Henderson is not Las Vegas. Whether that’s good or bad is totally up to the beholder and where the beholder happens to be standing. A walk through “Hendertucky” leaves quite a different impression from a stroll alongside Lake Las Vegas. The city’s tagline is “A Place to Call Home.” Whether “home” is a tiny cottage dating back to dam-building days or a tile-roofed palace on the eighteenth hole, the city does have something to suit just about every taste.
Henderson is more, however, than just a bedroom community. Here, in no particular order except for the first item, are five things I love about Henderson.
1. Clark County Museum. This is my favorite thing in Henderson. The main museum building displays artifacts reflecting the history of Southern Nevada, but the coolness really begins on Heritage Street, a block of restored houses and businesses, including a newspaper print shop and a wedding chapel. You can walk inside all of them to enjoy period furniture, appliances, décor, photographs, machinery, and exhibits on all sorts of fascinating topics. There’s also a restored train depot and a “ghost town” featuring authentic buildings and assorted pieces of mining equipment. If you’re lucky, you might run into Museum Administrator Mark Hall-Patton, whose appearances on the reality television show “Pawn Stars” have catapulted him to international fame. Even if you don’t meet Mr. Patton in the flesh, you can still — thanks to the realistic life-sized cardboard cutout in the museum’s lobby — have your picture taken with him.
2. Johnny Mac’s. There are plenty of great places to eat in Henderson, but I keep coming back to this one. It’s not far from the Clark County Museum on Boulder Highway, so I rarely hit the museum without stopping for lunch here. Known for its wings – Johnny Mac is from Buffalo – the restaurant has great pizza, pasta, burgers – and service. It’s also been immortalized in literature – it’s featured in Dice Angel, a novel by Brian Rouff.
3. Street landscaping. Henderson has done an excellent job with xeriscaping along its streets and boulevards. When you cross the line from unincorporated Clark County and enter Henderson, you are immediately shaded by palo verdes and other desert trees. The medians are artfully planted, and the sidewalks are pleasant for pedestrians. Drive along Paseo Verde Parkway for a beautiful example of Henderson city tax dollars spent well.
4. Downtown Hooterville. Yes, it attracts condescending nicknames, but old Henderson is sweet. People walk here. They know each other. They stroll over to the Henderson Events Plaza and listen to concerts. The Water Street District has restaurants, vintage casinos, and interesting history. It’s small-town-“How ya doin’?”-America – the antithesis of the Strip. And did I mention that pedestrians rule here? Quite a difference from most of the valley, where I often feel like a target when I cross a street on foot.
5. Lake Las Vegas. This man-made pond has weathered the recession and is beginning to develop a genuine personality – not to mention trees – of its own. I’m particularly fond of Sunset and Vines, a wine bar/restaurant on the edge of the lake with the ambience of a French wine cellar. There’s also Flights of Fancy, a store that sells kites, wind socks, wind chimes, and a variety of other wind-driven items for decorating patios. I know that Lake Las Vegas defies nature – the water that fills it has to be pumped uphill from Lake Mead – but it is pretty and welcoming, as long as you don’t try to force your way into the section where Celine Dion used to live.
I knew five would be too small a number, so here’s my honorable mention list: The M Resort, Sloan Canyon, the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve, and the Paseo Verde Library. The M is elegant and convenient, but I’m still annoyed with it for closing Veloce Cibo, the restaurant at the top of the tower. It was my favorite place for sunset appetizers in the whole valley. Sloan Canyon’s petroglyphs are plentiful, pristine, and only a short walk from the parking area. The Bird Viewing Preserve is a tranquil sanctuary great for all kinds of wildlife viewing. The Paseo Verde Library is not only pleasant but also has an excellent café.
Henderson, you are definitely more than just bedrooms.