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Over The Hill and Through the Desert.- A Birthday Escape Plan for 3 days In Las Vegas

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Las Vegas is the ideal location to celebrate your 40th birthday, especially when you have a little help from your friends at The Escape Plans. We’ve been to Vegas 5 times, and, while some things never change, more things are constantly evolving. We’re happy to share our knowledge of the city with you, fresh from our vacation last summer. Vegas has a reputation for being a high octane destination, with visitors going “all-in” for the duration. While we’re sure you’re a young, vibrant 40, we want to remind you that your getaway is a marathon, not a sprint. You already had your 21st birthday, so this escape is heavy on the booze, but will also incorporate a few alcohol-optional activities, should you need a short breather from the bars. There’s something about the time change, compounded with the altitude and the desert climate that reminds us to drink more water and eat the occasional vegetable, while we’re there. We also want to encourage you to have someone in your group mention that you’re celebrating a milestone birthday, as often as possible. You can get a room upgrade, free drinks, free food, and plenty of other perks for the simple reason that Las Vegas is the land of hospitality, and they want you to have a great time. That being said, let’s formulate your escape plan!

When you land at the airport, there are shuttle companies who will charge you $8-10 per person to get to Mandalay Bay. There is usually a bit of a wait, since they won’t leave until the shuttle is full. We recommend taking Uber or Lyft from the airport, since the wait is much shorter and the cost can be much less, depending on demand. You’ll follow the rideshare signs and go down to Level 1 of the terminal building. Depending on which terminal you’re in, the pickup area will be outside on the ground level or in a parking garage. Don’t be intimidated by a potential crowd, the wait is fast, and your driver will help you find them.

After checking in at the hotel, you have to hit up In-N-Out Burger. It’s a must-do for people from the East Coast. After a long flight, you’ll be tired and hungry, and a double-double is going to hit different. Everyone has heard of ordering their burger and fries “animal style,” but you should also know that the fries aren’t that crispy unless you order them well-done, and the Neopolitan shake is quite possibly the best menu hack of all time.

From there, you should head to the AMPM convenience store (the Vegas WaWa) near your hotel to pick up some essentials. A tip we like is to bring an empty rolling suitcase to transport your haul. The average high temperature in May is 90 degrees, you’ll be doing a lot of walking and drinking, and it’s really easy to get dehydrated. Buy yourself some cases of water to keep in your room, it’ll save you a ton of money. If you want to head straight to the pool when you wake up, it’s a good idea to have protein bars or something quick to eat for breakfast. The desert sun is harsh, so be sure to use sunscreen and SPF lip balm (trust us on this one). It goes without saying that the desert is dry, but what you might not know is that the dry air can cause cold/allergy-like symptoms and nosebleeds. You might want to get a small portable humidifier for your room, or a more practical remedy is saline nose spray. We also like to bring back some snacks and Waterboy packets to help with hangovers (or visit our Amazon store to stock up in advance).

After you get settled, it’s about time to start the party. For pre-dinner drinks, we’ve heard great things about Golden Tiki and Mas Por Favor. We weren’t able to visit either of these spots, but they’re at the top of our to-do list for our next trip, after we received recommendations from friends and saw them on all the YouTube travel channels. Both are one-of-a-kind, over-the-top Vegas type experiences with strong drinks and fun ambience.

You have three options for dinner, on your first night in town. You told us Asian cuisine is one of your favorites, and all three restaurants specialize in Asian-fusion. We’ve had dinner at each of these spots during our last 2 trips to Vegas, and can wholeheartedly recommend them all. They all have an energetic vibe, upscale food with a laidback ambience, and great drink selections.

Our favorite choice for a group is Best Friend. They have a really reasonably priced tasting menu, so you can try a bit of everything. Saying “a bit” is a little misleading as the portions are enormous. The cocktails here are innovative and complement the food. Andrea has been daydreaming about the slippery shrimp since August.

You told us you’re interested in recommendations that are off the beaten path, and Sparrow and Wolf checks that box. Located off the Strip in Chinatown, the focus here is more on small plates, but there is also a tasting menu.

Being from Jersey City, you’re close to Momofuku’s NYC location. While the food here is outstanding, this isn’t something you can only experience in Vegas. The food is incredible, so be sure to check it out closer to home, if you don’t eat there on this trip. We love the energy and so many of the offerings at Cosmopolitan, the casino where it’s located. You’ll visit Cosmo for post-dinner drinks, regardless of which restaurant you decide to reserve tonight.

On your first night in town, you have to see the Strip lit up at night. There are a lot of attractions that you can see as you walk between casinos. The Bellagio Fountains are located nearby Best Friend and Momofuku, and are a must-see. The shows run every 15 minutes at night, so you can catch it without much planning. People watching is an attraction in and of itself, but be mindful of people running scams, both walking the Strip and later on Fremont Street.

After you take in the sights of the Strip, you’ll have a unique-to-Vegas experience at the series of speakeasies within Cosmopolitan. The Ski Lodge looks like a bar at a winter resort, complete with falling snow through a window behind the bar. Next door is Ghost Donkey, specializing in margaritas and Mexican-inspired cocktails. They also have an extensive mezcal and tequila menu. “Finding” these hidden bars isn’t difficult, they are both located within the larger Superfrico restaurant.

