I used to say that Vegas was the best place in the US to live (with a few caveats), as long as you didn’t have to be here the whole year and could travel. And then 2020 came, I couldn’t travel, and I was stuck here for the entire year. To my surprise, I love the city even more and am even more convinced it’s the place to be.
When people ask why I like Vegas, the first thing that comes to my mind is that it has the highest quality of life and the lowest friction of any city I’ve been to. In other words, there is a huge range of great stuff to do and experience here, and all of it is very easily accessible, so you actually do it.
There is no traffic, you can park anywhere (usually for free), and almost everything that isn’t on the strip is reasonably priced. Because of the city’s unique geography and surplus of space, there are things you can do here that you just can’t do in most cities this size.
Especially being unable to travel during this past year, I became even more grateful for the nature activities in Vegas. Tonight we’re going to go out on the boat in Lake Mead, and then tomorrow we’re going to go skiing on Mt. Charleston. Most people probably don’t think of boating and skiing as Vegas activities, but they’re some of our favorite things to do. We also have Red Rock and Valley of Fire, which are a bit too hot in the summer, but offer great hiking for the rest of the year.
Vegas is close enough to Utah that you can do a day trip to hike around Zion, which is one of the best national parks in America, or go a little further to Bryce or Grand Canyon.
Surprisingly, I’ve come to love the seasons of Vegas. The summer is hot, of course, but even if you don’t have your own swimming pool, it’s easy to get access at some of the casinos. Many houses come with pools here, all apartment complexes have them, and there are two water parks, one within 15 minutes of the strip. We moved into a house with a pool this year, and I jumped in just about every day and we went boating and swimming in Lake Mead once or twice a week.
Out of curiousity I looked to see how much houses with pools cost in Austin, and anything in any reasonable location was 1-2M. Here in Vegas a huge portion of houses in the $300-400k range have pools.
The heat in Vegas is a dry heat, which means you must drink a ton of water in the summer, but it also means that you never feel sticky and gross like you would in New York in the summer. It’s very unpleasant if you’re standing in direct sunlight, but if you’re in shade or doing some sort of water activity, it feels great.
Spring and Fall are perfect, as you might imagine. Weather is in the 60s-80s and with so much nature around it’s easy to enjoy those seasons. We also have almost no bugs, so you can eat outdoors or leave your doors open to have a nice breeze come through.
Even the winter here is great. You can see snow-capped mountains in the distance, and can drive up to them to ski, sled, or just hike through the pine trees. It’s chilly for a lot of winter, but never so cold that you need to seriously bundle up and avoid being outdoors. A lot of houses here have fire places, and it’s nice to get a chance to use them.
I also discovered, through researching solar, that Vegas has more sunshine per year than any other city in the US. What do you think that does for your mood?
I think Las Vegas has perhaps the best airport / airport location in the US.
Flying to LA or SF is so cheap (often $20-30) and quick (45-75 minutes) that it may as well be a more comfortable bus ride. I’ve actually flown to SF just to have a meal with friends before.
LAX and SFO are two major hubs, but so are DEN and PHX, meaning that within 1.5 hours you have access to four major hubs. Vegas isn’t an airport hub (unless you count Allegiant), but because it’s a unique tourist destination within the US it has a ton of direct flights to just about anywhere. I haven’t actually checked, but I bet it has more direct flights to domestic locations than any other non-hub city.
Flights to and from Vegas are usually cheaper than from anywhere else, even when you connect through a bigger hub. This may be because it’s not a common business route, but I’m not sure.
The airport is also 10-15 minutes away from where I live (and the strip), so it’s trivially easy to go there and back to fly or to pick up friends. You don’t even need to go on a highway. Contrast that to most cities where it can be 30+ minutes each way. Before we moved I lived 8 minutes from the airport and once didn’t leave my living room until I got the alert that the flight was boarding!
Las Vegas airport also has an Amex Centurion Lounge and you can access all gates once you get behind security (a pet peeve of mine is when you have to leave security and go back in to get to a different area).
There is no housing crisis in Vegas. We bought a four bedroom 3000 square foot house with a pool and large backyard for $350k. There are quality condos in good areas available for under $150k. It always annoys me when people complain that younger generations can’t afford to buy houses — they can, they just have to move to cities where it makes sense. If you don’t want to buy, rent is also very cheap with tons of good options under $1000 a month.
Having an affordable city also leads to diversity. Places like SF that consider themselves to be diverse are generally diverse in race, but dominated by wealthy liberals who all think more-or-less the same. In Vegas I find that in my regular course of activities I’m surrounded by all sorts of people across many different spectrums. I’m friends with rich people, poor people, liberals, conservatives, tech people, artists, and everything in between.
The one bad thing I’d say about housing here is that the vast majority of houses seem to be designed by people with horrible taste. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many horrendous interiors as when we were looking for a house, and it took a long time to find one that was good enough that we could imagine how to get it to look good.
A friend was visiting Vegas last week and he said, “With New York shut down, I think Vegas might be the best food city in the US right now”. I think he might be right! Not only do we have world-class food here, but it’s also largely very affordable, thanks to cheap rent and lower labor costs than many cities. What’s particularly great about Vegas food is that we have everything from tiny hole-in-the-wall places all the way up to some of the fanciest restaurants in the US.
