What it’s like to live in Las Vegas
It’s Three Cities
What locals call Las Vegas is not one city, but three: Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson. They are often collectively called the Las Vegas Valley. Even though I technically live in Henderson, when people outside of Vegas ask me where I’m from, I say Vegas.
Beyond the three cities, there are different areas of the valley such as Green Valley and Summerlin, not to mention downtown and The Strip. All of these areas have their own identity and reputation.
The Strip Gets Old
If you move to Vegas, chances are you’ll be drawn to the bustling Strip in your initial days here. This will fade, and eventually you’ll probably avoid the Strip like the plague. Of course you’ll always have friends and family in town and you’ll find yourself being their tour guide, taking them to the same attractions you’ve seen a million times. As exciting as that might seem to an outsider, there are only so many times you can visit The Strip before it gets old.
When I think of The Strip, I think of traffic, overpriced food and drinks, and drunk tourists… yet I still find myself down there several times a year, usually when a friend is in town.
Tourist Guide for your Friends
What I consider a plus to living in Las Vegas is that friends and family members are always visiting here. This means I don’t have to venture around the country to visit them as often. I also have a stream of old high school acquaintances coming to town, so I’m always catching up with an old friend who visits.
Keep in mind, however, that your friends are tourists, and they’ll want to do touristy things. As mentioned before, you’ll find yourself being the Vegas Tour Guide to attractions you’ve seen a hundred times before.
Vegs is not for gamblers
If you have a problem with gambling to excess, you should not move to Las Vegas. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen lose everything due to gambling problems after moving here. I’ve known more than one person who has done jail time for stealing money from employers to fuel their gambling addiction. And it doesn’t help that you can gamble in grocery stores or places like Walmart and Target. A gambling addict can’t just avoid casinos to escape gambling here. It’s everywhere. Tourist friends think it’s odd that I live in Las Vegas and don’t gamble, but that’s common for a large percentage of the population.
The local music scene stinks
If you’re a musician playing original music, there could not be a worse city than Las Vegas. You may have luck if you want to play cheesy 80’s rock covers, but that’s about it. I’ve been playing in bands in Vegas for years and support for local musicians has virtually disappeared. Our “national” acts that made it big (The Killers, etc) didn’t really succeed with the support of a Vegas crowd.
Truly a 24-hour town
When I tell people about life in Las Vegas, the first thing I tell them is there is always something to do here, 24 hours a day. There are an inordinate number of bars here – hundreds of them. And there is no last call in this town. So if you are the bar type, Vegas is definitely the place for you. There are also nightclubs which rival the best (and most expensive) of them all. Best of all, there is plenty of stuff to do for families, and not just on The Strip. We have two water parks, Lake Mead, parks, roller skating, bowling alleys – everything you’d want to entertain your kids. And of course there is the amusement park in The Adventuredome at Circus Circus, which is far cheaper than Disneyland, and has many of the same kiddie rides. Not to mention it’s indoors, air conditioned, and short lines for the rides.
After living in Vegas for a few years, I took a trip down to San Diego, and I was shocked at how early everything closed there compared to Sin City.
Who’s your neighbor?
Unlike other parts of the country, there isn’t much of a sense of neighborhood in most of Vegas. I’ve only spoken with my nextdoor neighbors about 5 times, and I’ve lived next to them for 10 years. People tend to keep to themselves here.
If you’re into partying, you’ll never have to travel to experience a party holiday again. New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day, for example, are many people’s excuse to let loose in Vegas. And if you go to Fremont Street or The Strip, you’ll be surrounded by thousands of others indulging in these celebrations.
One of my pet peeves about Vegas is how late everything seems to happen. Want to see some local bands? The show may start at 10pm, with the headliner going on after midnight. Clubs don’t even start happening until at least 11pm. I wake up at the crack of dawn, and when my friends all want to go out until the wee hours of the morning, I usually have to decline. If you’re a night owl, you may love the Vegas definition of late.
Everyone knows it’s hot and dry in Las Vegas. I was surprised that Vegas can get pretty cold in the winter, too. Sure, it’s not as cold as the midwest, but most winters you’ll have cold spells with highs in the 30’s. It snows almost every winter somewhere in the valley.
And then there’s summer. It’s still an odd sight to me to drive around in the summer and see all of the parks empty. I’ve seen kids burn their hands on playground equipment in the summer. Even sitting by a pool isn’t very satisfying when it’s in the 110’s outside and you can feel your skin burning in seconds. Our weather reports in the summer often include the UV index as a guide to just how intense the sun is.
It took me a couple of years to get used to the dryness of the Vegas summers. It seemed like I couldn’t drink enough water, and my skin always seemed dry and flaky. It almost seems reckless to walk around in the summer without a bottle of water in your hands.
I’ve often described Vegas as a “small town” because I always end up running into the same people over and over. A lot of locals complain about living here – perhaps because the job market is pretty volatile. It seems chic to say you don’t like living in Vegas, and I have seen my fair share of people who have left the city, complaining that the job market sucks and people here are fake or backstabbers. Unlike a lot of metro areas, Vegas is isolated – a sort of island in the desert. It’s not like California, where all the cities run into each other. If you work in a particular trade or industry, chances are you’ll keep seeing a lot of the same people when you live here.
This city is like no other, and the job market varies wildly. It’s a place where barely-21-year old strippers or valets can make more than seasoned entrepreneurs. Tourism and gambling are the big industries, but not the only ones. There are over a million people in the valley, so you’ll find jobs that every other city has, such as doctors, used car salesmen, grocery clerks, fast food workers, etc. Construction is hit and miss, depending on if there is a “boom” happening or not.
The Las Vegas Valley is a vast collection of social sets and demographics. It didn’t take me long to realize that certain areas of town are better than others crime-wise. The area surrounding downtown is one of the worst, as is the area just behind the Stratosphere. There are pockets in North Las Vegas and the east side where I would never live, and avoid driving through whenever possible.
I prefer living in Henderson, but much of Summerlin is also quite safe. There are curfews for minors.
Vegas is pretty spread out and public transportation here isn’t a realistic option to most people. If you plan to move here, plan on having a car.
Cost of living
Part of the reason I’ve stayed in Vegas as long as I have is because the cost of living is much better than Southern California, where I lived previously. Housing is affordable (except for the bubble era in 2004-2005), and utilities are not unreasonable. Expect your electric bill to spike during the summer, as you won’t shut your A/C off for about 4 straight months, 24 hours a day.
With all due respect to my Southern California friends, I couldn’t wait to leave So Cal. Sure the weather is nice, but the rest of the experience rendered the weather a moot point for me. I still like living in Vegas, even after 20+ years. It’s a pretty nice mix of big city and small town wrapped in one.
If you’re considering a move to Las Vegas, and I didn’t answer any of your questions above, feel free to drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it. And if you’ve lived in Hawaii AND Las Vegas, please comment and tell ME what to expect when I eventually end up living in Oahu!