyland on the Strip.
SHOPPING WITH THE KIDS
While much of Vegas is aimed at adults,
families come here too. The shows at the
Forum Shops are a surefire hit for children
of any age. Here are some other draws:
LAS VEGAS PREMIUM OUTLETS
Away from the Strip, a discount mall
with teen-pleasing brands like American
Apparel, Quiksilver, Ecko and 7 For All
Mankind. Have lunch at Makino, an Asian
buffet that’ll please everyone (sushi, salads,
noodle soups, tempura, tons of desserts).
FAO SCHWARTZ AT THE
Look for the 47-foot-tall Trojan Horse.
Inside are bins of candies and toys galore:
Playmobil pirate ships, stuffed animals
(collectible Steiff white tiger, $256) and
a video game arcade. Outside is a gelato
stand with 16 delectable flavors.
MIRACLE MILE SHOPS
Watch the staff perform tricks at
Houdini’s Magic Shop. Nearby is the
hourly (half-hourly on weekends)
automated “rainstorm”: Lights dim,
thunder sounds and a deluge pours
down. And how about this?
Ben & Jerry’s is right there.
The imaginatively designed play
area is filled with kids climbing in
a treehouse, sliding down poles and
roaming the Hedge Maze. Go on
Wednesday for story time (11 a.m.–
RCI-affiliated resorts in
Las Vegas include:
GRANDVIEW AT LAS VEGAS
This fully equipped 1,500-room resort is
centrally located, next to the South Point
Casino and near the Strip. 9940 Las
Vegas Blvd. S.
"Lying by the pool was a joy, as
there were plenty of loungers, tables
"Free computer room with eight
SUMMER BAY RESORTS
LAS VEGAS DESERT CLUB
The Strip is within walking distance
of this modern 648-room resort.
Each suite comes with a private
patio and fireplace. 3950 Koval Lane
“Free popcorn and coffee were
available every day.”
“It was nice to have covered
parking right next to your unit.”
THE CLIFFS AT PEACE CANYON
A tranquil alternative to the bustle
of the Strip, this 176-room resort
offers barbecue facilities and an
outdoor fireplace. 4550 S. Grand
“Make sure your GPS is current;
lots of new roads.”
“A regular shuttle bus makes
getting to the Strip easy.”
HILTON GRAND VACATIONS
CLUB AT THE LAS VEGAS
Adjacent to the Las Vegas Hilton,
this 2,995-room resort provides
world-class accommodations and
an array of on-site conveniences.
455 Karen Ave.
“Close to all the action but
a quiet resort.”
“The pool bar offered great
WYNDHAM GRAND DESERT
A 787-room family-friendly resort
less than a mile from the Strip.
265 E. Harmon Dr.
“Separate family pool for folks
“The game room was awesome.”
“Like an oasis in the midst of
a big city.”
THE CARRIAGE HOUSE
Just one block off the Strip, this
155-room resort combines the
energy of Las Vegas with the
comforts of home. 105 E.
“A quiet treasure.”
“Even the towels were fluffy.”
For more information, including more
member reviews, visit RCI.com or call
800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476
(Points). Club Members, please call your
specific Club or RCI telephone number.
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
doubles from $190
RESORT & CASINO
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
doubles from $89 per night
3752 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
doubles from $279 per night
3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
doubles from $157
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
from $239 per night
3900 Las Vegas Blvd. S.;
from $75 per night
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: Spring 2010 Issue