Travel & Leisure
updated 12/5/2011 10:49:11 AM ET 2011-12-05T15:49:11

It’s always been a mystery: what lies behind the walls of Wayne Newton’s Vegas estate? Penguins and Elvis memorabilia, as it turns out. And come next spring, when Newton’s Casa de Shenandoah opens as a museum, you’ll be able to see this collection for yourself.

And this glimpse into the life of “Mr. Las Vegas” is just the beginning. In fact, the city is having something of a renaissance, opening up new restaurants, clubs, museums, and other venues at a fantastic rate and returning Sin City to the ever-changing kaleidoscope it once was.

That time of change was less than 10 years ago, when Las Vegas was in the middle of a no-holds-barred building boom. The historic downtown was about to undergo huge changes. A burgeoning arts district was gaining cachet. Mega condo-hotels were coming. George Clooney was going to ignite the Strip with a giant mixed-use property.

But things happen, and Vegas seemed to be put on a giant “hold” for several years. The only major plan that was actually completed was the awe-inspiring multihotel, retail, and restaurant complex, CityCenter. This was no small achievement, of course: it included the Mandarin Oriental and Aria hotels, as well as Crystals shopping center. CityCenter was so popular it completely vacuumed people off the Strip and deposited them firmly in its fun and artsy atmosphere.

Now the excitement of CityCenter has spilled over into the entire city: new restaurants, museums, and clubs have either recently opened or are on target for 2012. Some of them you’ll find downtown, which the city is focused on really revitalizing this time. At its heart will be the most anticipated cultural venue in recent Las Vegas history: the $450 million Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which was built for symphonies, not Celine.

Even the Las Vegas steak restaurant has received a refresh. The new 35 Steaks + Martinis, in the Hard Rock Hotel, marries a 35-day aged, 35-ounce prime steak with “Wines that Rock,” including labels by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

So even if you visited Vegas recently, don’t assume it’s still the same. And don’t head to Sin City without checking out our list of the newest and best things to do.

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