Flashing lights. Dancing showgirls. Gawdy slot machines. The stench of cigarette smoke. Lots and lots of concrete. And the heat…oh, the heat. To many, that pretty much sums up the desert city, Las Vegas. So you may be asking yourself, “Okay Britt and Dom…why the heck would you vacation here? And with your kids? It doesn’t really sound like your cup of tea.” And well, you’d be spot on; it’s not.
But here’s the funny thing, when we found ourselves living in Southern California for a year, guess what city (outside of San Diego and Los Angeles) we paid the most visits to? Yup, Vegas. Why? Well for starters flying into/out of McCarren International Airport is usually much less expensive than flying out of Palm Springs. Maybe it’s just a few bucks here and there, but multiply that by four tickets for our family and suddenly the three hour drive from Yucca Valley was worth it 10x over. Thus, for our trips to North Carolina (2019) and Maine (2020) we opted to leave from “Sin City.”
Once we started to do some research, it became obvious that Las Vegas actually had quite a few kid-friendly activities, and we enjoyed them so much we thought you might be interested as well. Just another example how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
After a few trips, we started to feel like we had a grasp on some of the best (reasonably priced) family friendly activities. So, here’s our top 5 favorite things to do while in Vegas, most of them located off The Strip because well, “The Strip,” although iconic, is expensive and not the most kid friendly place in the world. If you’re curious about our full list of ideas (rest assured none of which will break the bank) see our Las Vegas “destinations” page, but for now, here are our all-stars!
5. Play at Treehouse Playground in Downtown’s Container Park
Located in the Downtown Vegas and just a few steps from the Fremont area is Container Park, a collection of repurposed shipping containers that have been remade into eateries, shops, and places to grab a drink. As you meander into this section of the city, the place is hard to miss. Just look for the 55-foot fire breathing Praying Mantis outside…it looks like it would be right at home at Burning Man.
Once inside, straight ahead you’ll find the Tree House Playground and the giant 33′ slide (trust us, your kids won’t miss it). This area is pretty great for both kids and parents as it: 1. not only has shaded spots which are essential for those summer months, but 2. is also surrounded by restaurants (and a few bars if its post 1700). Additionally, you’ll find several benches here to take a sweet, sweet break while you release your animals into the playground jungle before you. Even better, there are signs posted that clearly mark that the slides are for all ages (once you’ve visited the bar, that is).
If you’re in the market for some eats while visiting, our kids loved Cheffini’s hot dogs. It’s a local favorite that initially started as a street truck vendor in front of the neighboring hotel and eventually moved up into a store front (or so we have been told by some of the locals). If you like spicy food then we would recommend the Moshi Moshi Hot Dog! If hot dogs aren’t your style, the Vegan Cafe just across the way is pretty delish as well (read: Britt choice). Two thumbs up for the “TLT” aka the vegan version of a BLT + a side of greens.
- Retail: Monday – Thursday: 11300 – 2000; Friday – Saturday: 1100 – 2100; Sunday: 1100 – 1900
- Restaurants & Bars: Monday – Thursday: 11300 – 2000; Friday – Saturday: 1100 – 2400 and Sunday 1100 – 1900
- Park is closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day
- Admission: Free
- Parking: Street Parking (paid) and public parking lot are both available ($3.00/hour)
4. Swing by The Bellagio
So, we promised that most of the list would be off “the Strip” but we obviously couldn’t leave off “classic Vegas” completely. Missing one of the city’s greatest icons just seems flat wrong. Plus we’ve yet to meet someone (regardless of age) who doesn’t absolutely love the 1,000+ foot dancing Bellagio fountains. As an added bonus, the fountains run fairly often, so this is something easy to squeeze into the day (dates and times listed below), its guaranteed to make your kiddos stop in their tracks, especially at night.
After watching the fountains, head inside to see Chihuly’s 2,000 art blossoms which make up a very dramatic ceiling inside the Bellagio’s lobby. The magnificent piece, “Fiori di Como,” is reported to have cost $10 million and covers 2,100 square feet. Dom and I probably would have grabbed a drink here and just spent some time starring up if it wasn’t for the kiddos. Maybe next time?
Past the lobby lies the hotel’s conservatory where vibrant color surrounds you year-round. No matter your age it’s hard not to be impressed by the 14,000 square foot playground that is flooded with flowers, plants, and trees. *Note: The exhibits rotate, so what our photos depict may or may not be what is currently on display.
