Today there’s a lot of family entertainment in Las Vegas, and the need for it was echoed as early as the 1960s by reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes of all people. By that time, he acquired a half-dozen casinos and loved to do press releases about his plans for his Las Vegas properties.
One of his favorite ideas was bringing family-themed entertainment to a revitalized and rebuilt Sands Hotel where he envisioned lawn games like croquet and mini-golf, indoor games like ping pong and shuffleboard, movies, plays and much more. Still, Hughes was a businessman, and his priority at the Sands was making a profit, so he modernized the casino and built a 500-room tower.
Then, before Hughes ever embarked on any of his plans for family entertainment, he slipped away in the dead of night from his penthouse suite at the Desert Inn and fled to the Caribbean. As for the Sands, it crumbled away until Sheldon Adelson bought the property and finally shut it down in 1996.
Were people sad? Sure.
Would family entertainment have made a difference?
Probably not, because during the late ‘80s several properties gave the family theme a whirl. The idea spun out of control for years, eventually crashing to the ground, crushed under its weight.
There’s nothing wrong with some fun for the kids, but Vegas is Vegas. It’s Disneyland for adults, not vice versa. So today, a few properties offer great entertainment for children, most notably Circus-Circus and The Orleans. And, the city has several museums and sporting events that visitors and locals alike can enjoy.
If there is one thing Las Vegas rarely hurts for, it’s money for infrastructure, and with more than one million people in the valley, there are plenty of parks and typical mid-size city recreation for families. You won’t find much of that on the Strip, but you won’t be starved for other outlets beyond gaming either.
Day Trips from Las Vegas
Planning a family day trip from Las Vegas requires a car. The city is a sprawling 135 square miles, and some of the most popular destinations are on the outskirts of or are out of the city. Hoover Dam is one spot you might consider, but keep in mind that it’s 45-miles away. However, there are several tour companies that will pick you and your family up at your hotel.
The Hoover Dam tour is quite educational without being boring, even for small children. The tour begins with facts about the dam, and before you know it, you are way down deep in the dam and being amazed by the actual monstrous size of the wall of concrete.
A new attraction at the dam is a scary, but exciting walk along the Grand Canyon Skywalk, 4,000 feet above the floor of the canyon.
YEAH, IT’S A GLASS WALKWAY YOU CAN SEE THROUGH!!
If that’s not enough, raft tours along the Colorado River are available most of the year, and helicopter tours of the West Rim of the Grand Canyon are also quite popular. Other helicopter flights originate out of the Hoover Dam Heliport and take visitors to Las Vegas and around the dam. A cheap flight for about $69 per person gets you a quick thrill and the best view of the dam possible.
Lake Mead boat tours are also great family entertainment, and all types of water activity are available on the Lake. Houseboats have plenty of secluded coves and harbors to anchor, and the sun’s hot while the water’s cool.
Staying closer to Las Vegas proper, you can head to Mt. Charleston and picnic at any one of dozens of camping sites or lunch areas. During the winter you can even get in a little skiing if you don’t mind the small resort.
Below the mountain, NASCAR beckons from 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. N. The 1,200-acre racing complex opened in 1972 with multiple tracks and can accommodate up to 116,000 fans. Major events at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway include Baja 1000 qualifying, Toyota NHRA Nationals, and NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
Vegas may be dry, but there’s enough water for more than 50 gorgeous courses around town and nearby, with 18-holes for as little as $27 at the Revere Golf Club in Henderson. Many courses also rent clubs/shoes, and you may get special pricing from your resort. Check with the concierge desk wherever you are staying.
Family Fun in Town
If you love team sports, UNLV is located right next to the Strip, and the Thomas & Mack Center is nearby with men’s and women’s basketball games (and concerts). The center also hosts NBA Summer League games as well as PBR Rodeo. The UNLV Rebel’s football games are held nearby at Sam Boyd Stadium, and the Las Vegas Bowl featuring Mountain West Conference and Pac-12 Conference champions is held in December.
For baseball fans, Cashman Field sits at 850 Las Vegas Blvd. N. and is the home to the Vegas 51’s, a New York Mets AAA affiliate. You can get tickets just past third or first base for $7 each and have a great time at the game. Snacks and drinks are reasonable, so the day at the ball game could be the best bargain in town.
At 3780 Las Vegas Blvd. S. you can enjoy plenty of events at T-Mobile Arena, including concerts, PBR World Finals Rodeo, NBA Preseason games, UFC fights and NHL Vegas Golden Knights hockey matches.
As for the Oakland Raiders NFL franchise, the team is expected to continue playing in Oakland for the time being, but a new NFL stadium could be constructed and ready for use before the 2020 NFL season.
If your children prefer arcades and rides to sports, don’t worry, there are choices. The town’s most popular spot for coaster and arcade fun is the Adventure Dome at Circus-Circus. You can even drop the kids off and hit the slots downstairs. Tickets for the Adventure Dome run about $33 with a discount for children under 33-inches tall who may not be eligible for all attractions.
There are midway games, arcade games, mini-golf, food and drinks, more than a dozen rides, and two coasters. Everything fits inside the dome atop the resort, so yes, things are a bit wedged in, but it works. Most children will have a great time.
