AARP travel ambassador Samantha Brown recommends the bests sites and eats in Las Vegas, which — with the New York, New York Hotel & Casino (pictured) — even has its own Big Apple.
AARP travel ambassador Samantha Brown recommends the best sights and eats in Las Vegas, which — with the New York, New York Hotel & Casino (pictured) — even has its own Big Apple. Steve McAlister / Getty Images

Though in the middle of the Nevada desert, Las Vegas is a neon island that welcomes all who come to its glittering shores. Whether you're a big spender or down on your luck, Vegas is the consummate adult playground designed to keep you entertained, satiated, satisfied and distracted from the real world.

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To celebrate this rare dichotomy and versatility, let's look at Las Vegas through two different lenses: Won the Jackpot and Lost Your Shirt. Whether we fit the Fat Cat or the Strapped for Cash profile, there's something in Vegas for all of us. Keep in mind, however, that no matter where you are on this spectrum when you arrive, what attracts people to Vegas in the first place is the fact that the way you come in is not necessarily how you will leave.

Here, a few of my favorite things to do and places to see in Vegas, whether you're in the money or not.

1. Grab a burger

Nothing screams "I'm rich" more loudly than spending 60 bucks on a burger. Yes, that's what you'll pay for the privilege of having the French chef Hubert Keller (of Top Chef Masters fame) flip you "The Rossini," which features Kobe-style Wagyu beef from Australia with sautéed foie gras, shaved truffles and a Madeira sauce on an onion bun. You'll find it at Burger Bar in Mandalay Place.

However, if your bank account is less Madeira sauce, more yellow mustard, and you don't mind eating under purple neon lights and a mirrored ceiling, then the Peppermill Coffee Shop is the way to go without going fast food. Peppermill opened in 1972 and its decor is like a cheesy lounge lizard version of a classic HoJo (Howard Johnson's), yet it now comes off as timely and cool. The signature burger is a half-pound, all-beef patty served on a grilled Parmesan sourdough roll for $11.50.

2. Go shopping

Shopping in Las Vegas is legendary, and you'll enjoy the fact that it's not just what they're selling but how they're selling it. Most high-end shops create displays so elaborate they could debut as sets on a Broadway stage. You'll find yourself oohing and aahing over a performance of $500 shoes. Each casino has its own shopping extravaganza, but I've always enjoyed the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Why my local mall can't have spiral escalators and a fountain show recounting the myth of Atlantis I have no idea. From Christian Dior to Christian Louboutin, Valentino to Versace, the world's most recognized designers are here to help you part with your winnings.

But, if you didn't win enough on the nickel slots for a $2,000 suit and you still want to buy some new threads, head to the outlet malls. This being Vegas, there are actually two. Premium Outlets has posts on both the north and south ends of the Strip, so you're never far from dealing and deals. Look for discounts on your favorite stores, including Chico's, Brooks Brothers, Nautica and Nike.