The Fremont Street “Experience”

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Many people visit Las Vegas and never make it any further than the main tourist area known as the Strip, which is a shame, because they’re missing out on a whole other Las Vegas experience if they don’t at least pay one visit to Fremont Street.  This five-block section of casinos and souvenir shops north of the Strip, including the area known as “Glitter Gulch,” is the older core of Las Vegas, and what is still considered by many long-time Vegas fans to be the “real Las Vegas”.

Glitter Gulch

First, there’s the Fremont Street Experience (with a capital “E”). This is the Viva Vision light show that takes place on the overhead canopy every hour on the hour from dusk until midnight. On the FSE’s website, there’s a woman exclaiming “it’s like the biggest big screen TV ever!”–and it kind of is.  It’s amazing what they can do with a canopy of 12.5 million LED lights and some music blasting from huge speakers up and down the street.  Viva Vision is “state-of-the-art light and animation display technology”. In plain English, that means it is a giant music video.  There are several shows with different themes, including tributes to Queen, Kiss, the Doors, and Don McLean’s American Pie. 

Light show on Fremont

Light show on Fremont

What really cracks me up about the light show is watching the people who are watching the light show.  One year, I was dashing between casinos in search of a ladies’ room with no line and happened to go out onto the street in the middle of one of the light shows.  It was like being in a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum version of the Fremont Street Experience: Nobody was moving except for me.  Everyone else seemed frozen in time, staring up at the show as if it were a UFO or something.

Then there’s the Fremont Street experience (with a little “e”), which offers a more down-to-earth Las Vegas than what you find on the Strip.  There are two stages featuring free music by live bands, which creates a block party atmosphere up and down this outdoor pedestrian mall. Naturally, this being Vegas, you can drink your alcoholic beverage on the street while watching the bands. Crowds will gather around the fantastic spray paint artists who will paint pictures on request in a matter of minutes.  The work they do is phenomenal and amazing to watch, though I always wonder how long one can be in that line of work before the spray paint fumes cause brain damage.

The dress code Downtown is–well, there is no dress code, so if you don’t feel like dressing up while on vacation, feel free to wear your jeans or shorts.  No one is going to point and snicker at you.  (Not that they will on the Strip, either, I’m just saying there isn’t the same “dress to impress” attitude Downtown that exists on the Strip at night.)

Fremont Casino

Downtown is a great place to go  if you have mobility issues, or if your feet are just tired from all the walking up and down the Strip you’ve done early on in your trip.  It’s a very compact area.  You can walk out of one casino and into the next one in seconds.

When the temperatures are soaring in Las Vegas, it can actually be a bit cooler walking outside under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience than on the Strip.  But I’ve spent little time here during the day.  My reason is that Downtown lacks things to do during the day other than gamble.  They tried to open a shopping mall (Neonopolis) on the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, but it has been unable to draw and retain tourist traffic (or tenants, for that matter).  The one time I went there, about a year after it opened, I felt like I was in an old Western–you know, where the hero rides into town and there’s not another living soul on the street, but he can see fearful faces peering from behind curtains in windows.  I could hear my footsteps echo in the courtyard of the mall.  There was nobody else there. I’ve never gone back.

Other than that drawback, though, Downtown has a lot going for it if you’re on a tight budget.  You can find $5 blackjack Downtown, prime rib dinners under $10, and more reasonably priced drinks than most of the mega-resorts on the Strip will offer.  If you’re looking for something to do during the day, you can easily get to and from the Strip by bus.

Best Bets Downtown:

