As Las Vegas has skyrocketed in popularity as both a place to live and visit, it's also become one of the nation's foremost destinations among gay and lesbian travelers. But it also differs from cities with well-defined gay scenes, in that relatively few GLBT travelers to "Sin City" come here specifically to check out gay nightlife. Instead, most come to see and do all the things mainstream visitors do here: gamble, see shows, eat at celeb-operated restaurants, and explore the spectacle that is the the Strip.
Given this, if you're a gay traveler to Vegas aiming to experience at least some of the city's gay scene, does it make more sense to stay at a hotel on the Strip or away from it?
Well, the answer to this questions depends on several factors. Here's are the pros and cons on where to stay in Vegas, depending on your objectives in visiting America's most outrageous city. Check out these profiles and scenarios, and consider which ones you identify most closely with:
Profile A: The Vegas Virgin: You're traveling with a significant other and have never been here before, and you're aiming to see all the major attractions and casinos. You wouldn't mind checking out a couple of gay bars, but this is a minor aspect of your trip.
Advice: Stay right on the Strip. You won't need a car to get around, and you'll be steps from all the major resort casinos.
Even better, they've set a standard for gay-friendliness, as the hotels have a Pride Concierge program (702-770-LGBT) designed to help gay and lesbian guests make the most of their trips to Vegas. Other terrific high-end properties include THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, Four Seasons, Bellagio, and Venetian - also consider Venetian's super-swank sister property, the all-suites Palazzo.
Profile B: The Party Monster: Viva Gay Las Vegas: You're single and/or traveling with party-minded friends. You may have been to Vegas before, but either way, you're keen on hitting plenty of gay clubs.
Advice: Stay near but off the Strip. A good bet is the Hard Rock Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, a hip, upscale property on Paradise Road that's near the Strip and within walking distance of the so-called "Fruit Loop", a small circuit of popular gay bars that includes Freezone and Piranha. The trendy celeb-favored Palms is another cool just-off-Strip option, although it's west of the I-15 and slightly farther from most gay nightlife.
Profile C: The Outdoorsy Romantic: You're traveling with a significant other and plan to visit the Strip here and there. But mostly you're seeking a luxurious, relaxed getaway in the desert that's convenient to the action but safely away from the crowds.
Advice: Rent a car, and stay on the outskirts of Vegas, either in the Henderson or Summerlin areas. Head to the Strip when you want to, but enjoy some peace and quiet back at your off-Strip hotel. In Henderson, the gay-friendly Green Valley Ranch Resort is within a short drive of the gay beach and recreational activities at Lake Mead.
In or near Summerlin, on LV's far west side, you can choose among the ritzy J.W. Marriott, the chic and hip Red Rock Casino Resort, or the more affordable but still pleasant Suncoast Hotel. Out here, there's a bounty of high-end restaurants and shops, and you're close to great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and - a bit farther afield - Mt. Charleston.
Another good luxury bet that puts you out in nature is the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort, which on the site of the former Ravella, which was prior to that the Ritz-Carlton. Also in this same area, the beautiful Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa is a gorgeous compound with a stellar spa and some great dining options.
Profile D: The Non-Gamer: An increasingly common presence in Las Vegas, you're the kind of traveler who loves hanging out on the Strip to see shows, eat well, and shop, but you have no interest in gambling and would still rather spend your nights at a slightly quieter though still attractive property.
Advice: Stay at one a handful of excellent properties within a walk or short cab ride of the Strip that are either nongaming or have small casinos. Good bets include the beautifully designed Renaissance Las Vegas (with its retro-hip Rat Pack-inspired design), the swank Platinum Las Vegas, or the low-keyed but upscale Westin Las Vegas Hotel.
Profile E: The Shoestring Traveler: You're counting pennies and simply need a roof over your head and a relatively comfy bed (that may or may not have a frighteningly garish bedspread).
Advice: Try one of the low-cost off-Strip casino resorts. No matter how broke you are, avoid the downtown properties unless you're into a low-rolling, hard-core gaming scene. Most of these places are dreary, although Main Street Station is a clean and pleasant exception. Better bets that offer great rates, decent-enough rooms, and relative proximity not just to the Strip but many gay bars include the cheap but surprisingly well-kept Sam's Town (a favorite with locals), the Orleans Hotel & Casino, the Suncoast (mentioned above), and Boulder Station.
Of course, you may wish to combine two or more of the above strategies in designing your own perfect Vegas vacation. Just keep in mind that while the city does have about 15 gay bars and a fast-growing gay population, it's a top destination because of all the fabulous mainstream attractions, not because of the particularly notable gay scene. If you're single and on the make or are otherwise vacationing alone, Vegas can be a tough place to meet a date, as most Vegas visitors travel here with significant others or friends.
The good news is that Las Vegas continues to become more progressive and gay-friendly every year, and for the most part, GLBT travelers will encounter as warm a welcome here as they would in any big U.S. city. And, of course, the caliber of concerts and shows in Vegas ranks among the best in the world. So pick your ideal lodging, and come to Vegas!