Established in 1931 to house the builders of Hoover Dam, Boulder City now brims with cute shops, killer cafés, and an Art Deco aura. Fewer than 30 miles southeast (but an entire world away) from Las Vegas, this charming southern Nevada burg is a hub for history and adventure at Hoover Dam, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Colorado River, and beyond.
The Historic Heart of Southern Nevada
Boulder City, Nevada: “Small Town. Big Adventure.” Established in 1931 to house the builders of Hoover Dam, Boulder City now brims with cute shops, killer cafés, and Art Deco vibes. Fewer than 30 miles southeast (but an entire world away) from Las Vegas, this charming southern Nevada burg is a hub for history at Hoover Dam and the Boulder City / Hoover Dam museum, as well as for outdoor action at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Black Canyon, the Colorado River, and beyond.
Where is Boulder City?
Boulder City’s location is simply the best of all worlds. This picturesque, tree-studded Clark County town sits just inside southern Nevada’s border with neighboring Arizona, perched above Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the largest manmade lake in the U.S., which Boulder City’s first residents moved there to create (with a pretty famous little wonder of the architectural world by the name of Hoover Dam), minutes away, along the mighty Colorado River. In fact, if you didn’t look at a map, you might never even realize the Boulder City Las Vegas journey takes only about thirty minutes of carefree highway cruisin’.
And don’t get us wrong. We love the good, wild times that only Las Vegas can provide. But if you’re looking for something a little lower-key (OR closer to some serious out-of-door excitement) a weekend in Boulder City may be exactly what’s in your cards. Oh, and speaking of cards… the only place you’ll find any of those here is in those antique stores. Gaming is and always has been prohibited in this company town.
Boulder City and Las Vegas?
Although They’re Next to Each Other, They Could Not Be More Different
Although it’s located just thirty miles southeast of Las Vegas—you know, that three-million-person, 24/7-bustling entertainment capital of the United States (and planet)—quiet, charming Boulder City feels like it exists in its own private slice of Clark County, or perhaps even another era entirely. Unlike it’s bigger, older brother down the road, Boulder City’s brand of bustle is being alive with a slower-paced, local vibe, green parks, and a beautifully walkable downtown overflowing with Art Deco vibes, classic buildings (like the loved-by-historic-luminaries Boulder Dam Hotel), amazing eateries galore, charming boutiques, and some of southern Nevada’s most treasure-loaded antique shops.
Boulder Dam History & Culture
Boulder City is hot on history and knows how to show it. Decades after their construction, over 400 vintage structures still stand in painstakingly preserved glory. (Even the time-capsuled 1940s-built bowling alley highlights this town’s time-warp essence.) One heavy-hitter is the Boulder Dam Hotel. This opulent, 1933-built Colonial Revival-style gem—the go-to for Hoover Dam mucky-mucks and Hollywood celebrities—houses the fascinating Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum, which features interactive exhibits and authentic artifacts that illustrate the building of the then “Boulder Dam,” while investigating the everyday lives of workers, their family lives, and the social forces that brought them here.
In 2018, the original 1930s route of the Nevada Southern Railway—the line that delivered the bulk of materials used to construct Hoover Dam—was restored, reconnecting Boulder City to Henderson, Nevada for the first time since 1985. Today, at what is now the Nevada State Railroad Museum—Boulder City, you can marvel at original locomotives and rolling stock, check out artifacts and rotating exhibits, and take a scenic train tour along the route. Or you can literally ride the rails in two- or four-person pedal-powered RailBikes and hitch a ride back to the station on the back of a train.
One of the best ways to take in the past is to walk among it, on a self-guided tour highlighting 67 murals and sculptures, illustrating the community’s colorful history on walls, at street corners, and outside shops all throughout Historic Downtown Boulder City. Download a guide here.
Travel Nevada Pro Tip
Things to Do In and Around Boulder City
Want to kick things up a notch? Boulder City is also the launchpad to some thrilling outdoor action, on land, water, and even in the air.
Hit up the Historic Railroad Trail on two feet (or wheels) on a paved, easygoing, 3.5-mile jaunt through the five 300-foot-long tunnels originally used by trains hauling materials and supplies bound for Hoover Dam. Or go big and bike the 34-mile-long River Mountains Loop Trail on a circuit of Lake Mead and Las Vegas vistas. Surefooted scramblers can descend two miles down the rope-lined walls of Gold Strike Canyon for some rewarding hot springing at the edge of the Colorado River.
