It’s difficult for most to understand how driving into the Vegas Valley feels like coming home. Perhaps the feeling stems from familiarity; a place we lived for 10 years. Being locals for a decade results in nostalgia from the well-known skyline, majestic Red Rock to the west, twinkling neon, desert sunsets, palm trees, and the anomaly of the City of Lights being in the vast desert.
Not all people from Salt Lake City ski, not all folks from Honolulu surf, and not all “Lost Wages” residents participate in the non-stop adult playground shenanigans.
Las Vegas is full of contrasts. It’s one of the most overt examples of everything that’s wrong with society: narcissism, greed, overindulgence, shallow living, materialism, etc. But, beyond the relentless marketing and unapologetic superficiality the abhorrent only exemplifies the goodness.
Sure, there’s world-class food & entertainment. Amazing winter weather too. But our Vegas experience was filled with good people, friends & family. Ordinary humans quietly going about doing good & raising good families. We might know a thing or two about navigating "Sin City" with kids. Here's our list of family-friendly recommendations:
30.The Famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign. Who doesn’t love a good photo op? The city has created an area to park so there’s no longer near-death experiences crossing the road…unless you’re dodging crazy taxi cab drivers entering the parking lot with tourists. Mornings are best to avoid crowds.
The sign is located at the south end of the Strip in the median at 5100 Las Vegas Boulevard South.
29.The Neon Museum(Recommended for ages 8 and up). It seems like nothing in Vegas is more than a couple of decades old. But this old sign “boneyard” is an important artistic expression of the local culture.
Homeschooling lessons could include: graphic design & advertising, color spectrum, the chemical element of neon, the periodic table, & isotopes. One hour tours must be booked in advance online. And you can receive ½ off of one admission ticket if you’re part of the NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum Association).
28.Lake Las Vegas is an interesting drive out to a 320 acre man-made lake in Henderson, NV. The area boasts 3 major resorts and golf courses: MonteLago Village Resort, Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort, and the Hilton Lake Las Vegas. Hundreds of homes surround this resort-style master planned community. Concerts and activities can be found at lakelasvegasevents.com. Some restaurants offer “kids eat free” nights (as seen on the event calendar). If you’re lucky, you might run into Celine Dion. She’s lived in Lake Las Vegas for many years.
Homeschooling talking points: 1) The Great Recession – this area was greatly impacted 2) Water use & conservation in the desert. The dam that created the lake was completed in 1991. The Las Vegas Wash passes underneath the lake & dam in pipes to Lake Mead. You can learn more about the Las Vegas Wash at the Wetlands Park. The Wetlands Park makes it in our "Top 10," so read on. ;)
Water Conservation Resources: DamNation documentary (free w/Amazon Prime), Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water ($13.99 on Kindle).
27.Attending a show in the “Entertainment Capital of the World” is a classic Vegas activity. The following shows are family-friendly (IMHO): 1) KA at the MGM Grande (think good vs evil). 2) Blue Man Group at Luxor. 3) Tournament of Kings at The Excalibur. And check out Groupon for great ticket deals for Nathan Burton Comedy Magic and Recycled Percussion at Planet Hollywood.
26.Water Park. If you have the displeasure of visiting Las Vegas between May and oh…let’s say September (probably more like October). I apologize. The summer months are as if the very jaws of Hell have opened up to eat you. “It’s a *dry* heat.” Pffft! It’s still hellish. So visit a water park. They didn’t exist when we lived there or else we would’ve had season passes.
Wet N’ Wild – 7055 S Fort Apache Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89148 – wetnwildlasvegas.com
25.Run Plus Fun is a large indoor playground. It’s a perfect spot to let kids run off some steam during inclement weather. Check their website or other coupon sites (Groupon, Living Social, City Deals) for deals on admission. And don’t forget to take a pair of socks (required attire)!
Run Plus Fun – 10875 South Eastern Ave, Henderson, NV 89052 – runplusfun.com
24.The Clark County Museum is a charming collection of restored historic buildings. The main exhibit hall showcases a Southern Nevada timeline of prehistoric time to modern history. The restored homes make a fantastic backdrop for family pictures. The museum is open daily from 9am – 4:30pm. The admission is cheap! $2 for adults and $1 for kids.
