The “Other” Las Vegas
written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH
Chances are, you’ve been to Las Vegas for a convention, shows, and the casinos.
But once you’ve laughed at the flamingos at the Flamingo Hotel, enjoyed a gondola ride at the Venetian, and seen old town Freemont, what else is there to do in Vegas? Other than gamble, of course.
Tourists can find weird and wonderful museums, historic landmarks, natural wonders, outdoor activities, and ways to learn the back-story of this fascinating American city. Here are some ideas:
ENJOY WEIRD AND WONDERFUL MUSEUMS
- Atomic Testing Museum
- Neon Museum
- Liberace Museum
- Clark County Heritage Museum
- Nevada Black History
For a blast of a time, visit the Atomic Testing Museum.
For decades, Nevada’s vast undeveloped stretches have been home to the nation’s atomic testing program (over 80% of the state’s land is owned by the U.S federal government, so there’s room for an explosion or two.) There’s a wealth to be learned here in exhibits detailing 40 years of atomic history in the Silver State.
Get an illuminating perspective on American mass culture in the 20th century.
This quirky curated collection includes 150 historic neon signs from Vegas; for each, there’s a back-story about who created it, what inspired it, when it was made, and the role it plays in the larger saga of Las Vegas. The founders humorously call their display area the boneyard. Tours by appointment only. Reserve ahead.
A shining example of over-the-topness, the piano-shaped museum in Liberace’s name is just as flagrant as the man himself.
Check out his star-studded collection of pianos (one owned by Gershwin, another played by Chopin), custom cars, to-die-for costumes, and what else- the world’s largest collection of rhinestones.
What makes Vegas Vegas?
About twenty miles from the Strip, this museum puts the Vegas experience in historical perspective. One exhibit details the history of gaming in Las Vegas, complete with an 1898 Dewy slot machine. Outside are winding paths with local Mojave desert flora, a 1918 model steam engine, and – beloved by kids of all ages – “Heritage Street,” featuring a handful of restored early 20th century buildings.
The University of Nevada at Las Vegas is home to the Nevada Black History Project. Their special collection (sometimes edited into traveling exhibits) of papers and photo archives offers a rare glimpse into the lives of local African Americans. There are fascinating insights, as well, into such entertainment luminaries as Louie Armstrong, who was paid to play at the fanciest hotels in Vegas, but because of racism, was not allowed to stay on the Strip. By appointment.