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Girlfriends: Vegas is for gal pals, too

Even if you don't gamble, there's a reason to head west to Las Vegas. Without the family in tow, Vegas can be an ideal girls-only getaway, with luxurious spas, lavish meals, amazing shopping and stunning natural scenery.

Even if you don't gamble, there's a reason to head west to Las Vegas. Without the family in tow, Vegas can be an ideal girls-only getaway, with luxurious spas, lavish meals, amazing shopping and stunning natural scenery.

Spending a long weekend here with your best gal pals is the perfect escape from reality. In late spring, when the heat of summer hasn't yet overtaken this desert oasis, Vegas is quite comfortable.

Once summer sets in, the heat can be oppressive. But don't rule out a visit in June, July or August, because that's when you'll often find the best deals of the year on hotels.

Besides, you can enjoy plenty of what Vegas has to offer without ever leaving the air conditioning. If you don't plan to strike it rich in the casinos, here's what to do once you and your girlfriends arrive:

Who doesn't love a pedicure? Start a visit with a few hours of relaxation at one of the resorts' elegant day spas, where your choices range from aromatherapy massages to airbrushed tans. In the evening, some spas offer unique Vegas-only treatments such as the Heiress package at Wet - the Spa at TI (Treasure Island), which includes a golden body scrub, wrap, massage with gold oil, and a final sprinkling of gold dust.

For serenity without the glitz, Spa Bellagio offers poolside massages. Relaxing in a private cabana while your aches and pains are worked out is heavenly. Or check out the huge 69,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch SpaClub at the Venetian, where the list of offerings runs several pages.

The adjacent Canyon Ranch Cafe is a good spot for a light, healthful lunch - or, if you slept in, breakfast is served all day.

Make sure to check individual hotel Web sites for package deals. Many hotels offer spa packages that include a room or suite, credits for the spa and other amenities. Most spas also offer fitness facilities, so if you feel compelled to squeeze in a yoga or Pilates class, ask about day passes, which usually start at about $35.

This is a city of restaurants, from elegant five-star splurges to overflowing buffets. Many celebrity chefs and television food gurus, such as Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Nobu Matsuhisa, have restaurants here, and new ones open almost monthly.

Later this year, chef Mario Batali and winemaker Joseph Bastianich will open two much-anticipated eateries at the Venetian.

Many Vegas restaurants boast prestigious travel awards. Last December, two restaurants were honored with five-star ratings by Mobil Travel Guide: Alex at Wynn Las Vegas and Joel Robuchon at the Mansion at MGM Grand.

In addition, AAA recently announced its five-diamond winners for 2007, including Alex and Joel Robuchon, as well as Picasso and Le Cirque at Bellagio.

If you're looking for more casual dining, the buffets are a good option, because there's something for everyone in your party. Most buffets offer breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Some of the more popular include Rio Carnival World, which offers more than 300 dishes, including 70 dessert items.

Buffets such as Cravings at the Mirage and the Buffet at TI (Treasure Island), have updated their menus by increasing international selections. Others, like Flavors at Harrah's Las Vegas, feature live cooking stations and freshly prepared seafood.

More than half of the annual 39 million visitors to Vegas go shopping, and it's no wonder. With a plethora of outlets, chic boutiques and upscale stores, it's tough to know where to begin. You'll find shopping in every large hotel, as well as just minutes away from the Strip in Henderson, 12 miles away, and Primm, 35 miles south of town.

A few visitor favorites are right on the Strip, within walking distance of most hotels. At the Roman-themed Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, browse stores such as Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Escada, Gucci and Fendi.

The cobblestone walkways of the Grand Canal Shopping at the Venetian echo the real Venice, right down to gondolas on the reproduction Grand Canal and St. Mark's Square, the centerpiece of the mall.

You can also window-shop in the winding alleys of Paris at Le Boulevard District, where buildings are covered with facades of real Parisian districts.

Fashion Show Mall is also on the Strip, and though it's the typical mall atmosphere, it offers an excellent selection of better department stores, including Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Dillard's and Nordstrom. With two million square feet, seven anchor stores, and 250 other specialty stores and restaurants, it's one of the largest malls in the country, and you can easily spend an entire day there.

After a day of unwinding at the spa or shopping, plan an evening out. Traveling Broadway shows, production shows and celebrity headliners make your entertainment options almost endless. After all, the city is nicknamed "Entertainment Capital of the World."

If Broadway shows appeal to you, two new productions are Monty Python's Spamalot at Wynn Las Vegas and The Producers at Paris Las Vegas. Over at the Venetian, Phantom - the Las Vegas Spectacular includes new special effects and all the songs from the original Andrew Lloyd Webber production. Mamma Mia! is the featured show at Mandalay Bay, where it debuted in 2003, making it the longest ongoing Broadway-caliber production on the Strip.

For a different kind of show, check out Cirque du Soleil's "O" at Bellagio, in which artists perform in and above a pool containing 1.5 million gallons of water.

Beatles fans will adore "Love" at the Mirage, another Cirque project based on the Fab Four's music and presented in a custom-built theater featuring 360-degree seating.

When you've had enough of the city life, it's time to get out of town for the afternoon to enjoy the natural beauty of the Mojave Desert. Just 15 miles west of town, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a popular place for hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, horseback riding, or just driving the 13-mile scenic loop.

Keep your eyes open for feral horses, burros and bighorn sheep, especially toward dusk, when many of the animals become more active.

Valley of Fire State Park is another option for those seeking the beauty of the desert terrain. About 55 miles northwest of Vegas, the park offers easy trails for short hikes and picnicking. Check out the petroglyphs, or rock etchings, that are about 3,000 years old, and remains of ancient native cultures.

Vegas Vacation

For places to stay, shows, events and activities, go to the official Las Vegas Tourism Web Site,,

or call 877-847-4858.

Things to See

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area



Valley of Fire State Park

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