23. The Henderson Parks & Recreation Department is a straight up class act! Check their website for amazing community events, concerts, and facility activities. For example, the Henderson Pavilion will host Scotty McCreery and LeAnn Rimes in upcoming concerts this spring. The suburb of Henderson boasts 6 family recreation centers and 2 strictly geared towards senior citizens. Chances are you don’t have to be in the area long to find a fun class to attend at a neighboring rec center. Many of the rec centers have rock climbing walls, state-of-the-art pools, and exercise facilities available to the public for a nominal fee.
22. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum engages visitors with interactive exhibits. Your budding paleontologist, marine biologist, zoologist, historian, or scientist will love this place. This museum is part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program; which means your admission is free. For more information on the ASTC reciprocal program visit their website here.
Las Vegas Natural History Museum – 900 Las Vegas Blvd North, Las Vegas, NV 89101 – lvnhm.org
21.City Parks. Keep scrolling for a park that makes our “Top 10 Family-Friendly Things to do in Vegas” and another that wins the title of “Best Splash Pad Park Ever.” But in the meantime, we think these parks in the Vegas Valley are pretty fantastic.
Sunset Regional Park is the crown jewel of the LV Clark County Parks system. It is centrally located near the McCarran International Airport. This massive park has several playgrounds, jogging/walking trails, a 9 acre lake, fishing, Frisbee golf, large sports field, and enclosed pet areas. The park hosts many community events as well (i.e. Renaissance Faire, Food Truck Festival, etc.) Don’t forget to take bread to feed the ducks!
Sunset Park – 2601 E Sunset Rd, Las Vegas, NV 89120
Cactus Wren is a 7 acre park with an enormous covered playground, a lighted skate park, and an awesome dog park. As you walk to the open fields towards the southeast corner of the park there’s a walking bridge across St. Rose Parkway that has a path leading to another (smaller) park called Siena Heights. Makes for a fun jaunt!
Cactus Wren Park – 2900 Ivanpah Drive, Henderson, NV 89074
The Siegfried & Roy Park, built by the Department of Aviation, is one of the newer parks in Clark County. The proximity to the airport makes a great location to let kids burn off steam after a long flight or if you need to kill time waiting to pick someone up. There is a nice walking path and an incredible playground.
Siegfried & Roy Park – 5590 Wilbur St, Las Vegas, NV 89119
20. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. You’re in the desert. As evidenced by the multiple billboards warning you about flash flooding. Maybe your visit coincides with the “monsoon season” in July-August? If so, you can see the coolest collection of rain water along the Pittman Wash Trail. Even without rain, the trail is a great walking & bike path.
The Pittman Wash Trail follows what is usually a dry wash through residential Henderson (Las Vegas southern suburb) neighborhoods. Park at the Arroyo Grande Sports Complex (298 N Arroyo Grande Blvd, Henderson, NV 89074) and carefully walk across Arroyo Grande at a crosswalk to a paved trail. The narrow, paved trail travels north and ends at Pebble Road (approximately 4 miles). Arroyo Grande Sports Complex (sports fields & park) is also a great viewing area of the Pittman Wash with a walking bridge between the 2 playgrounds/areas of the Complex.
Don’t be an idiot! Use your brain and necessary precautions during flash floods…duh!
19. A visit to the Springs Preserve will inspire environmental responsibility. The Springs Preserve is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because its location is the origin of the Las Vegas Springs or “the birthplace of Las Vegas.” Offered attractions include: the Nevada State Museum, interactive nature & science exhibits, a botanical garden, live animal shows, trails, hiking, and traveling exhibits. Each season they offer community events and parties (i.e. Spring – butterfly habitat, October – family-friendly Halloween carnival, etc.). My kids have happy memories of our many outings here. Nevada residents get half off admission!
18.Mount Charleston is the highest mountain in Clark County with the highest peak reaching over 11,000 feet in elevation. It is located approximately 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It is a welcome escape from the city! It’s worth a Sunday drive just to breathe in some fresh mountain air.
