When people learn I’m from Las Vegas, I can almost see their minds whirling with a million preconceived notions about my city.

They think of tunes like “Waking Up in Vegas” by Katy Perry or Elvis’ iconic “Viva Las Vegas” with lyrics such as, “There’s blackjack and poker and the roulette wheel. A fortune won and lost on ev’ry deal.”

Naturally, that’s what they think my life must be like, too.

They ask questions like, “What do your parents do there? Do you live in a casino?” or, “Do you gamble and party, like, all the time?”

Well, if you must know, my mom is a stripper and I lived in the Bellagio.

I’m kidding. Really, people?

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Photo Credit: Emmie Weddell

It’s time to set the record straight about what life is really like in Las Vegas, behind its facade of poker chips, scantily clad women and too much alcohol.

I actually grew up in Henderson, which is practically a suburb of Las Vegas, except that I can see the Strip from my house and the city limits between the two are blurred even to locals.

The Strip, though flashy and alluring from the hilltops of Henderson, didn’t offer me much enjoyment as a minor.

The only time I really spent there was when family or friends visited and wanted to play tourist. In high school, I went to the Strip for occasions like homecoming and prom. We spent too much money on limos that took us to the Strip where we bought expensive sushi dinners and saw Cirque de Soleil.

Other than that, I spent most of my time in Henderson. I went to small private schools, had a job working in aftercare, went to church and hung out with friends at movie theaters, parks, restaurants, mini-golf, you name it. I did normal things at normal places with normal people.

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Photo Credit: Emmie Weddell

Even though my lifestyle in the Las Vegas metropolis was normal, there were definitely hidden gems I enjoyed as a local.

For example, downtown Las Vegas has become very trendy among locals over the past few years. One of my personal favorites is Downtown Container Park, an eccentric shopping center made  entirely of shipping containers! It’s a fun, quirky place to hang out, get food and shop.

The Las Vegas area even offers plenty to do for those who love the outdoors. When the weather is nice, locals love to hike Mt. Charleston or Red Rock Canyon or go kayaking in Lake Mead or Lake Las Vegas.

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Photo Credit: Emmie Weddell

There are so many opportunities in Las Vegas besides gambling your life away on the Strip. While it’s typically only thought of as a vacation spot unsuitable for children, I am thankful to have grown up there. I was never bored and was always enamored by the exciting opportunities that surrounded me.

Vegas will always be my first home. I don’t know whether or not I will live there again one day, but the bright city will always be a part of who I am and where I come from.