Here are 5 of my fave off-Strip escapes that'll save you serious cash:
- Pinball Hall of Fame - East of the Strip along Tropicana Ave., go wild playing over 200 vintage pinball, carnival-style and video arcade games, all gorgeously restored. (Yes, they've got Asteroids, Space Invaders, Tetris and Ms. Pacman, too.) Most games cost just a quarter, and all the profits go to charity. Ka-ching! And for more cheap thrills, there's a second-run discount cinema next door.
- Luv-It Frozen Custard - It's thicker than ice cream, and it melts more slowly, too. This old-fashioned summertime gathering spot is just off the Strip, north of the Stratosphere. Fresh flavors of the day are posted online, or just show up and order the classic Western Special Sundae with vanilla custard, pecans and hot fudge and caramel sauces.
- Freakin' Frog - Although microbrew and wine bars are a growing trend at casinos (think: the Hostile Grape and 32 Draft at the brand-new M Resort, Pour 24 at New York-New York), nothing beats the biggest beer bar in town. East of the Strip, near the UNLV campus, this strip-mall gem has all the microbrews you know and love (and many others you haven't tried yet) on their 7oo-plus beer menu. Swing by for free jazz shows on Tuesday nights.
- Noodle Exchange - West of the Strip, not too many blocks from Las Vegas' Chinatown strip malls, this Gold Coast casino eatery won't break the bank. Show up for massive $6.99 lunch specials of Chinese-American standards, or spend a little more and pick something more authentic from the pan-Asian menu, like Shanghai-style ban ban noodles, miso ramen or Hawaii-style saimin.
- South Point - To save money while avoiding hectic, overpriced megahotels, look south of the Strip. Rooms here are oversized, beds are heavenly, and the pool is not as mobbed (meaning you can actually swim in it, as opposed to just standing around in the water like at the MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay). Sign up for the email list to get the best discounts, like stay 1 night, get 1 free deals.