Rome wasn’t built in a day, but to Las Vegas regulars it must have seemed that way when the Forum Shops sprang up at Caesars Palace in 1992. Since then, the shopping scene has exploded. It suits Las Vegas, the place where Americans come to reinvent themselves—at least temporarily. People who might be too busy in their hometowns to stroll through a humdrum shopping mall find themselves lured to Sin City’s incarnations—to buy, browse or simply gawk at the excess within. Sure, some stores are familiar, but here they’re often in stunning settings, accompanied by chic restaurants and free entertainment, plus the best people-watching anywhere.
NEW KID IN TOWN
Crystals, the retail portion of the new CityCenter development on the Strip opened more than three years ago. Crystals’ exterior, designed by the renowned Daniel Libeskind, is a whole new look for the Strip: an angular three-story jumble of glass and stainless steel. Inside is a glittering array of luxury retailers: Prada, Dior, Vuitton (North America’s biggest, naturally), Tiffany, Marni, Paul Smith and Kiton.
Crystals’ interior design, by David Rockwell, celebrates nature with hanging gardens of flowering plants, a wooden sculpture called “Treehouse” and a water feature in which water jets carve ice sculptures into constantly changing shapes. For dining, there’s offerings from Todd English and Wolfgang Puck.
If Crystals doesn’t slake your thirst for high-end retail, take a stroll through the Esplanade, the name for the shopping areas at both the Wynn and Encore hotels. These malls (though the word seems too meager, somehow) are anything but sterile. With richly colored carpeting, shining tiles and whimsical light fixtures, it’s clear that no expense was spared. The shopping is for high-rollers, too, starting with the Ferrari store. Yes, you heard me. Unless you already happen to own a Ferrari or Maserati, you’ll pay for the privilege of strolling past the gleaming autos.
Don’t worry, browsing is free in the other stores. Step inside Alexander McQueen, Hermès and Manolo Blahnik—the only U.S. shop outside New York, as locals are quick to point out. Jo Malone, the inspired British scent-maker, is here as well. The Homestore and Wynn LVNV sell the same items used to decorate the Wynn hotels, from vases to faux-fur throws. Next door to the Wynn is the Shoppes at The Palazzo. Several high-end retailers made their Vegas debut here when it opened in 2007, most notably the two-floor Barneys; Christian Louboutin, whose brilliantly conceived red-soled footwear can cost more than $3,000; Catherine Malandrino (French fashions); and Anya Hindmarch (sophisticated handbags). Look for one-of-a-kind couture at Annie Creamcheese Designer Vintage, such as a lurid James Galanos top and skirt that’s going for $1,850. And finally, for your edification, head to Bauman Rare Books to see a 1935 illustrated edition of James Joyce’s "Ulysses," signed by Henri Matisse.
You don’t even have to go outside to connect with the Palazzo’s sister mall, the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. Like at the Forum, you’ll feel as if you’re strolling cobblestoned streets under a twilit sky, but here you’re in Venice rather than Rome. The storefronts resemble Venetian villas, and a quarter-mile-long canal runs through the property, complete with gondolas and warbling gondoliers. Rest your feet by taking a boat ride over the dyed-blue water.
Many shops at the Venetian are chains, but you’ll find actual Venetian glassware at Ripa de Monti, which carries colorful blown-glass jewelry, vases and sculpture. At the center of it all is St. Mark’s Square—just like in Venice, though with a notable lack of pigeons. There are, however, “statues” that suddenly move, revealing themselves to be costumed actors, as well as performances by roving opera singers. Take time to drink it all in over lunch at Postrio Bar and Grill, Wolfgang Puck’s patio restaurant.
A visit to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace should definitely be on any shopping agenda. Expanded since the 1992 opening, it now offers some 160 stores and more than a dozen restaurants. Every hour, those animatronic figures do their thing, a startling show about the fall of Atlantis punctuated with mist, trumpet music, bolts of lightning and flashes of fire. A 50,000-gallon saltwater aquarium helps set the scene, while the neon Cheesecake Factory sign adds a discordant backdrop. A second animatronic show at the Forum stars Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
Even the more traditional malls in Vegas offer glitz and entertainment. True to its name, Fashion Show puts on weekend shows, with models strutting the 80-foot-long catwalk dressed in outfits offered by the mall’s retailers. The mall is near the Palazzo and the Wynn, and you can’t miss the giant steel canopy called “The Cloud.” Suspended 130 feet overhead, it serves as a sunshade for the plaza below and doubles as a gargantuan billboard. Fashion Show has 250 shops and restaurants; its six anchor stores include Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Visit Boot Star for a throwback to Vegas’s cowboy days. Some 1,500 pairs of cowboy boots line the walls. Most are handmade, fashioned from everything from ostrich to shiny, pebbly stingray hide.