One cool trend I’ve noticed recently is that many restaurants established elsewhere are starting to open branches in Vegas. Din Tai Fung is among the best dim sum in the world. Before opening in Vegas they only had locations in Seattle, Oregon, and California. Giordano’s deep dish Chicago pizza is only in a few states, but they’re here. Taco Stand, an amazing San Diego taco place, is only in California, Miami, and Vegas.
Every celebrity chef has a top-level restaurant on the strip. We rarely go to them, but once in a while we go to Rivea by Alain Ducasse, or Bobby Flay’s Mesa. It’s fun being able to go eat anywhere from a tiny mom and pop hole in the wall chinese restaurant to some of the most famous restaurants in the world. Very few cities have that entire range. Best of all, they’re all within about 15 minutes from our house and there are no traffic or parking issues.
Oh, and I forgot to mention all-you-can-eat restaurants. We have AYCE sushi, korean bbq, hot pot, and many other types of food. You would think the quality would be bad, but it’s actually amazingly good. We took our raised-in-Japan Japanese friend to our favorite AYCE sushi place and she loved it so much she started going every week.
Besides all of the nature stuff, Vegas is a world-class entertainment city. And once you live here and figure out a few tricks, you end up being able to go to shows either for free or at a big discount. The shows have been canceled this year, but I’d say that in the past we went to 25-50 shows per year, ranging from huge concerts like Justin Timberlake and Nicki Minaj to small community theater shows, to Cirque du Soleil, to magic shows.
If you’re into sports, we are the center of the UFC universe, we have a great hockey team, and a great football team. As a bonus, the T-Mobile Arena (UFC / hockey) and the Allegiant Stadium (football) were just built recently, so both are state of the art facilities where every seat is good.
And, of course, all of these shows and sporting events are 10-15 minutes away and don’t require you to deal with parking or traffic.
Frankly, it just doesn’t get any better. Every city and state needs revenue, and we are unique in that most of that revenue comes from tourists. We have no state income tax, and extremely low property tax. Our sales tax is 8.25%, but I’m actually happy about that because I think sales tax is the best tax.
Housing is cheap, food can be cheap, flights are cheap, and solar is so cheap here that it’s a no-brainer for everyone. Nevada is always ranked as one of the most small-business friendly jurisdictions. Early into living together in Vegas my wife said, “Vegas is so good and so cheap I don’t think we could ever live anywhere else”. I agreed.
I don’t know much about the politics (I couldn’t tell you what party any of our elected officials are), but I know that we’re somewhat moderate and not radicalized to either side. The way we handled COVID seemed about right to me (strong shut downs at first, reasonable reopening, easy access to testing / vaccinations), and generally the city feels well run. We don’t have extreme homeless or wealth inequality issues, and I find that most people are open minded when talking about politics, no matter which side they’re on. It’s refreshing.
There are two major problems with Vegas. The first is that if you need a local job, you’re going to have a tough time finding it here. We have higher unemployment than other similar cities, and there just aren’t a ton of high paying tech jobs like other cities. The other problem is that the public schools are very bad. There are a ton of great private schools (including one that is taught in Japanese!), but obviously paying for one of those offsets some of the cost savings of living in Vegas.
Why Vegas Will Win
Part of the reason I’m always yammering about Vegas rather than just living here quietly is because it is so obvious to me that it’s an amazing opportunity.
Even if you erase any financial incentives, I think the quality of life in Vegas is higher than anywhere else in the US. There are just so many things that we do regularly that we either couldn’t do in any other city or that would be too much of a hassle to do regularly.
Vegas is massively underrated. No one considers moving here without a big shove from someone who is already here, because the reputation of the city is wildly divorced from the experience of living here (though it is accurate for tourism). It took a lot of convincing to get a couple of my friends to move here (they now live 3 minutes away), and even though they liked Vegas enough to move, they continued to be surprised by how great it was in the following months. I went here regularly, sometimes monthly, for a decade before moving here, and still had no idea about most of the benefits of it.
As other major cities decline (SF, maybe NY) or become overpriced (Austin), I think more and more people will realize how great Vegas is. At some point you just have to expand your search area. As more people are able to work remotely, the arbitrage opportunity becomes ever greater, and people will look for places with low taxes, high quality of life, and a cheap commute back to Silicon Valley.
In a more general sense, every city I visit in the US (and I primarily visit “good” cities) feels like a poor value. They all have great things in them, but it comes at too high of a cost. Vegas is the opposite, where it feels too good to be true.
The reason I see Vegas as a big opportunity right now is because you can actually buy a house or condo that makes financial sense. You lock in a really high quality of life and know that the taxes aren’t going to force you out eventually. If you want to start a brick-and-mortar business, you can do it inexpensively here and it can grow with the city. Other cities feel like dead ends to me in a way that Vegas doesn’t.
Photo is from Lake Mead. I just don’t take a lot of photos in Vegas except when I’m on the lake.