Spruced-Up Pizzazz in Downtown Las Vegas

Spruced-Up Pizzazz in Downtown Las Vegas

Skip the Strip and go downtown for a refreshed model of Las Vegas’ original gambling district

By: Monica Poling
<p>Fremont East Entertainment District in downtown Las Vegas received a $5.5 million makeover in 2007, which included new restaurants, sidewalk cafes...

Fremont East Entertainment District in downtown Las Vegas received a $5.5 million makeover in 2007, which included new restaurants, sidewalk cafes and shopping. // © 2015 Creative Commons user dmaudsley

Feature image (above): Fremont Street Experience, a five-block pedestrian plaza, glows under the neon lights of Viva Vision in the downtown area. // © 2015 Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority

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For more than 100 years, Las Vegas has attracted visitors from around the world. While the Las Vegas Strip is the area’s big draw, downtown Las Vegas was once the epicenter of tourism. 

At the heart of downtown is Fremont Street, which welcomed its first hotel, Hotel Nevada (now Golden Gate Hotel & Casino), in 1906. Although a number of famed hotels opened in the area, the downtown area began to lose its luster during the 1950s, when the giant mega-resorts and casinos opening along the Strip called to visiting travelers. 

While downtown remained relatively underappreciated for the next half-century, things began to change in 1995, when the Fremont Street Experience opened. At the center of the new three-block pedestrian plaza was Viva Vision, a massive video canopy and light show featuring more than 12 million energy efficient LED lights and reestablishing Las Vegas bling in downtown.

Although the launch of the Fremont Street Experience is largely credited with spurring downtown’s rebirth, numerous new projects are helping to reinvent the area as well.

18B Arts District
Located just south of downtown Las Vegas, this 18-block zone was first introduced in 1988 to encourage the growth of the arts in the area. There are more than two dozen galleries and studios; a sizable array independent antique and vintage stores; a commercial art center known as the Arts Factory; and a variety of outdoor murals and public art.


Downtown Container Park
Downtown Container Park is the newest downtown development. Located within the confines of Fremont Street East Entertainment District, the park is actually a family-friendly shopping and dining area consisting of 30 repurposed shipping containers and 41 modular metal cubes stacked on top of each other.  

All the restaurants and shops located here are owned by local, small-business owners — a refreshing break from most Las Vegas shopping. There’s also a performance stage, and a kids’ play area called the Treehouse, which includes a 33-foot slide.


Fremont East Entertainment District
Fremont East Entertainment District, also simply called Fremont East District, is rapidly becoming a place where Las Vegas locals go to hang out. First established in 2002, Fremont East District gained traction in 2007, when the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency and local business owners committed $5.5 million to build a pedestrian-friendly community complete with restaurants, sidewalk cafes and shopping. 

The scene here is less about Las Vegas glitz and more about gathering and connecting. Shops are mostly operated by small business owners, and restaurants offer tasty alternatives to their higher-ticket siblings found along the Strip. 

Take La Comida, a Mexican restaurant located on 6th Street, for example. The decor is rustic Mexican, and the food is about as authentic as you can get without needing a passport. The menu features traditional favorites, such as Mexican street corn and tortilla soup, but hipsters who need more gourmet options will also find plenty to please, including the Pollo al Horno baked in a parchment bag and opened tableside. 


Fremont Street Experience
The five-block pedestrian plaza continues to offers the spectacular $70 million Viva Vision light and sound show nightly, but new projects are also underway.  

The 12-story, slot machine-inspired SlotZilla at Fremont Street Experience zipline offers two ways to fly under the Viva Vision canopy. The lower zipline flies halfway down the Fremont Street Experience in a seated-style experience. The brand-new “Zoomline,” which launches from 114 feet above Fremont Street, sends riders all the way down the Fremont Street Experience, beneath the Viva Vision Canopy headfirst, superhero-style.


Symphony Park
This 61-acre, mixed-use urban community is home to a number of facilities, including Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and Discovery Children’s Museum. 

Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is housed in a Frank Gehry-designed building, which opened in 2010. The center is dedicated to advance the research and treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease

The Smith Center, Las Vegas’ first regional performing arts center, opened in 2012. It welcomes visiting music, theater and dance companies from around the world and is also home to Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theater.