Exploring the charming town of Boulder City, Nevada: A guide to its history, outdoor adventures, and downtown attractions
Boulder City, Nevada is a charming and idyllic community perched above Lake Mead and the dam that created the town. Established in 1931 to house the builders of Boulder Dam (later changed to Hoover Dam), Boulder City is not far from its neighbor known for glittering neon lights and high stakes gaming. While just 30 miles from Las Vegas, Boulder City is a world away from the city that never sleeps. There are no bright lights or gambling allowed in Boulder City. Instead, it’s a peaceful place to stroll the streets and visit vintage shops, antique stores, peruse the public art or its many parks. Boulder City is the gateway to many nearby activities, from the Hoover Dam, water sports, lake tours, ghost towns to hiking trails and more.
Like most people coming from Phoenix, I typically just bypass Boulder City en route to Sin City. However, this time, I decided to spend three nights soaking up the history and nearby activities.
While there are a number of places to stay in town, I opted for the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, which is located in the heart of downtown, walking distance to shops, restaurants, museums and more. Built in 1933, the Boulder Dam Hotel has preserved its charm and classic style of the era. The lobby is a large and open space inviting guests to congregate in a variety of seating configurations. My partner and I enjoyed the wingback chairs next to the expansive fireplace in the evenings with a cocktail in hand.
There are three accommodation levels to choose from. We stayed in one of the suites which was 420sf and included a large bathroom, king bed, seating area and kitchenette. The standard rooms have a queen bed at 210sf and they have king rooms that are 100sf larger. They also have an on-site restaurant for breakfast and lunch, and a basement bar that often has live music. There is also the Hoover Dam museum located on the first floor which is really worth checking out, and admission is free.
The pace in Boulder City is much slower and more quiet than Las Vegas, and the only ringing you’ll hear are from the church bells providing the time of day. The main drag through town is Nevada Way, from which everything stems. Within historic downtown are beautifully preserved brick homes from the early 30s when the dam was being built.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN BOULDER CITY
We tried several restaurants while in town, but since we were off exploring in the afternoons, we ended up having late breakfasts and early dinners, skipping lunch.
- Coffee Cup Cafe – This is probably one of the most famous restaurants in town thanks to visits by Guy Fieri of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. They are also famous for their Bloody Marys and tasty down-home cookin’. The decor and layout are classic diner style with walls adorned by water-skis and other memorabilia reminiscent of the area.
- Southwest Diner – This is another Boulder City institution specializing in home-made meals like Grandma used to make. This is an affordable place for breakfast or lunch. Many of their menu items, like fresh-made banana bread, pies and even their hot sauce, are available for take-home purchase.
- The Restaurant at Boulder Dam Hotel – Nice venue, modest and casual dining at this historic hotel.
- Milo’s Cellar – Probably known as one of the nicest places in town for dinner. Lovely atmosphere with outdoor patio. Great wine selection and menu items that complement the vino experience.
- Momo Sushi – A fantastic hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant run by a local Japanese family.
- The Dillinger – Offers gourmet burgers, delicious salads and craft beer.
- Cornish Pasty Co. – The Cornish Pasty originates from Cornwall England which is famous for its pasties, a sandwich of sorts made with a thick crimped edge along one side making them easy to eat. The venue is really cool, but the food and service was pretty mediocre. I would like to give this place a second chance one day as they have a few other locations in Arizona.
There are a couple of BBQ and Mexican restaurants in town that looked good, but we did not get a chance to check them out on this trip. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below.
TOP THINGS TO DO NEAR BOULDER CITY
- Hoover Dam of course is one of the main attractions, this engineering marvel is not to be missed. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend spending a few hours touring this incredible achievement. Take the tour that takes you down into the depths of the dam, see the massive generators, peer out of the vents of the dam looking down the Colorado River and learn about the history of building the dam that created the largest man-made lake in the States. Don’t miss walking the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge for an unparalleled view of the dam.
- El Dorado Canyon Ghost Town in Nelson – Located about 30 minutes south of Boulder City is a place that encapsulates Nevada’s wild west roots. This is a privately owned ghost town available to pursue on your own, or you can take a tour, which includes a look at the Techatticup Mine that once produced millions in precious metals.
- Hemmenway Valley Park – There are a lot of wonderful parks in Boulder City, but this one is particularly interesting. This park is just 10 acres and includes playground equipment, gazebos, basketball courts, horseshoe pits and two lighted tennis courts with fantastic views of Lake Mead. The park’s main attractions though is the Bighorn sheep that come down from the mountains to water and graze. The sheep are very used to humans, you can sit on a park bench and watch them graze all around you.
- Railroad Tunnel Trail – This is a wonderful scenic hike that takes you along the old railroad tracks that served to construct the Hoover Dam. You’ll find views of Lake Mead along the way as you pass through several tunnels that were chiseled out of the rock. You can walk all the way to Hoover Dam and back, which is about 9 miles. The scenic part stops about halfway when you run across a bathroom, which also makes a good turn-around spot and is half the distance.
- Lake Mead – This is a fantastic recreational lake offering cruises, all kinds of water sports, fishing and more. The drive along Hwy 167 offers some spectacular views. If you drive far enough, you can visit the fascinating ghost town of St. Thomas, which was underwater for decades before the lake begin to recede. A touch farther is Valley of Fire, which is just an hour away from Boulder City.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN HISTORIC DOWNTOWN
- Boulder City Art Guild Gallery – Located in the historic Boulder Dam Hotel, this art gallery features the works of local artists and is a must-visit for art enthusiasts.
- Boulder Theater – This vintage movie theater, built in 1932, has been fully restored and now serves as a venue for films, concerts, and other events.
- Nevada State Railroad Museum – Located in a historic depot, this museum features a collection of restored locomotives, passenger cars, and other railroad equipment.
- The Olive Branch – This shop offers a variety of olive oils, vinegar, and other specialty food items, as well as tastings and cooking classes.
- The Chocolate Nugget – This artisan chocolate shop offers a variety of handcrafted chocolates and other sweets, as well as chocolate-making classes.
Many will ask why Boulder City has no gaming…it’s because the city was founded as a federal reservation for Great Depression-era workers building the Hoover Dam, and since it was on government land at the time, gambling, as well as drinking, was illegal. It wasn’t until a decade after the federal government gave up ownership of the city in the 60s that liquor was even allowed. Local leaders have continued to resist gambling in Boulder City to keep it a respite from the rest of the state.
If you are planning on visiting Las Vegas, do yourself a favor and carve out a couple three days and spend it in Boulder City, it makes a wonderful home base to explore the sights listed above, as well as a reprieve from the hustle of Sin City.
If you have any questions about visiting Boulder City, leave a comment below. If you have any suggestions, such as places to see or restaurants to visit, please share below. So until next time, we’ll see ya on the road…