Viva Las Vegas + Adios Los Angeles

Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles in August. 

I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection. 


Viva Las Vegas… again!

My blog readers will known I’ve been to Vegas many a time — I think this was my seventh trip — and normally I really bend over backwards to be a good traveler, show what a surprisingly multi-facetted destination this can be, check out new attractions in and around the city, and cover them thoroughly here on Alex in Wanderland (seriously, check my archives!).

But, yeah — this was not one of those trips. 

Las Vegas Airport sign

When my former mentor and forever travel buddy Heather — who I met in the Cayman Islands when I was her photography intern back in 2010! — started planning a blowout weekend in Vegas followed by a trip to Napa to celebrate her fortieth birthday, I knew I had to somehow be involved.

That weekend turned out to be the totally unplugged, hedonistic vacation I didn’t even realize how badly I needed.

Vegas 40th Birthday Party

The Cayman crew arrived the night before I did and spent the first day taking a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon, complete with a champagne toast inside the canyon! It was a hard one to pass up, but considering I’ve been on multiple helicopter tours around Vegas — yup, I’m spoiled rotten — and this one was pretty pricey, and I was only partially employed at the time, I did. (I haven’t done one with a landing though so, color me tempted.)

I landed, met my new roomie, Heather’s friend Sally, and pretty much threw myself into getting club ready — we were heading straight to a table at Kygo’s show at XS Nightclub! 

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

Okay so, I’ve never done the table experience in Vegas. I mean, sure, I’ve been invited to them before, ha, but I’ve never actually been a paid participant!

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

Guys, I was really hesitant as there is just no way that I could pay my share of the actual bill (see again; partial unemployment — and the fact that I was saving up for my own crazy birthday extravaganza) but Heather insisted I pay whatever I would for a normal night at a Vegas club and she’d cover the rest. (The cost is based on a minimum spend of alcohol, not the number of participants, so the total cost is the same regardless of number of people and generally is more than any small group could ever feasibly drink — hence why guys are always inviting girls to have free drinks at their tables in Vegas!) Still, this was massively generous, and I was super excited just to be there — after all, we’d discovered Kygo together at Tomorrowland festival in Belgium and our shared love of his music is a big theme of ours through the years!

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

I’d actually meant to bring my little Canon G7X into the club to document the night in style, but I forgot it in the flurry of rushing to get ready in time. Ergo, any nice photos of this night are courtesy of Heather’s iPhone 11 and the fire lighting in the XS bathroom, and any blurry crappy ones are thanks to my desperately-in-need-of-upgrade iPhone 7.

This was the most unplugged trip I’ve taken in forever — I did not take my laptop or dSLR out of my carry-on once, totally unheard of for me, snapped less than ten photos on an actual camera, and barely glanced a my phone. It was so nice. 

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

Kygo didn’t come on until well after midnight, and so let’s just say that we were well into our minimum alcohol spend requirements of the table by that point. Tears of happiness were shed, tables were danced upon, and a grand time was had by all. 

The real highlight, however, was definitely the bottle girls coming out with HEATHER spelled out in branded club signs and a sparkler-topped bottle of Dom Pérignon — nice and low key, totally. 

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

40th Birthday at XS Nightclub in Las Vegas

I can see why people spring for tables — they are great for groups, and save you quite a bit of hassling with the bouncers and fighting to get up the bar. But the pricing truly is astronomical! In a small group like I usually hit Vegas in, I’m more than happy to negotiate with a promoter for free admission and free drinks, or, in more recent years, as I become less and less passable as a UCLA co-ed, wait in line and pay the standard admission and be offended by the price of drinks like everyone else.

But, I’m a lightweight — ergo, don’t need to go to the bar that often — and actually kind of enjoy elbowing my way to the middle of a crowded dance floor. So, your mileage may vary.

Regardless, it was a night to remember, with the fun carrying on into one of the suites long after the club closed.

Party at The Wynn

Party at The Wynn

The next day we peeled ourselves out of bed to head down to the pool, where my local friend Diana, founder of Vegans, Baby, popped by briefly for a poolside catch up — and we didn’t take a single picture (dang — I wasn’t kidding about being a neglectful blogger.)

Vegas in August is no joke, temperature-wise, and even scampering across the pool deck from your lounge chair to the pool itself is a mission and a half. But, brave souls we are, we found the strength to face the heat — even hungover.

Pool at The Wynn

Pool at The Wynn

While the previous evening had been a new experience for me what with the baller-status private table, the sparkler-clad champagne and the taking of cell phone photos with greater than one pixel resolution, the next was a tour of some of my favorite highlights in Vegas.

Which meant, of course, over-the-top creative cocktails at Chandelier Bar, a tipsy spin around the High Roller, a drink overlooking the Bellagio fountains at The Cromwell, and finally, dancing the night away at Drai’s after hours club.

The View from The High Roller

The View from The High Roller

Day three in Vegas is always a battle between the elements and the human body’s ability to survive all forms of indulgence. I knew this dance well, and had a strategy: brunch, the oxygen bar, and a dip in the pool.

If you’ve ever been to a Vegas oxygen bar, you know that they come around and try to up-sell you by allowing you to try various massagers, hangover-cure shots, and and more.

