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A Las Vegas Balancing Act

Is it possible to feel healthy and have fun in a city that specializes in guilty pleasures? 🌆

July 30, 2022

📸: Encore Las Vegas

On a cool, clear morning in Nevada, I ascended a metal staircase that took me under the shade of a fiery red sandstone outcropping. Above me, petroglyphs dating back 4,000 years appeared in the form of spears, mountain sheep, and human figures. As I turned my gaze back to the rugged terrain surrounding me, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t on Mars.

I was standing beneath the Atlatl Rock petroglyphs in the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park, with Artemis Adventure Tours founder and guide, Katya Spitz. We had spent the morning exploring the 40,000-acre park’s trails that wind through towering slot canyons and over swirling sandstone rock formations, passing resident big horn sheep along the way.

“When you get here, there’s a tranquility that takes over—there’s millions of years of history, and it just demands this respect from you,” said Spitz. “I always feel like I’m a guest, just passing through.”

Natural wonders like the Valley of Fire, located an hour’s drive to the northeast of Las Vegas, were part of my mission on this particular trip to Las Vegas: To find a sunny respite from the increasingly rainy days in Seattle while visiting my brother Justin. I wanted to kick back and have a little fun, but also go home feeling better than I arrived.

Las Vegas for wellness 🏜️

Valley of Fire
📷: Katja Spitz

At first, I wasn’t entirely convinced I could find balance in Sin City: My last pre-pandemic trip here was a nightlife-fueled itinerary for a friend’s 40th birthday party that took days to recover from. Mapping out my trip, I started with the obvious: The palatial spas for which the city is famous. And when I looked beyond them, I was surprised to find so many appealing options that I had to narrow down what a restorative trip might look like for me: Encounters in nature, eye-opening art exhibits, and dining that’s both nourishing and exciting.

Turns out, that is the trend these days: Experiences beyond the spa are part of a new, more holistic definition of wellness that focuses more on balance than restriction, according to Shannon Stringert, the senior director of spa, salon, and fitness at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. I met Stringert in the penthouse spa suite of the resort’s sprawling Sahra spa, inspired by desert cultures around the world. The day before, I had Sahra’s miraculous Decadent Youth Glow Facial that gave my face a noticeable radiance. I was fresh from a restorative yoga class in the resort gym, and was sipping on a green juice from the resort’s Juice Standard shop downstairs.

“Honestly, this is what wellness looked like today for me,” said Stringert, nodding at the quad-shot iced latte in his hands. “You might want to enjoy a night out, but the next morning still make it back into the gym. Sometimes it’s not always about doing the most high intensity workout; some days it’s just about moving your body. Wellness just kind of changes given the environment you’re in, how your body is feeling that day, and what your goals are.”

I considered what Stringert told me about balance the next day at the Spa at Encore as my massage therapist led me down a grand hallway lined with latticed metal lamps made in Morocco. My treatment used warm stones that relaxed my body so thoroughly that it led to one of the most restorative sleeps I’ve had in recent memory. But the next day, all blissed out from a string of spa treatments, yoga classes, nature hikes, and green juices, I realized that it was time to let loose in a different way.

Food and fun 🍣

Yellow tail sashimi with jalapeño
📷: Nobu Las Vegas

For this, I knew I could count on my brother, a longtime resident who knows where locals play. Justin and I went to Area 15, the city’s new entertainment complex, where we strapped on VR sets and went in search of a lost diamond skull. While there, we also visited Omega Mart, a massive exhibit created by New Mexico-based art collective Meow Wolf. We lost ourselves in the supermarket installation—checkout counters and multistory slides included—which both entertained us and got us thinking about the relationship between product branding and reality. After hours on our feet, we fortified ourselves on generous amounts of flavor-packed siu mai and har gao dumplings at Ping Pang Pong, which took us straight back to our childhood days in Hong Kong.

We continued that celebratory feel on my last night in town at Nobu Restaurant & Lounge in Caesars Palace, tasting the jewel-like presentations of sashimi, including chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s famous yellowtail with yuzu and jalapeño. That such a luxurious, indulgent meal could simultaneously make us feel light and good was the exact kind of happy medium I had traveled for—and found—in Sin City.

If you go 🛫

Several airlines including Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines fly daily out of SeaTac into McCarran Airport. Alaska also flies there daily out of Paine Field in Everett. Rooms at the Cosmopolitan ofLas Vegas start at $240; treatments start at $175. Rooms at the Encore Las Vegas start at $199; treatments start at $125. 

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Jennifer Flowers is a writer and editor based in Seattle and New York City. Her work can be found in AFAR, Bloomberg Businessweek, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, The Wall Street Journal among other publications.

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