Las Vegas has loads to delight every type of vacationer: incredible dining, glitzy clubs, sumptuous spas and...the most fascinating museums you’ll find anywhere. While many of the city’s prime cultural institutions remain undiscovered by visitors, nearly every Vegas local has a personal favorite, and they’re more than willing to share their city’s best-kept secrets.
"I was recently married here! I love this place because its goal is to preserve, protect and display the signs of our city’s neon past. The signs provide a fantastic background for photos, or the perfect Vegas selfie. It’s my favorite spot in the city.”
-Kari Garcia, Owner, Tsp. Baking Company
Those looking to pay their respects to the hotels and casinos of retro Vegas can kneel before the likes of the original Sahara, Golden Nugget and Stardust signs at this colorful, two-acre attraction featuring more than 200 neon wonders, originating as far back as the 1930s. Passionate locals have painstakingly restored these relics to their original splendor, and gathered them into a sprawling Boneyard that wows during the day and dazzles in the evening as part of the museum’s guided tours, which are threaded with entertaining anecdotes. Neon’s newest experience, Brilliant, fuses visuals and music to enhance the stunning signs. When you’re done digging into the past at the Boneyard, head to Nacho Daddy to dig into tortilla chips loaded with gourmet toppings like filet mignon. Stroll around the corner, and you’ll find yourself at the lively Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino in the heart of Old Vegas.
“When the Bellagio opened in 1998 and included an art gallery, I felt that it truly cemented our status as a city that embraced culture and the arts. Many of the pieces are iconic, and yet most of the population would never be able to see them in their original homes. By bringing them to Las Vegas, we offer art to the world, and the world of art to our locals.”
-Andrea Eppolito, Wedding Planner & Event Designer, Andrea Eppolito Events
This intimate gallery, tucked into the opulent Bellagio, hosts work from museums around the country. Picasso, Warhol, and Lichtenstein are just a few renowned artists whose pieces have graced the gallery. The gallery’s upcoming exhibit, Primal Water: An Exhibition of Japanese Contemporary Art, opens June 29 and features a collection of post-war pieces focused on the theme of water in various contexts. After taking in the art, enjoy breakfast (served all day), a light lunch, or a prix fixe meal at Cafe Bellagio while gazing at the hotel’s gorgeous pool and Conservatory & Botanical Gardens below.
“I grew up in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when pinball and old school arcade games were the rage, so Pinball Hall of Fame is pure nostalgia for me. I get $20 in quarters at the change machine and head right for my favorite arcade classics like Donkey Kong, Centipede and Frogger. My wife loves the pinball machines and works her way down the aisles. Two hours later I’m still at the same machine, determined to move to the next level. Go early because this place gets packed!”
-Rick Reichart, Cake Designer and Co-Owner of cakelava
A veritable mecca of the lost arcade art, Pinball Hall of Fame’s unassuming exterior gives no hint to the multicolored glow of the 200 or so machines that ping and ding to welcome visitors into this 10,000 square-foot space. Pop-culture touch points like Ghostbusters and Space Jam mingle with quirky offerings like Dr. Dude and His Excellent Ray, drawing kids of all ages looking for a radical dose of nostalgia. All the machines—dating back to the 1950s—are owned by Tim Arnold, a former arcade operator and member of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club, and the non-profit, volunteer-staffed museum donates a portion of its revenue to the Salvation Army. For a handful of quarters, you’re promised a uniquely memorable gaming experience playing the world’s largest pinball collection. If you haven’t ruined your appetite with the old-school treats from the arcade’s candy machines, head to nearby Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar for similarly classic homemade pasta dishes and pizza, then doze off at the delightfully retro Tropicana Las Vegas while visions of high scores dance in your head.
“I love Springs Preserve not only because it’s an interesting and architecturally designed campus of buildings that use the natural desert environment as inspiration, but because the museum works to educate the public on conservation and living in balance with the delicate desert landscape.”
-Brett Robillard, Principal/Founder, Atlas Architecture, Planning, and Interior Design
A 15-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of the Strip, you’ll enter the tranquil, 180-acre oasis of Springs Preserve. Wander a lush botanical garden that leads to an enchanting butterfly habitat, or check out Boomtown 1905, a recreation of Vegas’ early days, complete with authentic railroad cottages relocated from Downtown. WaterWorks, a new permanent exhibit inside a working water pumping facility, provides a look at local water treatment and sustainability efforts. Everything comes together at the Origen Museum, which hosts a memorable flash flood simulation, fossil identification machines and rotating exhibits. Just outside the museum, keep your eyes peeled for grey foxes, desert cottontails, and relict leopard frogs. Admission to Springs Preserve includes access to the neighboring Nevada State Museum, which delves into the state’s geology, plants, and native creatures. Delish salads and sandwiches—plus eye-popping views—can be found at the on-site Divine Cafe. The luxurious JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa is less than a 15-minute drive from the Preserve.
"It's been years since I last visited the Titanic exhibit, but the haunting sights have stayed with me. The exhibit transports guests to a lost world of glamour and tragedy. The artifacts are incredible, and you'll feel both awe and empathy as you learn about the doomed ship.”
