What I Love and Hate About Vegas, Two Years In

When I first bought my place in Vegas, I did it only because it was an incredible deal. As a frequent visitor to Vegas I assumed that I’d stay there once in a while, and AirBnb it out to recoup my costs. Or if it turned out that I really came to dislike Vegas after spending more time there, I could sell the condo with a small percentage loss that would amount to very little.

Fast forward two years and now I live here, as much as I live anywhere. I haven’t analyzed my time, but I’d guess that I spend about half my year here, usually in one or two week chunks.

What strikes me most about Vegas is that it’s certainly a place that more people should live. It’s not for everyone, of course, but cultural assumptions about it are certainly keeping people out who should be in.

Here are some of the things I love about Vegas:

1. It’s the easiest city in the world to visit. I think that is literally true. Flights here are generally very cheap, especially if you learn a few tricks. The airport is so close to everything that it costs less than $10 and takes fewer than ten minutes to get home.

Because real estate is so cheap, most people have room for guests. So if you have a friend in Vegas you can probably stay with them pretty comfortably for free.

There are also a lot of reasons to visit Vegas. Between conventions, big shows, and the general lure of Vegas, people are always coming through. There have been few, if any, times I’ve been here and not had someone visit, either on purpose or unexpectedly.

2. It’s one of the easiest cities in the world to travel from. Many of the factors that make it easy to visit also make it easy to travel from. It’s definitely the easiest to travel from domestically, and probably top ten for international.

I recently booked an $18 flight to San Francisco. That’s not the cheapest I’ve gotten that flight. I went to Houston a couple months ago and it was $88 round trip. London was $270 round trip (though that was probably a mistake, unlike the other two). I’ve flown to Austin for $35 each way. New York is usually a hair over $100 each way.

A friend is having a bonfire party in San Francisco this weekend, so I’m flying in just for that. I don’t know of any other city in the world where it’s so easy to do things like that.

3. The Cost of Living is Extremely Low for the US. Most people think of Vegas as an expensive city because the strip is expensive. I thought that as well for years, despite visiting all the time.

It’s actually really cheap to live here. House prices and rent are very low compared to any other city with any sort of intrigue. There’s no state income tax (that alone means a lot of location-independent people should be here). Restaurants tend to be very high quality and inexpensive.

When you’re a local you get discounts on everything, too. I’ve gone to dozens of shows like Cirque du Soleil, Blue Man Group, Nicki Minaj, Placido Domingo, etc., and HBO Boxing, for free. A few days ago I went on the ferris wheel (biggest in the world) and paid less than half price. One of the Mexican restaurants that is consistently rated amongst the best in the US (and is all grass-fed, organic, etc) is 25% off on Mondays for locals.

4. Vegas is also surprisingly unpretentious. That will come as a surprise to anyone who has spent all of their time on the often-pretentious strip. One of my favorite restaurants is called Lotus of Siam. The chef won a James Beard award and it’s sometimes considered to be the best Thai restaurant in the US. There’s a line no matter which night you go. But the furnishings are all utilitarian, no professional had a hand in the decor, and a typical entree is around $12.

This is very typical for good off-strip restaurants. Quality food, friendly people, and good prices.

5. Downtown is a bonus city. Ten minutes north of the strip is an area called Downtown, which is actually where the entertainment district of Las Vegas used to be. Then everything moved to the strip, creating a vacuum downtown which was filled with drugs, prostitutes, and crime.

In 2012 or so, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, invested $350 million to buy up most of Downtown. This has drastically altered downtown and has turned it into a small city that’s totally different from the rest of Vegas. Critics like to make a big deal out of any small failure the Downtown Project suffers, but overall it’s an enormous improvement.

I don’t go downtown often, but when I do I always notice new cool things going up. In general it feels like a sparser and less-expensive version of downtown San Francisco. I really like a coffeehouse called PublicUs that has extremely high quality tea (sourced from Song Tea in SF), and good healthy food.

When you live in Vegas you have three very distinct areas to which you can go. There’s the strip, the random surroundings that are similar to any other small city, and Downtown. None of these areas is more than ten minutes from any other. Vegas isn’t the only city with this sort of variety, but the differences between them are as large as anywhere else, and most outsiders have no idea Vegas is like this.

6. It’s always sunny. One of my favorite things about Vegas is opening my curtains in the morning and having the sun pour in as I make my tea. It has a great psychological effect on me, and I don’t consider myself particularly prone to the effects of seasons.

It does get very hot in the summer, but I have to admit that the “but it’s a dry heat” crowd has a point. I’d take 115 with no humidity over 85 with lots of humidity. In general everything is air conditioned and the heat feels okay as long as you’re not in direct sun.

The biggest downside to the heat is that it rules out visiting the cool places you can enjoy nature (Red Rock, Valley of Fire, etc.).

Those are some of my favorite things about Vegas. Combined I find that they give me a very high quality of life with minimal friction. Most days I spend at home working, but once in a while I’ll drive ten minutes to the strip to see a show or something. My friends and family visit me maybe five times more than they did in any other location, there’s a lot to do with them here, and hosting them is easy. When I want to visit them it’s always a cheap flight and an easy five minute commute to the airport (which happens to have one of the best airport lounges, by the way).

That said, there are two big downsides to living in Vegas, especially compared to living in NY or SF.

1. There aren’t as many of “my kind” of people here. I’ve made a handful of friends here with people who are really awesome, but overall the density of people I’m interested in developing friendships with is far lower than in other cities. I think that this is partially because people like me don’t know how awesome it is to live in Vegas.

In general people here aren’t as entrepreneurial or well-traveled as they are in other places I’ve spent time. This is sort of ironic because it’s a great place to be an entrepreneur (low burn rate, proximity to SF, fewer distractions) and to travel from.

2. It’s not a good city for the arts. Bellagio has a small gallery that rotates a few times a year. Sometimes the exhibitions are great, other times they’re pretty mediocre. That’s our only art museum. There’s some local art downtown that I haven’t explored thoroughly, but the little I saw didn’t blow me away. There’s no real ballet, opera, or symphony presence.

I compensate for this by going to tons of these performances when I’m in Budapest and going to a lot of museums everywhere, but it would be nice to have something locally as well.

Anyway— if you’re looking for a change and some of the points of this post resonate with you, think about moving to Vegas. And keep in mind that these are just the aspects that resonate with me. There’s plenty more out there that I haven’t mentioned because it’s not in my wheelhouse.

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Photo is Valley of Fire, which is a great state park about an hour from the strip.

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