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Escapes: Your checklist of the musts for a Vegas visit

Vegas’ bright lights beckon a quarter of its 42 million visitors from Southern California.
Vegas’ bright lights beckon a quarter of its 42 million visitors from Southern California.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Buffets. Bars. Bud. Boxing. Sports books. Dining. Day trips. The NFL Draft.

It all adds up to Vegas.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. We’ve focused recently on the places that make Las Vegas a destination for 42 million people each year, more than a quarter of them from Southern California. Vegas is that rare destination that is more than the sum of its parts, and our writers fanned out across the city to tell you why and how.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty a-popping in the rest of the world. We have a new DMV fiasco story, a call for “fake passengers” at LAX (huh?), hiking from Pacific Palisades to Malibu with the high points but none of the pain points, a Q&A on insurance and the coronavirus and, in the End paper, a question about embracing or deflecting indelicate questions when you’re elsewhere.

Come on in. The water’s fine. Things are going swimmingly, and if they’re not, that’s what travel’s for.

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Get inspired to get away.

Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter from travel editor Catharine Hamm.

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Vegas, you never get old

Because it’s almost always coming up with something new or redefining what is there. To wit:

When you think “buffet,” do you think “bad food and lots of it”? Perish the thought. Time for a new perspective, and you’ll get one from this best of the best roundup, thanks to the team of Andrea Chang, Jenn Harris, Lucas Kwan Peterson and Brian Park.

Of all the gin joints in all the world, some of the best are in Las Vegas. Chang, Harris and Peterson fanned out across the city to bring you the best places to imbibe.

A cocktail from the Golden Tiki, the Apologies cocktail from the Dorsey at the Venetian and the Rosina margarita cocktail from Rosina at the Palazzo.
A cocktail from the Golden Tiki, the Apologies cocktail from the Dorsey at the Venetian and the Rosina margarita cocktail from Rosina at the Palazzo.
(Christopher DeVargas; Venetian Resort Las Vegas)

Cannabis is legal in Las Vegas, and Adam Tschorn, with help from the city’s budtenders, help you choose the right strain for your activity.

For sports books, there’s nothing like Vegas, columnist Arash Markazi writes, including a look at Circa, a giant hotel and casino that’s expected to open this year and is “one of the first to be built with sports wagering as a priority.”

Vegas has carved out a place among those offering great and unusual dining opportunities. Read about the best places on and off the Strip from the Chang/Harris/Peterson team, from Joël Robuchon to Tacos El Gordo, from Kabuto to Pho Bosa.

The charbroiled pork banh mi at Pho Bosa Kitchen in Las Vegas.
The charbroiled pork banh mi at Pho Bosa Kitchen in Las Vegas.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, mark your calendars for April 23-25 — either to be in Vegas or to avoid it. Those are the dates of the NFL Draft, which was in Nashville, Tenn., last year and attracted 600,000 people, David Klein writes. He offers a look at how the weekend is shaping up.

After a while, even the biggest Vegas fans can be overwhelmed. That’s when you need to get out of town for a day or two. Jay Jones offers 10 ideas for side trips.

For even more on Vegas, head here.

Valley of Fire, an hour from Vegas, has spectacular sandstone formations and pastel rock formations.
Valley of Fire, an hour from Vegas, has spectacular sandstone formations and pastel rock formations.
(Lily Bay / Los Angeles Times)
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Attention, fake passengers: LAX wants you

How often have you said, “If only they’d asked me, I could have told them (fill in the blank)”? Now, they are asking — they as in LAX. The airport is looking for 500 people to help test a new terminal, Mary Forgione writes. Find out how.

One dad’s DMV debacle may help you with Real ID

Real ID, the federally compliant driver’s license that you’ll need to board a domestic flight starting Oct. 1 (other forms of ID will work too), has encountered various snags. Christopher Reynolds’ experience getting his daughter her license may help you in your quest.

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Coronavirus and you: Are you covered?

The outbreak has so many tentacles that it’s hard to keep up. If you have travel insurance, you may think you’re covered. Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t. Here’s what you need to know right now, from my On the Spot column.

Hiking without the hell of it

You’d like to do a camping trip on the 67-mile Backbone Trail that snakes from Pacific Palisades to Malibu, but you don’t have the time or the desire to be uncomfortable, although you know along the trail there aren’t many campgrounds.

Enter Trail Magic Adventures, which allows you to do a day, a weekend or a week of camping, Mary Forgione writes. Here’s the great news: All you have to carry is a day pack. Your meals, your tent and your sleeping bag are provided. Read more on how to be a hiking hot shot without undue suffering.

Hikers at Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park, through which the 67-mile Backbone Trail passes.
Hikers at Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park, through which the 67-mile Backbone Trail passes.
(Sasha Blanchard / Trail Magic Adventures)

What we’re reading

Call it the Year of Outdoor Art — lots of it, Jennifer Nalewicki writes for Smithsonian. The Smithsonian’s properties are abloom with it, but you’ll also see some along Connecticut Avenue. The trend extends well beyond the D.C. bubble. You’ll see Dale Chihuly work in Nashville, Yayoi Kusama’s solo exhibition at the Botanical Garden in New York City and, in Paris, a new look, thanks to Christo, for the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a fascinating compendium of the unexpected.

Maybe you’ve experienced this moment: One of you has the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck and one of you doesn’t, and you’re in the airport security line. Is it OK for you to go ahead of your travel companion? The editors of Afar magazine chime in on the right thing to do. If I had a voice in this, I’d tell this anecdote: A TSA agent once advised my husband, on whom PreCheck had been bestowed while I, a PreCheck member, had been denied (it happens once in a while), “I’d stay with her.” Thank you, ma’am.

Who doesn’t love a bargain? But where do you begin your hunt? At SmarterTravel, Sarah Schlichter lists 17 sites and apps that will help you with it. Some you may know, but as a penny pincher, I found some that were new to me. Definitely worth perusing.

What we hope you’re reading

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End paper

The cab driver told me his name, then said: “But they call me Preacher Man.” Before I could stop myself, I asked why.

Because, he said, he used to be a radio evangelist. As he drove me from a small Tennessee city‘s airport to my hotel, where I would be for less than 24 hours, he wanted to talk eternity; I wanted to talk about the power of (and then take) a power nap. He prevailed.

He wanted to tell me about some favorite Bible verses. I listened politely. Then he wanted to know if I was a “Christian woman.” He already knew the answer to 50% of that question, so I filled in the other part.

If a driver in L.A. asked me this, I would have flipped. But in Tennessee? My later research showed that 81% of adults in the state identify as Christian (as opposed to 63% in California as opposed to 54% in Vermont), according to the Pew Research Center. Was he being nosy, or just himself?

The question we might ask ourselves when we are in new places: Are we too quick to judge, to take offense, based on what we expect at home? How much grace do we extend to others when we are in their backyard? I welcome your thoughts: travel@latimes.com.

Remember, wherever you are, whatever your beliefs, travel safely and travel well, and know that we’ll be here to welcome you home.


Newsletter
Get inspired to get away.

Explore California, the West and beyond with the weekly Escapes newsletter from travel editor Catharine Hamm.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
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