Mountain bikers have found a mecca at the Bootleg Canyon Mountain Bike Park, an IMBA Certified Epic expanse featuring 24 trails over 35 miles of dusty desert singletrack, ranging from easy loops to rocky rollers to gravity-testing downhill long-bombs.
If paddling’s more your style, get yourself on a guided kayak tour on the Black Canyon Water Trail, which carries you to aptly-named Emerald Cave, a hot spring soak, and the turf of bighorn sheep, bald eagles, and other wildlife.
And of course, for a bird’s eye view of all of it—Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam, and even the Grand Canyon, if you’re up for it—let our pals at Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours elevate your visit in the best of ways.
Boulder City Celebrations—Our Fave Annual Events
Between food, film, and fun, Boulder City knows how to have a good dam time (and make a good dam pun while they’re doing it). BC may love its small-town charm, but hasn’t stopped it from hosting Nevada’s largest cinematic celebration for nearly two decades. Each February, the 4-day Dam Short Film Festival presents nearly 150 short films of all genres at the stunning, 1933-built Boulder Theater, an Art Deco jewel of Boulder City’s Historic District. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 art-inclined visitors pack this town (of 16,000 residents) to feast their eyes on fine art, fine craft, and traditional craft pieces at Art in the Park, one of the largest juried outdoor art festivals in the southwestern United States, held every October across multiple parks and pretty much the entire town.
Food-lovers flock to BC’s cuisine scene year-round, but really pack their appetites for a few big weekends. The Boulder City BeerFest draws a couple thousand thirsty hop-heads every March for more than thirty brewery tents, a dozen or so food trucks, and sud-centric speciality vendors. Meanwhile, carnivores salivate for the Best Dam Barbecue Challenge (May)—which pits 40+ cuein’ competitors against each other’s recipes for smoked and grilled goodness galore.
Boulder City Restaurants
Even with Las Vegas just up the road, Boulder City is something of a culinary capital of Clark County. You can’t really go wrong with most Boulder City restaurants, but we’ll break it down anyhow, starting with breakfast. Slip into the Southwest Diner for spiced-up Specialties. Wrap it up at the Little City Grille. And if you’re craving a “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”-certified flavor, the Coffee Cup Café has got you covered. (And if you’re old enough to be into them, don’t you dare skip their famous Bloody Marys.)
If you’re still hungry by midday, book it to brisket-ville at FOX Smokehouse BBQ, find a food truck-load of flavor at BC Dam Tacos, or gorge on classics at Chilly Jilly’z. Sure, their menu overflows with homemade pastries, beefy Angus burgers, juicy Broaster chicken, and fresh fruit smoothies. But we gotta be honest, we beeline it straight for their specialty, every time: the Dole Whip floats.
When it comes to dinner, this desert town is magically your oyster. You can’t go wrong bellying up to Boulder Dam Brewing, The Dillinger Food and Drinkery, or Sugar’s at the Forge. Locally made craft beers—like the Powder Monkey Pilsner, named after the Hoover Dam workers who packed explosives—pair perfectly with wings and sliders over at Boulder Dam Brewing. Inside The Dillinger, housed in the old Bank of Nevada building and (thus) named after infamous bank robber John Dillinger, gourmet burgers and hearty steak and chicken sandwiches will sate any appetite. And if you’re craving some funkier flavors, Sugar’s serves up cheesecake tacos, unicorn pancakes, and burgers sandwiched between donuts to the table.
Where to Stay in Boulder City
Boulder City hotels range from delightfully retro (neon and all) to palatial and charming. Motorhomers should park their rigs at Lake Mead RV Village for magnificent views and easy access to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Hoover Dam Lodge Hotel & Casino offers all the modern comforts, as well as direct access to the Historic Railroad Trail. For a blast from the past, head for the El Rancho Boulder Motel; the classic, original neon sign guarantees you can’t miss it.
For a dose of history and plenty of class, the classic Boulder Dam Hotel is an ornate gem of a place that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally built in 1933, you may find yourself snoozing in a room previously occupied by Bette Davis, Will Rogers, Howard Hughes, or Shirley Temple. In addition to beautiful rooms and suites, the property is also home to art galleries, a brunch cafe, and the Boulder City / Hoover Dam Museum.
Whether you’re knocking back a Dole whip or hitting up Hoover, be dam sure you post those pics with #TravelNevada so we can share your Boulder City adventure.