Though still relatively new, these mega-shopping malls have already begun the grand Vegas tradition of reinvention. To see this firsthand, head to Miracle Mile Shops, on the Strip at Planet Hollywood. Formerly part of the Aladdin resort, this mall still includes sections with a Moroccan-village look. Other parts have been updated with contemporary color-morphing light fixtures, Warhol-style artworks and even upholstered benches (a welcome rarity in this go-go town).
Prices are more affordable at many of Miracle Mile’s 170 shops, compared to other outlets in town. HandM is here, and a DC Shoes just opened, along with Billabong and Steve Madden. For a more permanent souvenir, stop by Club Tattoo, partly owned by a band member of Linkin Park.
SLOW IT DOWN
Almost everywhere you go in Vegas, there’s music nonstop, piped in from hidden speakers or blaring from above. Add the clang of the casinos, the rush of traffic and perhaps the distant gunfire from the pirate show at Treasure Island, and you may wish to get away from it all. In the slightly seedy Arts District, close to downtown, low-rise storefronts are being converted to artists’ studios and co-ops that open their doors on the First Friday of every month. But visitors are welcome any time (except Sunday, when many places are closed). The Arts Factory displays and sells works by local artists, as does the Place on Main. Many newcomers discover this district when they visit the Attic, where you climb the zebra-patterned stairs to find a vintage-clothing heaven. (The neighboring Rainbow Feather Co. is where showgirls buy their headdresses.)
When asked where locals shop, taxi drivers like to suggest two-year-old Town Square, an open-air mall just 10 minutes south of the Strip. The tenants will look familiar: Whole Foods, Old Navy, Borders, even an 18-screen movie theater. But it’s a welcome break in Vegas, with its stage set of “urban” streets, its village green (covered in AstroTurf, mind you)—and the absence of slot machines. It’s a good place to refresh yourself before returning to the high-rise fantasyland on the Strip.
SHOPPING WITH THE KIDS
While much of Vegas is aimed at adults, families come here too. The shows at the Forum Shops are a surefire hit for children of any age. Here are some other draws:
LAS VEGAS PREMIUM OUTLETS
Away from the Strip, a discount mall with teen-pleasing brands like American Apparel, Quiksilver, Ecko and 7 For All Mankind. Have lunch at Makino, an Asian buffet that’ll please everyone (sushi, salads, noodle soups, tempura, tons of desserts).
FAO SCHWARTZ AT THE FORUM SHOPS
Look for the 47-foot-tall Trojan Horse. Inside are bins of candies and toys galore: Playmobil pirate ships, stuffed animals and a video game arcade. Outside is a gelato stand with 16 delectable flavors.
MIRACLE MILE SHOPS
Watch the staff perform tricks at Houdini’s Magic Shop. Nearby is the hourly (half-hourly on weekends) automated “rainstorm”: Lights dim, thunder sounds and a deluge pours down. And how about this? Ben and Jerry’s is right there.
The imaginatively designed play area is filled with kids climbing in a treehouse, sliding down poles and roaming the Hedge Maze. Go on Wednesday for story time (11 a.m to 12 p.m.).
Crystals: 3720 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-590-9299
Esplanade: 8777 W Maule Ave, Las Vegas, NV; 702-256-0330
Wynn: 3131 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-770-7000
Encore: 3131 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV
Shoppes at The Palazzo: 866-263 2996; palazzo.com/Shopping
Grand Canal Shoppes: 3377 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-414-4500
The Venetian: 3355 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-414-1000
Ripa de Monti: 3377 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-733-1004
Postrio Bar and Grill: 702-796-1110
Forum Shops: 3500 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-893-4800
Caesars Palace: 3570 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-731-7110
Boot Star: 3200 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-632-0848
Miracle Mile Shops: 3663 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV; 702-866-0703
The Arts Factory: 107 E. Charleston Blvd.
Place on Main: 1054 S. Main St.
Attic: 1018 S. Main St.; 702-388-4088
Town Square: 6605 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV; 702-269-5000
Las Vegas Premium Outlets: 875 S Grand Central Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV; 702-474-7500
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.