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Though in the middle of the Nevada desert, Las Vegas is a neon island that welcomes all who come to its glittering shores. Whether you're a big spender or down on your luck, Vegas is the consummate adult playground designed to keep you entertained, satiated, satisfied and distracted from the real world.
To celebrate this rare dichotomy and versatility, let's look at Las Vegas through two different lenses: Won the Jackpot and Lost Your Shirt. Whether we fit the Fat Cat or the Strapped for Cash profile, there's something in Vegas for all of us. Keep in mind, however, that no matter where you are on this spectrum when you arrive, what attracts people to Vegas in the first place is the fact that the way you come in is not necessarily how you will leave.
Here, a few of my favorite things to do and places to see in Vegas, whether you're in the money or not.
1. Grab a burger
Nothing screams "I'm rich" more loudly than spending 60 bucks on a burger. Yes, that's what you'll pay for the privilege of having the French chef Hubert Keller (of Top Chef Masters fame) flip you "The Rossini," which features Kobe-style Wagyu beef from Australia with sautéed foie gras, shaved truffles and a Madeira sauce on an onion bun. You'll find it at Burger Bar in Mandalay Place.
However, if your bank account is less Madeira sauce, more yellow mustard, and you don't mind eating under purple neon lights and a mirrored ceiling, then the Peppermill Coffee Shop is the way to go without going fast food. Peppermill opened in 1972 and its decor is like a cheesy lounge lizard version of a classic HoJo (Howard Johnson's), yet it now comes off as timely and cool. The signature burger is a half-pound, all-beef patty served on a grilled Parmesan sourdough roll for $11.50.
2. Go shopping
Shopping in Las Vegas is legendary, and you'll enjoy the fact that it's not just what they're selling but how they're selling it. Most high-end shops create displays so elaborate they could debut as sets on a Broadway stage. You'll find yourself oohing and aahing over a performance of $500 shoes. Each casino has its own shopping extravaganza, but I've always enjoyed the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Why my local mall can't have spiral escalators and a fountain show recounting the myth of Atlantis I have no idea. From Christian Dior to Christian Louboutin, Valentino to Versace, the world's most recognized designers are here to help you part with your winnings.
But, if you didn't win enough on the nickel slots for a $2,000 suit and you still want to buy some new threads, head to the outlet malls. This being Vegas, there are actually two. Premium Outlets has posts on both the north and south ends of the Strip, so you're never far from dealing and deals. Look for discounts on your favorite stores, including Chico's, Brooks Brothers, Nautica and Nike.
3. Cruise the Strip
There's an optical illusion effect to the Vegas Strip that will trick you into thinking you can walk the entire thing. ("But the Bellagio is right there, I can see it!") Don't do it! Desert temperatures rise and fall drastically, and you might not be in the most comfortable shoes. For those who really want to see and be seen, a limo is out of the question since … well, no one can see you. To truly make heads turn, you'll want to rent a car from Exotic Rentals of Las Vegas, where a bright shiny red Ferrari Spider has a daily rate of $2,279.
If that sum just made you spit out your coffee, consider a bus line that services the Strip, a double decker, the Deuce. It runs 24/7, is great for sightseeing, and you can hop on and off whenever you want. For $8 you can get a 24-hour pass. So buy just when you are going to use it; you can even stretch into the next day.
4. See a show
What isn't exciting in Vegas? The theatrics, the characters, the outfits. And that's just the people-watching. This is a place where divas sing, and fountains dance, and yet even with a dizzying array of shows to choose from, some just rise to the top.
Cirque du Soleil's "O" at the Bellagio Hotel is quite possibly the most astounding show you will ever see. Acrobats, synchronized swimmers and characters perform breathtaking acts on, in and above water.
Tickets go for up to $155 for the best seats and are worth every hard-won penny. There are two shows nightly. Check prices for the 10 p.m. performance, which is sometimes 20 percent off normal prices.
For the best free offering in Vegas, my money is on Joe Krathwohl and his show "The Birdman of Las Vegas." Joe is the maestro and his "showgirls" are a variety of birds, including Amazon parrots, Hawaiian cockatoos and even a condor that boasts a 10-foot wingspan. Trust me, Joe isn't one of those strange men who hang out on beach boardwalks covered in birds. His show is fascinating, entertaining, heartwarming and — may I reiterate? — free. Catch it at the Hawaiian Marketplace, 3743 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Fridays through Sundays.
5. Get your thrills
When you have to sign a disclaimer stating that you won't sue in case of injury or death, you know you're in for a good time. As I said, Vegas is an adult playground and the toys offered give you a once-in-a-lifetime, adrenaline-pumping experience or one you never dreamed of having. For a heart-racing good time, you could try the Richard Petty Driving Experience, if you have a race car driver in you dying to get out. The "Experience of a Lifetime" gets you in a helmet and behind the wheel of a NASCAR race car for 30 laps of white-knuckle speed. Cost for all this fun is $1,349.
Or you could skydive without jumping out of a plane. Vegas Indoor Skydiving gives you the feeling of this bucket list thrill using a vertical wind tunnel that you jump into and voilà! You're flying! Only you are indoors. A trampoline and padded walls make for a very safe experience. Rates begin at $75 for a single flight. You can add on, and there are group rates as well.