Find Real Las Vegas at the Downtown Container Park

Entrance to the Downtown Container Park, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Entrance to the Downtown Container Park, Las Vegas, Nevada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Sitting in part of a former freight container, sipping a Mexican Coke and enjoying some excellent tacos al pastor at Pinches Tacos (“Real Mexican Food by Real Mexicans” says their sign) I knew that I’d found a place in Las Vegas where I fit in and felt at home.

Inside Pinches Tacos Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Inside Pinches Tacos Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Sure, the blinky lights, over-the-top entertainment, unsurpassed people-watching and hotels that electronically sweep open the curtains and turn on music when you walk in (thanks for the drama, Aria) all have their charms, but Vegas is just not my sort of city.

In search of a better fit, I headed to the older section of town along Fremont Street, currently undergoing a revitalization sparked by the efforts of Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos. Tony moved the Zappos company headquarters into the former city hall, and he set about working with locals to help make the old downtown a creative hub of independent retailers, tech startups, and restaurants.

The Downtown Container Park at 7th and Fremont is part of this effort – it’s built out of metal freight shipping containers stacked on top of and next to each other, plus a family-friendly playscape that is also made with containers, and a small stage for live performances.

It’s somewhat similar to the Re:Start mall that our own Liz Lewis wrote about as part of the post-earthquake revitalization in Christchurch, New Zealand .

Playscape at Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Playscape at Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

All of the Container Park shops take pride in offering as many locally-made items as possible.

At Blumarble, for example, they recycle a lot of the empty booze bottles from the Strip into glasses, vases and jewelry. There were plenty of items made from colorful vodka containers, but I preferred the ones made from craft beer bottles.

Recycled beer glasses Blumarble at Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Recycled beer glasses Blumarble at Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There is an active #dtlv hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, with links and news from and about the downtown area, so it was fun to find these rings full of local pride – 702 is their telephone area code – in one of the boutiques….

DTLV rings Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

DTLV rings Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Walking around the complex in 107 deg F weather – typical for a Vegas summer – was not too painful, as the shops and restaurants are all air-conditioned. They aren’t bare-bones containers baking in the desert; they’ve been insulated.

If you want something cool to refresh yourself, I highly recommend the Park’s ChillSpot, with slushies, smoothies, boba tea, and variations on shave ice called “international snows” such as Philippine Halo-Halo, Chinese BaoBing, Korean Patbingsu and Japanese Kakigori. I had one of their rich Salted Peanut Caramel SasaPops, but you can go in a more “Vegas, baby!” direction with PopTails made from adult beverages.

Eat your tacos first, though.

Tacos at Pinches Tacos Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tacos at Pinches Tacos Downtown Container Park Las Vegas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Getting There: A cab ride from the center of the Strip north to the downtown area is about US$35 plus tip. There are also Las Vegas city bus services that run up and down the Strip from Fremont Street in the north to the Mandalay Bay resort complex on the southern end, but they’re slower because of all the traffic. If you’re not in a big hurry though, it’s cheap and scenic, especially the double-decker Deuce bus. The SDX (Strip & Downtown Express) is faster. A 2-hour bus pass is US$6, and a 24-hour pass is US$8. You can buy the passes right there on the bus.

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