From St (Francis winery) to Sinner

The past few days have been a bi-polar ride taking us from the serene landscapes and laid back lifestyle of the Sonoma Valley to the high energy and over indulgence of Las Vegas. Although as different as night and day they do both feed the senses. Sonoma Valley offers up rolling hills of vineyards and orchards, luscious wines and gourmet treats and Vegas is a non-stop show of opulence, fabulously tacky glitz and oversized food and drink portions from every corner of the world.

As we only had a few hours to sample Sonoma we had to select just four of the hundreds of wineries. Although it wasn’t on the list we had to stop at the gates of Ledson to take a photo of the beautiful stone mansion at the end of the long palm tree lined driveway. Next up was the Benzinger Family winery which is popular for it’s tram tours of the grounds and wine making process. Just a few minutes further along was B.R. Cohn which had lovely grounds small stone buildings scattered around housing gift shops and olive oil tasting which is also made on site. They also have a stage overlooking the vineyards for summer concerts. We then stopped at Arrowood for a quick photo op of their sweeping view of the valley before going south to the 150 year old Buena Vista Winery. The scene was so picturesque we chose a spot in the courtyard next to the fountain for our picnic lunch of meat, cheese, bread and grapes…plus of course a glass of their famous Pinot Noir. Our last stop of Jacuzzi Family Vineyards was definitely our favorite. The beautiful Italian Villa is a replica of the Jacuzzi Family Villa in Tuscany and it really feels like you’ve stepped into Italy. This is the only winery we did a full wine sampling as their tastings are complimentary unlike the majority other wineries in Sonoma and Napa…we are on a tight budget you know. If we had the time we would have crossed the road to the award winning Cline Cellars. Apparently a Jucuzzi married a Cline so now the two wineries are joined by marraige. They also offer complimentary tastings. We then reluctantly left Sonoma Valley to head East towards the Mojave Desert and beyond to Las Vegas.

We pulled onto the strip about 4pm the following day after another seedy hotel sleep and headed to the Mirage where our wonderful friend Sylivia was there to meet us and let us share her room. We brought our air mattress and bedding but unfortunately had no pump so it would be the floor for us for the next two nights…no problem when you’re on a tight budget though! The next 3 days were a blur of eating, drinking, dancing, laughing and napping by the pool. It was basically the usual Vegas experience so instead of trying to relive it for you we’re going to give you some tips on doing Vegas on a budget. This is where Nathan excels as he’s been nine times and has perfected the art of getting passes and freebies.

Nate’s Tips for Vegas on a Budget

  • When booking your trip spend some time researching lots of different sites such as Priceline and Expedia. Usually dong an air and hotel combo will get you the best rate. If you can be flexible with your dates and are willing to stay longer than the standard 3 nights you will be able to find great deals. I once got air and hotel out of Seattle for a week for $350. Also, always look for coupon codes for the site you are buying through. It can sometimes save you 10-30%.
  • If you plan to go out to the clubs go online a week before you leave and request passes. They will send them to your home address or possibly to your hotel if the time is short. Especially if you are a guy. It is much more expensive in Vegas for a guy than a girl. Plan your week of clubbing so you have passes ahead of time for you and your group.
  • You can also find deals online for food and shows and excursions. Lots of two for one deals if you look around a bit and print them off beforehand.
  • Once you are in Vegas pick up coupon books and watch for free passes being handed out at various services like the oxygen bars, casinos and hotel lobbies. Although most of these free passes may not be what you’re looking for you will sometimes luck out and score some good ones.
  • If you were able to get a good deal by staying longer in Vegas and have the time to spare do one of the timeshare tours. Yes you will lose 3-4 hours of your day but you will likely get some great freebies including cash and tickets to a top Vegas show.
  •  Look out for happy hours or other specials in the various hotels, restaurants and bars. You will often fine ½ price or 2 for 1 specials. This trip we found $1 margs upstairs in the Quad…they were on special all day and were really good.
  • If you get a good deal on a flight only or are driving into Vegas go online the day before or even the day of arrival. If the hotel is not really full they will have blow out specials. After our two night stay at the Mirage we decided to stay one more night and found a deal of $18 for a room at the Quad (directly across from the Mirage)! They were doing some construction and so were offering great deals. They are not a 4 star but if you’re looking for a large, clean room right on the strip and don’t plan to stay just in your own hotel you can’t beat $18.These deals are especially abundant Sun-Thurs.
  • Finally, one of the most expensive parts of Vegas is drinking. Most people pre-funk a bit in their rooms before heading out for the evening. I also stop off at an ABC store or Walgreens and pick up a few mini bottles of liquor (Usually $1-$3 a bottle). I fill up my pockets before I head out so I don’t have to spend $15 on a drink in a bar. Supplying your own on-the-go booze can cut your Vegas bill in half. $2 beats $15.