New York New York Hotel also offers a roller coaster along the Las Vegas Strip called the Big Apple. The 180-degree turn, 360-degree loop coaster is fun but then done, so besides single-ride passes ($15), you can buy an all-day pass for $26. You can also grab an authentic Nathan’s Famous hot dog and play a wide selection of video games in the arcade.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, consider Hershey’s Chocolate World, right there at NY-NY, where you can customize your very own chocolate bar or star in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup TV ad. Only in Las Vegas!
When you’re done, you can walk across the street to Excalibur and ride the free Tram between clubs and check out the Luxor and Mandalay Bay, or head across the Strip and try Top Golf about two blocks from the MGM.
Or, if you’re still hungry, look left of the MGM as you face it from NY-NY and you’ll see the M&M Factory. Inside the three-story shop are huge M&M characters for pictures, more colorful candy than you’ve ever seen, and a free movie. It’s a nice air-conditioned break from the summer sun, but keep in mind chocolate melts quickly in Las Vegas!
Down at the other end of the Strip, you can stop at the Stratosphere to check out the tallest freestanding observation tower in the US, at 1,149 feet. There is a $20 fee to enjoy the 360-degree indoor and outdoor view spots.
If standing so high in the rarefied air isn’t enough, perhaps you’d like to jump from 829 feet above the Strip in a freefall/bungee/rappel experience? Maybe, maybe not. Other attractions include Big Shot, Insanity, and X-Scream, all atop the building.
Las Vegas Boulevard continues past the Stratosphere to Downtown where you can climb the 12-story SlotZilla and ride a 1,750 feet long zip line from 114 feet up and soar over the Fremont Street Experience. It’s quick and easy, perhaps a little less frightening than jumping off the Stratosphere, and runs about $45.
While you’re Downtown, your kids might want to sleep with the fish, or at least swim with sharks at the Golden Nugget pool where a three-story-high glass tube water slide takes riders through a shark aquarium. It’s all good stuff.
Several Las Vegas casinos have arcades for children, and some offer bowling alleys, like Sam’s Town, Gold Coast, and the Orleans. Others have theaters, and a few Station Casinos have Kid’s Quest, where your younger children can play in a safe, supervised environment that has climbing, slides, video games, art projects, and snacks.
One property that has it all is the Orleans, which has a Kids Tyme supervised play center with all the bells and whistles. Other fun things to do there include movies at the Century Orleans 18 multiplex theater, bowling, arcade games, a concert arena and of course, huge pool. Next to the very large and popular poker room is a food court for your finicky eaters. It’s truly a family-oriented property.
Museums in Las Vegas
If you think it’s all fun and games in Las Vegas, you’re mostly right, but there’s some educational fun too. You can start with the Discovery Children’s Museum near Downtown in the Smith Center for Performing Arts. Children will find plenty to do, with lots of hands-on activities. You’ll find there are other things going on in the Smith Center too.
Another children’s favorite is the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which offers Treasures of Egypt, Young Scientist Center and a 35-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex. There’s also a gallery where kids can dig for fossils.
The Nevada State Museum in northwest Las Vegas concentrates on what Nevada was like long ago, including how the Comstock Lode in Virginia City put the state on the US Map.
At the east end of the Strip is the National Atomic Testing Museum. That may seem like a strange place to go, but there are excellent films in the Ground Zero Theater. Another favorite subject at the museum is AREA 51: Myth or Reality, which explores stories about Groom Lake, also known as Area 51, which is 83-miles from Las Vegas.
Is a day trip worth it to Area 51? Well to start with, the highly classified detachment of Edwards Air Force Base can’t be seen from the highway. So there’s not much to see, but if you get close enough, the military will be able to see you from security cameras and other devices in place to alert MP’s about your presence.
Photography is not allowed, but “use of deadly force is authorized,” according to signs posted for miles around the facility.
At night, you might be able to see a puff of jet exhaust as a new super-secret prototype is tested, or you might just see a more common plane taking workers from the property to a site closer to Las Vegas where most of them live. Will you see aliens? Your odds of hitting a huge jackpot on a slot machine in town are probably better.
If you want a guarantee of something big, stop at the Neon Museum, a scrapheap and final resting place for some of the most iconic Las Vegas neon signs of all time. The two-acre Neon Boneyard is a site to see.
Although there are other museums, the current favorite in Las Vegas is fairly new. Opened Downtown in 2012, the Mob Museum calls itself “The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. It’s housed in a former federal courthouse, which is fitting.
No stranger than UFO’s over Area 51, the Museum was funded with federal, state, and local grants to the tune of $50 million dollars after the government sold the property for $1. The museum tour is self-guided, so you can take your time standing next to the actual wall shot full of holes at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, or look deeply into the eyes of known Mafia members along the Wall of Mobsters.
If you know a little bit about Las Vegas and the Mob, you probably know about the Kefauver hearings, some of which were held right there in the second-floor courtroom. If you don’t know about the Mob, well, you’ll learn much in the museum, and there are plenty of good books on the subject in the gift shop.
If you don’t want to end on a crime note, you might consider Madame Tussauds Wax Museum which has more than 100 lifelike wax celebrities and is located at the Venetian on the Strip.
There’s also Bodies in Motion at the Luxor, which isn’t what it sounds like, even if it is in Vegas. The Bodies show is 13 whole-body specimens and over 260 organs and partial body specimens in an educational experience.
No, it’s not secretly part of the Mob Museum, but…
If you still don’t think there’s anything to do in Las Vegas, fuhgeddaboudit.