- C. Moon Reed, Staff Writer, Las Vegas Weekly
Here you’ll discover harrowing true stories from actual passengers on the Titanic, marvel at a jaw-dropping recreation of the ship’s Grand Staircase and stroll on a noticeably chilly Promenade Deck that looks out to a sparkling “sky”--while thanking your own lucky stars that you’re nowhere near the ocean. There’s even a man-made iceberg visitors are invited to touch. A bevy of items retrieved from the ship live here, including an unopened champagne bottle and luggage. Don’t miss “The Big Piece:” Part of the Titanic’s starboard side hull, the largest artifact recovered from the ship to date. Before you leave, check your ticket to learn whether your assigned Titanic passenger survived the tragedy. The stirring exhibit is tucked inside the Luxor Las Vegas.
"I like Madame Tussauds because it offers a fun way to take some hilarious photos with celebrities. It’s a self-guided tour, so you can hang out with each character as long as you’d like. The opportunities for poses are endless!"
- Carrie Pollard, Photographer, Carrie Pollard Photography
If you don’t experience a bonafide celebrity sighting during your time in Vegas, you can fool your friends with a selfie next to one of the frighteningly-lifelike doppelgängers at Madame Tussauds in The Venetian. While the museum has locations across the country—and the one that started it all is across the pond in London—Vegas has bragging rights as the home of the first U.S. outpost. It’s studded with more than 100 wax renderings of stars including Justin Timberlake, Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and DJ Steve Aoki, plus Vegas legends like Elvis, Wayne Newton and Siegfried and Roy. After rubbing elbows, sit and sip at The Hangover Bar, which replicates the most memorable scenes from the movie and serves up themed cocktails while offering Strip views that are totally, completely authentic. Bouchon, an airy bistro also in The Venetian, is the perfect spot for an A-list lunch.
“Hands down, our favorite is the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art, on the campus of University of Nevada Las Vegas. It hosts art from local as well as national artists. The shows are always well-curated, and filled with interesting people.” - Tim Shaffer and Kate Aldrich, Owners of Patina Decor
Formerly a natural history museum, Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art does double duty as both a fine art gallery and a lively community gathering place at the UNLV. On any given day, you might see yogis posing on the original basketball court floors, opera singers performing scenes from Don Giovanni, or a nationally-acclaimed artist giving a free lecture. Rotating art exhibitions, ranging from paintings and tapestries to ceramics, enlighten visitors while exploring themes such as culture, identity, and power. While the museum accepts donations, admission is always free. Once you’ve gotten your culture fix, savor a prime cut at MB Steak, a classic and intimate steakhouse, conveniently located inside the buzzing Hard Rock Hotel.
"This museum is a true labor of love. Zak lives in Las Vegas, and he built it over the years, steadily collecting items to thrill both his hometown ghost-chasers and tourists alike. When he took me on the tour, he was so proud and excited. This is his baby, and it shows. He’s constantly adding to it. The museum is in one of the oldest buildings in town. In Vegas, there are just a few historical buildings to choose from, and he found one. Each room introduces a new delight ...or horror, depending on your view. It's totally worth a visit.”
- C. Moon Reed, Staff Writer, Las Vegas Weekly
One of the newest attractions in town is half-oddities collection, half-haunted house, and 100-percent eerie. So eerie, in fact, that each guest is required to sign a waiver prior to entering. The museum is housed in a 1938 Tudor mansion, reportedly the site of dark and demonic happenings in the 1970s. Owner Zak Bagans, a paranormal investigator and host of the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, has created a spine-tingling sensory experience that showcases his incredible trove of macabre treasures with chilling precision and creepy flair. Tour guides, clad in all black, lead visitors through 30 rooms furnished with frights like possessed dolls, the Dybbuk Box (a wine cabinet reputed to be the most haunted object in the world) and the staircase from Bagans’ documentary, Demon House. With scream-worthy surprises lurking around every corner, don’t be alarmed if you experience unexplained aches—you’ll join the ranks of visitors who attribute temporary physical ailments to the unsettled spirits that dwell here. Provided you make it out in one piece, celebrate your good fortune with burgers and street-style tacos at Mingo Kitchen & Lounge before settling in for the (hopefully ghost-free) evening at the sleek SLS Las Vegas.
“I love that The Mob Museum shares Vegas history in an approachable way. There are fun, interactive activities, and it’s near downtown, where the original gambling halls were located. It’s fun to visit the locations described in the exhibits, even if the names have changed. Afterward, I like to hang out along Fremont Street for some of the best people-watching in the world.”
-John Brodie, Grant Writer, UNLV Foundation
Put on your sunglasses and enter the world of Bulger, Bugsy, and Baby Face Nelson. Each floor of this three-story former post office and city courthouse built in 1933 is dedicated to a different era of criminal history, with exhibits that tell the tales of both ruthless mafiosos and the unlucky souls who got caught in their crosshairs. A courtroom experience allows visitors to witness the drama of 1950’s Kefauver hearings through video reenactments and trial footage, and the new Global Networks exhibit drives home the broad impact of organized crime today with a 17-foot-wide touch screen wall. Even the docents here fully commit to the part, donning fedoras and suits. Ask one to show you to The Underground, a speakeasy in the basement, where you can sample moonshine distilled on site or order a specialty cocktail at the bar. Follow it up with any style of pie your heart desires at Pizza Rock before checking into The D Las Vegas to plot your next move.