The Neon Museum
The Neon Museum features soft-glowing lights from Las Vegas’ past. By YGNACIO NANETTI/Orange County Register

LAS VEGAS - I've been visiting Las Vegas for more than four decades, seen casinos come and go (some blown sky high). I'm not much of a night owl or high-roller, but I have my own kind of fun. Here are my personal favorite things to do in Las Vegas:

Fly in and out of McCarran Airport: Arrive in the morning, with the sun glinting off the Luxor pyramid seemingly across the street from the runway. Leave at night amid the shouting lights of the Strip, climbing up into the sky and seeing the ribbons of light give way to the black of the surrounding desert.

Shoot machine guns: Every gun you've ever seen in a gangster, war or cop movie is at the Gun Store. For a price, you can shoot a Tommy Gun like Al Capone's henchmen or try out a Russian-designed AK-47 or the German Hechler & Koch MP5. It's a guilty pleasure amid strict legal and safety conditions - what Las Vegas is all about. 2900 E. Tropicana, www.thegunstorelasvegas.com or (702) 454-1110.

Bellagio's dancing waters: The spray jet ballet in front of the Bellagio is the best free experience in a city filled with ways to separate you from your cash. Whether it's Sinatra or Rachmaninoff (or Debussy's "Clair de Lune," like at the end of "Ocean's Eleven"), the effect is mesmerizing. It's one of the few calming experiences in the clank-clang-buzz capital of the world. 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Neon Museum: I hate all the computer-driven signs on the Strip that blare and shout in unusually white lights. Give me the soft glow of neon, which used to dominate the Strip and downtown. There are still a few good examples left (the south end of the Flamingo - wish they would tear down that bridge across Las Vegas Boulevard). But happily the Silver Slipper, Aladdin's lamp and other classics live on in a downtown walking tour of neon saved from the wrecking ball. Guided tours are available if booked in advance. More information at www.neonmuseum.org or call (702) 387-6366.

Play craps downtown: Dice is my game and I like to play a lot of side bets. But if I am going to lose my shirt, I want to do it slowly. So rolling the cubes on the Strip is almost always out. Most evenings, it's tough to find a table with under a $10 minimum (Casino Royale next to the Venetian is an exception). The downtown casinos keep minimums low. The once ubiquitous $2 minimum is rare anywhere these days, but on recent visits I've also found low minimum tables at Sunset Station. I hear Arizona Charlie's is good, too, though I haven't played there yet.

Bowl at Red Rocks: When my dice rolling puts me in the hole, I go roll bowling balls. Las Vegas has more high-quality bowling alleys than anywhere in the country. My favorite is Red Rocks Lanes, especially in the dead of the night. 11011 W. Charleston Blvd., Las Vegas. Information at www.redrocklanes.com or 1-866-767-7773.

Swim at Flamingo: There's a swimming pool for every taste in Las Vegas - the waterpark-style pool at Mandalay Bay. While the French have been giving up topless sunbathing, it's the rage at pools like Bare at the Mirage. My favorite is the huge pool at the Flamingo, complete with waterfalls and shady grottos. Do check out the small pool nearby ringed by large pink flamingo statues. 3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S., www.flamingo.com or 1-888-902-9929.

Shop at Gamblers General Store: The place to go for all your home gambling needs, or just to pick up a cool Vegas souvenir. This shop opened to supply the casinos with cards, dice and other necessities. Over the years it has become a tourist attraction itself, the place to go if you want to buy a deck of cards from a casino that was imploded years ago or get a roulette table just like the one that took your money on the Strip. 800 S. Main St., www.gamblersgeneralstore.com or (702) 382-9903.

Lunch at the Peppermill: The first place I ever pulled a slot machine. My dad let me sneak one of my own quarters in while we waited for a table at the still-popular spot on the Strip. The one-story restaurant is a Lilliputian survivor of Las Vegas Boulevard gone Gulliver. The retro Fireside Lounge is a favorite, in part because my late uncle was a contractor on the signature-ringed fireplace. 2985 Las Vegas Blvd., www.peppermilllasvegas.com or (702) 735-4177.

Dinner at the Golden Steer: There was a time when a good restaurant in Las Vegas didn't have to be a transplant from New York or San Francisco. You didn't even need to step inside a casino. Granted that, overall the food in Vegas is vastly superior to the past. But when I want to go back in time, I head to the Golden Steer. The 52-year-old restaurant anchors an ancient (by Vegas standards) strip mall just off The Strip. But with no windows, once you are inside it's all red booths, red meat and red wine. 308 W. Sahara Ave., www.golden.snapsweb.com or (702) 384-4470.

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