One of the products we were able to try was this electrode thing you attached to different pressure points on your back and used a remote to control the style and intensity of the pulse. Heather’s friend Benno had the great idea that we swap controllers, which turned into a full-on, belly-laugh filled torture session as we all alternated between yelping in pain and howling with laughter. Who knew a mall could be so much fun? (Confession: I hate malls.)

That evening was planned to be a low-key one, but Heather and I couldn’t resist pulling out the joss shots — little energy packets, best taken with a chaser of Vodka, Bali-style — for our night at Mystère. 

I’ll never turn down a night at a Cirque show, and this was a fun one, especially appreciated since I started practicing aerial arts myself. I loved tracing the simple moves I was learning into the studio to the absolute magic taking place onstage.

Joss shots in Las Vegas

Every single one of us had mega early flights the next morning, but we couldn’t resist one last adventure — and I voted it be a stroll through my favorite part of Vegas, Downtown. I just knew Heather couldn’t leave without experiencing this hip, artsy side of the city!

Mystère by Cirque de Soleil, Las Vegas

I was planning to be back here in Downtown this fall for Life Is Beautiful festival, one that tops my bucket list! Sadly it was cancelled due to COVID — perhaps another year.

Downtown Las Vegas

After a drink at Atomic Liquors, Vegas’s first bar, we headed over to another one of my Sin City favorites, The Neon Museum — but with a fresh twist. Instead of touring the museum itself, which I adore, we bought tickets for the show Brilliant, which takes place in the new North Gallery of the outdoor museum.

It was well-named — a perfect, twinkly end to our time in Vegas.

Brilliant by The Neon Museum

Ah, Vegas. Well, it turns out much of what happens there really does stay there. I guess I really needed to blow off steam — and I did. I had one of the wildest Vegas trips I’ve ever had — a reminder you can have just as much fun in Vegas at forty (sorry Heather just hammering that number home, LOL) as you can at twenty one (when I first went to Sin City!)

Sadly, my eighth trip to Vegas was cancelled by COVID — my childhood best friend Kristin and I, who I went on that very first ever Vegas trip with back in the day, were meant to head to Gwen Stefani’s cancelled show back in May. As soon as she reschedules… I’ll be back!

The Neon Museum

While I was sad to miss out on the Napa portion of the trip, I had just two days before I flew to the Middle East to start my marathon of retreat research and running, and I just couldn’t make another trip out to the West Coast in one summer without seeing my dad and my dog! So while the rest of the crew hopped an early morning flight to San Francisco, I hopped a plane to Burbank.

(Can I tell you how much flying into Burbank over LAX improves the quality of my life? Small airports for the win!)

Twice now I’ve flown from Las Vegas straight to Los Angeles and had my dad pick me up and the airport and twice now he’s made the same joke, “so, should we go home or to the hospital?” And both times it’s actually been pretty funny — and a frighteningly valid query.

Cocker spaniel cuddles

This was a tragically short trip. I need to make a “real” trip out to LA again soon — my wish list of things to do here is growing! But in the meantime, I so appreciated getting in some face time with my dad and my dog and recovering from a wild weekend while being spoiled with love and attention like only a parent can do.

My dad’s place in Koreatown is perfectly set up for post-Vegas revival. There’s a pool, great wifi, a cute cocker spaniel to cuddle, and countless salad and coconut water delivery services within reach.

As usual, I couldn’t get enough Tucker time, and was more than happy to have a few days where my biggest adventures were our walks around the block.

And, after an offline weekend, we both caught up on work.

Tucker Working

My one outing into the wilds of Los Angeles stayed in line with my relax and restore theme — my busy LA bestie Lindsay and I went for a midnight trip to Wi Spa, perhaps the most famous of Koreatown’s famous 24 hour Korean spas. It was a hoot, and so much fun to finally do after years of talking about. 

Don’t let the word “spa” mislead you — there’s little glamour in this game. When you check in you’re assigned an unflattering t-shirt and little shorts, and spend your allotted time slot of a few hours wandering between various saunas, steam rooms, and relaxation areas — or ya know, having a snack at the cafeteria. We were so entertained by the clear regulars who reclined, unfazed, watching entire Korean soap operas on their smart phones while we panic-darted out of a sauna after a few minutes of sweating our faces off. 

Wi Spa Los Angeles

And while normally I love exploring LA’s many restaurants, this trip, I was more than content with being treated to my dad’s nightly home-cooked feasts. He really pulls out all the stops!

We managed one meal out and about, at literally the last possible moment. On the recommendation of fellow travel blogger Johnny Jet (gosh, those bloggers have great ideas), we headed to Proud Bird before my flight at LAX. This aviation-themed food hall around the corner from the airport also doubles as a mini-museum on the history of aviation in LA — and a great spot to grab a drink and watch planes land on the runway.

It was an amazing find — the perfect start or end to any LA trip.

Proud Bird Food Bazaar in Los Angeles

Proud Bird Food Bazaar in Los Angeles

Proud Bird Food Bazaar in Los Angeles

And with that, I was off! This may not have been the most gripping five nights of my travels to read about, but it sure was to live through! I guess even a travel blogger needs a vacation, sometimes.

Still, I promise what comes next is going to wow you. 

Stay tuned for my next adventures from abroad…

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