Best museums in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was built on organized crime. Here, the city honors its history. The museum focuses on the heavily chronicled relationship between the mafia and law enforcement by showcasing artifacts and exhibits in a building that used to be a post office. Dennis Barrie, who was also involved in the development of the International Spy Museum and the Rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame, is the mind behind this Downtown museum. Visitors can get in on the action as well by sitting in an electric chair, doing some wire tapping and taking part in a mob trial in an actual courtroom.
Did you know that atomic bombs were tested in the deserts surrounding Las Vegas? This museum takes visitors through the history of atomic testing in Nevada, from 1951 to the present day. The Ground Zero Theater gives patrons a chance to experience a simulated bomb test, walking guests through the timeline of the bomb’s creation and teaching them how to survive an atomic explosion. One thing is for sure: This will be a blast.
This educational standout is fun for kids of all ages. Located next to the Smith Center, Las Vegas’s modern performance space, the Children’s Museum offers so many fun things to do that it is nearly impossible to experience them all in a single visit. Each area focuses on activities built around different subjects (think air pressure, electricity, space science and magnets) that all coalesce around the literal centerpiece of the museum: the Summit, a 70-foot tower that leads patrons to all different levels.
It used to be that old hotel signs were left to die after their namesake buildings were imploded. But now, some two decades after its origin, The Neon Museum houses the most impressive array of neon signage in the country. Walk through the Neon Boneyard (the amount of signs have become so large, there are now two boneyards), preferably at night, to experience some of Las Vegas’s most iconic signs throughout the years. Expect a museum in pristine condition, to be visited ideally via guided tour.
Why settle for one museum when you can visit three at once while admiring stunning nature all around you? The Springs Preserve sits on 180 acres and features so many trails, hikes, botanical gardens and wetlands that you will think you are anywhere but Las Vegas. Besides the beautiful surroundings, there are a number of museums on site. The Origen Museum features interactive exhibits (including one that recreates a flash flood); the Nevada State Museum offer over 13,000 square feet of exhibits while Boomtown 1905 shows visitors what it was like to live in Nevada at the turn of the 20th century. Get exploring!
First set up in an abandoned goat farm in California and eventually moving to the Arts District in Las Vegas, the Burlesque Hall of Fame seems to have finally found its rightful home in Art Square. The permanent exhibit “Spectacular, Erotic and Slightly Shocking: A Timeline of Burlesque in the United States” takes a historical view of the titillating world of burlesque, from its early days in the mid-1900s to the revival years of the 1990s through today. There are more than 3,500 artifacts in the museum, plus performance spaces for all who wish to indulge in the art of seduction.
What better way is there to learn about Sin City than via Mr. Las Vegas himself? Wayne Newton’s estate sits on 52 acres of land on the outskirts of town. At the museum, guests can check out Wayne’s vintage art collection and take a look at the variety of gifts given to the entertainer by other famous folks. At the equine area, get up close and personal with his championship Arabian horses—you might even get to watch them swim in a modern equine swimming pool. Clearly, Mr. Las Vegas can entertain just as easily off stage.
According to the venue’s own website, this space is “where great art goes on vacation.” In fact, some of the greatest art work from around the globe makes stops at this gallery within the luxury hotel. Past exhibits have included “Picasso: Creatures and Creativity,” “Faberge Revealed” and “Warhol Out West.” Art lovers, unite at this unique location!
What’s Vegas without some sex? These 17,000 square feet of erotica are clearly a must-visit. The museum takes an educational approach to the history of sexuality, a subject that is often discarded because of people’s discomfort level with the subject. Here, find shows that concentrate on sex in space, Catherine the Great and celebrity scandals. There are also multiple performance spaces, one of which is home to the Puppetry of the Penis. Don’t forget to visit the retail store as well.
You can play in here all day: Expect over 2,000 pinball machines in working conditions. Want to change it up? Opt for classic video games instead. Run by pinball guru Tim Arnold, this is a nonprofit facility that stays open thanks to patrons indulging in games. So go play, a lot. You’ll be doing it for a good cause: To further educate the world on the magic that is pinball.
The piano playing virtuoso was also the first performer to utilize automobiles in his stage show. As you can imagine, these vehicles were every bit as flamboyant as Mr. Showmanship himself. Now, many are housed in this one location, including the yellow taxi cab that Liberace used to pick friends up from the airport and his bicentennial Rolls Royce, which he famously flew out of on stage.
About 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas sits Boulder City, a small town that seems generations behind Sin City in the best way possible. It’s quaint and charming and is the home of the Hoover Dam. It’s also where you can find the Railroad Museum. Expect four diesel locomotives on site that are still operational, plus three steam engine locomotives that are on display only. Visitors can ride classic trains and partake in the “Engineer for an Hour” program. It’s truly a ride back in time.