Lee Canyon offers mediocre skiing & tubing in the winter. And the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area offers camping, hiking, and picnicking in the warmer months. The following link identifies trail heads and picnic areas.
17.Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is a 520 acre oasis 15 west of Las Vegas. (Random Fact: The property was once owned by Howard Hughes.) An entrance fee of $7 for Nevada residents and $9 for out-of-state is charged per vehicle. The park features weather that is traditionally 10-15 degrees cooler than the Las Vegas Valley. It is a perfect picnic location with grills, shade, and public restrooms. The Main Ranch House is open for self-guided tours throughout the year (check the link below for hours). And in the spring and fall, “Living History” programs are offered depicting the lives of early settlers.
My favorite feature of this state park is the annual Super Summer Theatre that runs May – September. Pack a picnic & blanket to enjoy outdoor cultural entertainment under the stars. Every season a variety of shows are presented. Check out more details here.
16.Ethel M Chocolates in Henderson has a free self-guided factory tour. At the end of the tour chocolatiers at the gift counter will give you a free chocolate sample. The factory property is surrounded by trails through a botanical cactus garden. During the Christmas season the botanical cactus garden is beautifully lit. www.ethelm.com
15.Bass Pro Shop & Mermaid Aquarium at the Silverton Hotel & Casino is large & impressive. What kid doesn’t like to climb on the ATV’s or pretend to drive the latest ski boat? It’s a great place to kill an hour or 2 while you scheme your next outdoorsy activity. And right next door is the Silverton’s Mermaid Aquarium. They offer daily interactive fish feedings and mermaid shows on the weekends. The schedule can be found here.
14.Downtown Container Park is the brain-child of Zappos owner, Tony Hsieh. Located mostly on the blocks east of Fremont Street, it was part of a $350 million redevelopment project after Zappos announced they’d be moving their headquarters into the neighboring & former City Hall. This is not the downtown Las Vegas you may remember. Container Park is a welcome addition with boutique shopping, dining, large park, and live entertainment. And while “The Fremont Experience” is so close I can’t say, in good conscience, that it’s a family-friendly experience. Especially after dark. Beware.
13.Historic Railroad Trail is located near Boulder City, just 30 miles from Las Vegas. The trail, on this almost 4 mile hike, hugs the southern shoreline of Lake Mead and weaves through 5 tunnels on its way towards Hoover Dam. You’re sure to see desert-dwelling wildlife, but this trail is discouraged in warmer months. Prime visitation is fall, winter, and early spring. More detailed trail information can be found here.
12.Hoover Dam. If not for the Depression-era engineering marvel itself, at least for a fun family experience full of dam puns. The Hoover Dam (once called Boulder Dam) offers tours and sweet views of Lake Mead and Colorado River. A National Historic Landmark, Hoover Dam, is the highest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere. Despite the harsh working conditions this engineering feat was finished in 5 years in 1936.
Dam Tour, Power Plant Tour, Visitor Center admission, and parking fee information can be found here.
If you don’t want to spend any $ you HAVE to *at least* walk and drive the Mike O’Callaghan and Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge (also called the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge). It is an arch bridge that spans the Colorado River between Nevada & Arizona. The bridge is the first concrete-steel composite arch bridge and has the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere. A walking path is accessible from the Nevada side. The walking path turn off is clearly marked and also has portable toilets available. The view is dam incredible! :pun intended:
11.Caesar’s Palace lives up to its theme. It’s luxurious and classy and my favorite hotel & casino in Sin City. We lived in Las Vegas when we embarked on our first year of homeschool. What a learning curve. When we did our first Ancient Greco-Roman era unit, you bet we went to Caesar’s Palace for a field trip to observe architecture.
In fact, Teachers Pay Teachers has great resources if you’d like to make a stroll through Caesar’s Palace a true educational experience. This “Roman Architecture Using Google Earth” looks promising as a good review of some of the main architectural components of the Roman Empire.
Caesar’s Palace has the free moving statue show, “Atlantis” showing every hour on the hour in front of The Cheesecake Factory. While you’re there check out the 50,000 gallon aquarium nearby.