  • The light show, of course.
  • For the best view of Fremont Street, head to Firefly Tapas restaurant, located in the globe of the Plaza on Main Street; it faces straight down Fremont Street.
  • Shop for souvenirs at the small stores along the pedestrian mall.
  • Take advantage of one of the cheap prime rib meal deals; there are lots of them.  I can recommend the one at Triple 7 Brew Pub at Main Street Station and the one at Magnolia’s Veranda at the Four Queens.
  • Check out the world’s largest gold nugget (known as the “Hand of Faith”) at the (you guessed it!) Golden Nugget hotel.
  • While at the Nugget, check out their pool area with the slide that goes through a shark tank.  It’s pretty cool.
  • Get a $1.99 shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate deli.
  • Grab a beer at the Triple 7 Brew Pub at the Main Street Station (across Main Street to the right of the Plaza).  On the way, stop and look at the old Pullman train car they have outside.
  • If you’re a guy, check out the section of the actual Berlin Wall that’s on display in the men’s room at Main Street Station.
  • If you have a cast-iron stomach, go to Mermaids for one of their deep-fried Twinkies.
  • Grab a drink and people-watch from the second-floor balconies at the Vue Bar at Fitzgeralds or Gold Diggers at the Golden Nugget.
  • For a nice dinner at a reasonable price, try Tinoco’s Kitchen at the Las Vegas Club. Outside the restaurant, check out the “Lobster Zone”–it’s like one of those arcade games with the claws where you select a prize, only in this case, the “prize” is a live lobster, and you can have it for dinner. It’s totally sick.
  • Take advantage of the table minimums here, which are much better than what you’ll find on the Strip.

7 thoughts on “The Fremont Street “Experience”

  1. Pingback: New Year, New Things to Do in Vegas | The Vegas Solo

  2. JoAnna

    How did you feel in the downtown area compared to the strip at night as far as safety is concerned? I’ve been doing some research for my trip, and have seen many people commenting about being cautious going downtown at night, even if taking a cab there. Just curious what your comfort level was cabbing inbetween the two at night.

  3. Gray

    I feel fine on Fremont Street. I wouldn’t wander too far OFF Fremont Street, though. I’ll go as far as the California and Main Street Station and that’s it. In my early years of going Downtown, I used to hear the same thing you have–especially in terms of aggressive homeless people hanging around. One of the first things I saw was a guy getting cuffed up against a police car in front of the train at Main Street Station. But that could happen anywhere.

    The number of tourist-oriented businesses and activities have picked up on and around Fremont Street in recent years. You’ll still see some homeless people, but you’re going to see them on the Strip, too and for the most part, they’re harmless. There are always plenty of people around, so as long as you stick to well-populated areas, you’ll be fine. I’ve never felt truly unsafe Downtown…but I’m usually in bed by midnight, so take that into consideration. I’m not roaming around the streets at 2am.

  4. JoAnna

    Thanks so much for the insight, I appreciate it. I figured it would be safe staying close to Fremont Street like you said, but then you start reading one too many articles and get totally freaked out 🙂 Thanks so much!!

  5. Pete

    I know this post is a year after the fact, but my wife and I just returned from Vegas and from our experience Fremont Street is no longer an alternative, but has become a must. In fact, in some cases Fremont blows the Strip away. We were their for St. Patrick’s Day and the mood was festive, but casual. Everyone wanted to have a good time and there was never a concern in regards to safety. Having been to Fremont before I would have to say that they seem to make it cleaner and safer every year. To be honest, you will now see more “sketchy” people on the Strip then on Fremont. There were not any pron cards littering the streets or passed out people you have to move around. We saw security on bikes, on foot, and on segways all over the place. People would drop their beer (It was St. Patrick’s Day) and someone would clean it up within 5 minutes. There is a nostalgia video game bar, art gallery bars, piano bars… All in all we had more fun here than on the strip. Unlike the strip Fremont isnt actually a street in most places, so you can stop and relax. The level of attitude is far less there as well. Now this is all based on staying under the giant overhead display. I am sure past that it can be rough, but under the lights it is perfectly safe, clean, and fun. With all that said, I would probably still have my hotel room on the strip…but $16.00 will get you a 24 hr pass on the deuce busses that run 24 hours from Fremont to the airport. If you can afford it eat at Hugo’s Cellar for some old school class.

    1. Gray

      Hi, Pete! Actually this post is 2.5 years old, can you believe it! And yes, Downtown certainly has change a LOT in that time. I’m seeing the same things you are, that Downtown is much more of a “must visit” (or “must stay”) destination, while there’s a lot more sketchy stuff going on over on the Strip. I’m always fascinated by how neighborhoods change over time anyway, but in this case, it’s really been interesting to watch the revival of Downtown. And I’m glad to see it. Thanks for your comment!

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