By Steve Beauregard
The Freemont Street Light show times are easy to remember: the show starts on the hour, every night starting at dusk, and going until 1 a.m.
Because the days get longer the closer we get to summer, the starting hours are always changing. For example, in February, the first show begins at 6 p.m., whereas later in the spring, the first performance of the night will begin at 8 p.m.
Officially called the Fremont Street Experience, the light show is the most visible part of downtown’s concentrated entertainment efforts to bring in (and keep) those visitors who may be inclined to spend all their time at the strip. Entertainment options downtown include a regular series of free concerts, (some by some pretty impressive names), and a thrilling zip line that takes riders high over the heads of the tourists below.
The Fremont Street light show itself runs about six minutes in length, and is one of the coolest things to do while in Las Vegas. Even better, it’s completely 100% free (you don’t even have to struggle through a 5 hour time share presentation to see it).
What it is, is an enormous light and sound show broadcast on the largest television screen in the world. Actually, the screen is 90 feet above the ground, on a high one-half circle canopy that covers four entire blocks of Fremont Street from 4th Street to Main Street, at the Plaza Hotel and Casino. (You may remember the Plaza as being the place that “Biff” owned in one of the “Back to the Future” movies).
Here’s one of the light shows:
This downtown Las Vegas light show has been popular since its inception in December of 1995. Casino owners had fretted over the erosion of their business to their glitzier cousins a little south on the Strip, and wanted a unique attraction in their own right to bring the tourists back downtown. According to official tourism stats, 25,000 people each day watch the shows. 18,000 of them suffer dangerous neck injuries from staring up above at the show.
Ok, I made that last part up, but the Fremont Street light show is
addictive. Both the sound and graphics light up downtown in a visual and audio display that leaves you with one of those, “only in Vegas” moments. I know personally, I’ve actually left the craps table at the Golden Gate to venture outside to check out the canopy show. And trust me, it takes a lot for a degenerate gambler like me to leave the table.
Although the overhead canopy was built in 1995, the entire system underwent a $17 million dollar upgrade that was completed in June of 2004. The “Viva Vision” screen is said to be the largest projection screen in the world. In fact, over 12 million LED lights work their magic during each performance, accompanied by a sound system that has over a 1/2 million watts.
There is a constantly rotating selection of shows, but some popular standouts (like the “American Freedom” shows) always seem to be in the mix. A recent random Fremont Street show schedule showed tributes to Queen, the Doors, Bon Jovi, and Don McLean – and that was all just on one night.
Fremont Street Experience parking
South of Fremont Street, on the eastern end, is a 1,430 square foot parking structure called the Fremont Street Parking Garage (I believe it’s called this. If not, it’s still an official part of the downtown organization. These parking spaces are free, so long as you obtain an easy validation from inside one of the downtown casinos.
Some other parking venues (I believe Binon’s, The D – which is the newest casino in Las Vegas, the Golden Nugget, and the Californian) also require validation from someone inside their respective casino (usually at the cashier’s cage), to be completely free.
Parking at the El Cortez, Plaza, Vegas Club, and Main Street Station is free, and there are no validation requirements. All four of these are downtown hotel/casinos, and while the Plaza and Vegas Club are both directly on Fremont Street, the other two are just a short walk away. Be careful, however, with a light night walk to the El Cortez, as you can certainly run into some shady-looking characters.