You can gamble at Cosmo or head back to Mandalay Bay to play and take a break from drinking (or at least paying for your drinks). Don’t forget to have the front desk attendant check your play on your MGM card at the end of your stay, sometimes they will comp a portion of your room charge, if you spend enough in the casino. For this reason, it’s important to charge any food, drinks, etc. at other MGM resorts to your room. They can’t waive it, if you didn’t charge it. Scared money don’t make money ;)

Since you like to sleep in, we’re including only one breakfast recommendation. Our favorite breakfast in Vegas is at Sadelle’s in Bellagio. You’ll need to make a reservation, as it’s very popular and the standby line is long and will waste precious time. If a sit-down breakfast isn’t your thing, they serve breakfast at Mandalay Bay Beach. You’ll definitely want to spend some down time there. It’s one of the nicest, if not the nicest, pools on the Strip. In addition to the lagoon pool, there is also a wave pool, lazy river, and 3 bars. You can easily lose track of time relaxing at this 11 acre pool complex.

If you want to take a break from drinking, or if you want to double down and tour a distillery, the Mob Museum downtown is a great option before lunch.

Every time we’ve been to Vegas, we’ve seen a line wrapped around Tacos el Gordo and wondered why. We finally made it there on our last trip, and it’s going to be a mainstay on our personal itinerary now. If you want to eat like a local, this place is legit. They serve authentic Tijuana style tacos with handmade corn tortillas and scratch salsa and guac. The meats range from your standard pork and carne asada to more adventurous options like tripe and cabeza. It’s definitely off the beaten path geographically and gastronomically.

Nearby, you’ll have drinks at the legendary Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge. It has an old-school Vegas vibe with its neon lighting and booth seating. They’re known for their Scorpion cocktails in 64 oz fishbowl glasses.

Another option for pre-dinner drinks is the High Roller observation wheel. You can buy tickets for a “happy half hour” open bar while you ride the ferris wheel and enjoy 360 degree views of the city from 550 feet above the Strip. It’s a tourist attraction, but worth doing, especially at sunset or after dark.

You requested a steakhouse dinner for your birthday celebration. We have three options for you to choose from. We are admittedly not “steakhouse people,” but Bazaar Meat at Sahara converted us and is now the first reservation we make each time we’re planning a Vegas vacation. It takes the traditional steakhouse concept and reimagines it into something innovative and playful. The tasting menu is truly amazing. If you mention that it’s your birthday when you reserve your table, the staff will go above and beyond to ensure that you have an unforgettable meal. We received additional courses and cocktails, courtesy of our server, as an anniversary gift. Hopefully, you have the same good luck.

We haven’t visited the Golden Steer, but it’s consistently showing up on “best of” lists and earning excellent reviews. They opened in 1958, and some of their staff have been there for over 35 years. Add to that their popularity among celebrity patrons, and it’s easy to understand why they’re a Las Vegas institution.

You mentioned that you were interested in Barry’s Downtown Prime, and we were excited to research it. It’s a new steakhouse in Old Vegas, inspired by its predecessors from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They pride themselves on old school hospitality and the highest quality steaks and cocktails. While we haven’t dined at Barry’s before, we’re tempted to give it a try on a future trip.

After an upscale meal, you can switch gears to something more casual at BrewDog. Fit for a beer connoisseur like yourself, they boast unparalleled views of the Strip from their rooftop bar, as well as 96 taps of craft beer, including some exclusive pours from their on-site microbrewery.

After trying your luck at the tables late into the night, you’ll spend the next morning sleeping in or hanging out at the pool. You’ll grab lunch on Brewery Row at one of the many breweries on Main Street. We stopped at Able Baker and Nevada Brew Works for flights last year, and really enjoyed the wide variety of creative offerings at both locations. Beer District Brewing, CraftHaus Brewery, Hop Nuts Brewing Downtown, and HUDL Brewing Company are the other breweries in the area.

No trip to Vegas is complete without visiting the “old strip,” better known as Fremont Street. There are some tourist attractions, like ziplining over the street, or viewing the Viva Vision Light show on the giant overhead screen spanning the length of Fremont. The people watching is good here, as is the cheap gambling in the historic casinos. Not everything is old here; the recently opened Circa casino brings a modern addition to downtown Vegas. Circa is a must-do for either Circa Stadium, a swim-up sportsbook with a 40 foot HD screen, or Legacy Club, the rooftop cocktail lounge offering panoramic city views, 60 floors above Fremont.

After exploring Old Las Vegas, you’ll head to your choice of two restaurants in the neighboring Arts District.

We’ve been to Esther’s Kitchen, and it was one of the highlights of our most recent trip. They specialize in sourdough bread and accompanying spreads, small sourdough pizzas, and pasta. They serve seasonal cocktails, local beers, and have a lengthy list of spirits for sipping.

Another great option nearby is Peyote. They feature modern, Latin-inspired cuisine and cocktails. Their patio seating is a big draw for patrons, which would be perfect for your vacation, when the nights tend to be cooler.

Wherever you decide to eat dinner, you’ll be drinking at two of our favorite Vegas bars, afterwards. Atomic Liquors is a downtown dive and the oldest freestanding bar in the city. Despite their dive status, they have a nice cocktail menu and a great selection of beers. Velveteen Rabbit is an intimate craft cocktail and beer bar, focusing on seasonality, creativity, and house-made ingredients.

If time allows, take a quick ride to the Neon Museum to see the retired neon signs from the Strip. At night, they offer a light show and a guided tour of the sign boneyard. We don’t suggest touring during the day. There’s no shade from the strong sun, and the signs aren’t as impressive when they aren’t lit.

Finally, to soak up some of that booze, end the night, and your trip, with one last stop downtown to Evel Pie for the best pizza in Vegas, which happens to also be home to a large collection of Evel Knievel memorabilia.

We hope you have a very happy 40th birthday in Las Vegas, and that we’ve made planning your trip a fun and effortless experience. Thank you for trusting us to guide you through such an important event. We can’t wait to hear everything you loved about your vacation!

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