Forget Las Vegas, Reno 911!, and Ocean's whatever. This fall, it's all about Laughlin, Nevada. Thanks to Viva Laughlin - which premiered on CBS last month and guest stars Hugh Jackman, who is also the show's executive producer - Nevada's other casino destination is finally getting its due. Never heard of it? You're not alone. Sitting beautifully on the banks of the Colorado River and along the California-Nevada border, about 100 miles or so southeast of Las Vegas, Laughlin has enjoyed an off-the-radar charm, which may now be in jeopardy as the world finds out that what happens in Vegas … is nothing compared with what happens in Laughlin.By Kevin Raub
The new Aquarius Casino Resort (from $30, 888-662-5825, www.aquariuscasinoresort.com) is the result of a $40 million makeover of the Flamingo Laughlin; it houses 1,907 rooms, which are soon to be redone, in two twin towers on the Colorado River. The Aquarius also boasts 1,000 brand-new state-of-the-art slots. At Harrah's Laughlin Casino and Resort (from $32, 800-427-7247, www.harrahs.com), revelers dig their heels into the sandy riverside beach. We suppose they gamble too.
Whether you prefer a jet boat from London Bridge Jet Boat Tours (888-505-3545, www.jetboattour.com) or your own personal watercraft from Watercraft Adventures (702-298-6828, www.watercraftadventures.com), get yourself out on the beautiful Colorado River, which snakes through town along casino row.
About 10 miles out of town, the photogenic Christmas Tree Pass and Grapevine Canyon offer an ideal solitary retreat from the bells and whistles of Laughlin. The three-hour hike through the canyon presents trekkers with a wealth of camera-ready views, including ones of several seasonal waterfalls and patches of wild grapevines. But the coolest highlight of a visit here is getting to see the 1,000-year-old American Indian petroglyphs along the canyon walls.
There aren’t any celebrity chefs building 10-story wine walls or importing brick ovens the size of a Winnebago in Laughlin, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any boys who can whip up a mean steak. Texas favorite Saltgrass Steak House (2300 South Casino Drive, 702-298-7153), inside the Golden Nugget casino, cooks certified Angus T-bones and massive porterhouses to perfection over a campfirelike open flame. The only brewpub in town, the Boiler Room Microbrewery (2100 South Casino Drive, 702-298-4000) keeps clients sauced with five handcrafted brews (try the Hefeweizen) and with all the expected comfort-food fixings that go well with them.