10. Volunteer at Three Square. Three Square is the only food bank providing food assistance to the residents of Southern Nevada. This amazing resource partners with community organizations to help at-risk families. It’s easy to sign up. Once your online application is reviewed and approved you are allowed access to view the many service opportunities and various hours open for volunteer work. A training session is offered, but not required to participate. Please keep in mind they require volunteers to be 10 or older.
9. Trust me, it’s worth fighting the traffic and crowds to attend Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden and Fountains. Each season the Bellagio atrium is transformed! Each display is meticulously planned and arranged. It will take your breath away. The Fountains show are an aquatic feast for the eyes. The shows usually run every half hour starting at 3pm. On the weekends the show times and frequency increase. You can find details here.
8.Galaxy Green Valley Luxury Theatre is a movie theatre offering plush, reclining seating. Let me repeat. Plush, reclining seating. Let’s face it, sometimes the kiddo’s movie choice isn’t our choice. You’ll have the *best* nap! They also offer full concessions with beer & wine service. Unfortunately, movie tickets are not available on Fandango, but you can purchase tickets on their website here. You might also score deals by liking their facebook page.
7. And the award for “Best Splash Pad in Nevada” goes to Reunion Trails Park in Henderson, NV. It’s amazing! This 12 acre park has open grass fields, shaded picnic areas, a walking course, huge playground, and dog park. There are multiple splash pads and an enchanting stream that runs near the splash pads. It’s the perfect place to cool off. It truly is like a free amusement park. Reunion Trail Park is open 6am to midnight.
Reunion Trails Park – 44 Chapata Dr, Henderson, NV 89012
6. Town Square Las Vegas is outdoor shopping, dining, strolling and entertainment with a great central location on Las Vegas Blvd at the junction of I-15 and the 215 Beltway. Think Whole Foods, the Container Store, H&M, Gymboree, etc. The big draw for families includes the AMC 18 movie theater and the Children’s Park. The Children’s Park has a treehouse, hedge maze, and small splash pad. Town Square is also a great resource for free or low cost community events. Check out their calendar for special events here.
5. We recommend the Discovery Children’s Museum. It is a highly energetic and educational experience with interactive exhibits and tons of hands on activities. The water station alone is worth the visit. In our humble opinion, it is best for ages 12 and under. Please keep in mind they are usually closed Mondays. Admission is $14.50, but if you have a museum membership that includes the ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) reciprocity, your admission is half off.
4. Our award for the “Best Family Park in Nevada” goes to Exploration Peak Park. This 24 acre park has a Western-themed playground with building replicas, wagon play structure archeology “dig site.” But the focal point is Exploration Peak with hiking trails leading to the top with a scenic view of Las Vegas.
Exploration Peak Park – 9700 S Buffalo Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89178
3.Valley of Fire State Park. I triple dog dare you to Google images of Nevada’s oldest state park. Astounding, right? Located in the Mojave Desert about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas is a brilliant colored area of the southwest that you don’t want to miss. There is an entrance fee per vehicle for admission into the park. The park offers camping, hiking, and picnicking. If you day trip in, pack water & layers for sun and wind. And don’t forget your camera for the spectacular red rock formations.
2. The Clark County Wetlands Park is located on the east side of the valley. There are miles of trails for biking, walking, and birding. There is a playground and picnic area. The Wetlands Park offers a lush habitat smack dab in the middle of the desert for plants and animals. The impressive 45,000 square foot Nature Center & Exhibit Hall is sure to entertain, but more importantly engage kids in what it means to be nature’s stewards. We learned so much and can’t wait to return. The Nature Center (free admission) is open daily from 9am to 4pm, with the trailheads open from 6am to 11pm.
1. No visit to Las Vegas is complete without some exploration in Red Rock National Conservation Area. Red Rock Canyon will always be nostalgic for my kids. We spent a lot of time hiking and rock scrambling (and admiring the rock climbers). Located just 15 miles west of Las Vegas, it does get a lot of visitors. We recommend going early. Once you enter the park you are on a one-way 13 mile scenic loop. The state-of-the-art visitor center is located at the beginning of the loop. And don’t forget to participate in the NPS Junior Ranger program. Ask any ranger for a booklet. For family-friendly hikes (ages 6 and older) we recommend Calico Tanks and Icebox Canyon.