- Hours: Daily
- Monday – Friday: Every 30 minutes from 1500 – 2000 and every 15 minutes from 2000 – 2400
- Saturday – Sunday and Holidays: Every 30 minutes from 1200 – 2000 and every 15 minutes from 2000 to 2400
- Admission: Free
- Hours: 24/7
- Admission: Free
3. Get Yo’ Learn On at The Atomic Testing Museum
It’s never too early to get your kids excited about learning about the world in which we live…even when some of it is about a very scary time in world history. The National Atomic Testing Museum (NATM) does a fantastic job of sharing the story of the United States’ Nevada Test Site and 70 years of nuclear testing. Through various forms of media the exhibits help us better understand the the results of the testing efforts and also helps educate kids and adults alike about the dangers of atomic weapons. This site was particularly interesting for us as we had visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki the previous year.
Although the museum isn’t huge (8,000 square feet) there is a lot of information to take in along the self-guided tour and the flow of information is very well-done. We recommend budgeting at least an hour (if not two) to fully appreciate all of the exhibits and not feel rushed.
- Hours: Thursday – Sunday, 1000 – 1500. Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
- Admission: $22/Adult, $18/Seniors (62yo+ with ID), $18/Student (with ID), $18/Nevada Residents (with ID), $18/Active Duty Military (with ID), $16/Youth (7 – 14yo), free for children under 6 years old.
2. Discovery Children’s Museum
Not to belittle a sensitive topic, but after being on their best behavior for over an hour at the Atomic Energy Museum, the kids were on the verge of their own atomic detonation. Thankfully we knew just how to defuse the impending explosion…a trip to the Discovery Children’s Museum!
The Children’s Museum in Las Vegas is pretty spectacular, and it’s definitely worth budgeting some time to spend here. From the second we walked in the kids were in heaven. The centerpiece of the museum is “the summit” a 70 foot tower that spans the entire height of the museum and features hands on experiments and demonstrations about science, physics, and other very cool principles. We followed the kids from top to bottom and had a blast.
Their other museum favorite was definitely the fantasy festival portion, where there were costumes to dress up in and a variety of different sets to play on. Penny went right for the pirate costume and insisted we all walk the plank. Miles kept busy shooting cannons and putting on a knights costume to slay a dragon or two.
Without a doubt the kids could have spent the entire day here (and they tried). We ushered them along a little bit and ended up up spending about 2.5 hours, so make sure you budget a good chunk of time.
- Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 1000 – 1700 and Sunday: 1200 – 1700. Closed Mondays for deep cleaning, as well as some holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day).
- Admission: $14.50/Person (ages 1 – 99yo), $12.50/Nevada Residents (with ID), free for children younger than 1yo
- Parking: Free
1. Visit the Hoover Dam
So yes, the Hoover Dam isn’t exactly in Las Vegas city limits itself, guilty as charged. However, if you are in the area we behove (woah…really bad pun) you to find a way out there and pay it a visit. It’s actually hard to sit down and describe what makes this number one on our list. Writing that it’s massive in no way can portray its unbelievable size. Talking about the sacrifice and engineering genius that went into making it a reality can’t really crystalize how incredible it is to see. Discussing its economic impact in no way can do justice to how much this one structure has shaped the region and continues to provide truly clean energy to millions.
Visiting Hoover Dam is first on our list because it’s one of those rare experiences that forces you and your children to recalibrate what you think mankind is capable of. In our book, it’s right up there with the moon landing in the awe it demands once you try to understand what obstacles were overcome to complete it. I know it sounds superfluous, but it’s not. We love this damn Dam. Ha!
Really though, we could see the astonishment in our kids eyes when they looked down the side of the Dam and grasp how big it was. How could people build something like this? Despite all of our efforts, we don’t get to see that very often.
There are several tours to choose from if you want to take a trip inside the Dam and see the massive turbines and tunnels that divert the Colorado river. Be aware that the Dam tour is longer and only allows children over 8 years old, however. We opted for the Power Plant tour, which does allow younger kids, and thought it was a good length for the kids to learn about the Dam without overwhelming them. There is also a very cool museum inside the visitors’ center (which is included in the tour admission) that goes through the history and engineering of the project that also includes several kid friendly exhibits as well.
- Hours: Daily, Hoover Dam: 0500– 2100; Powerplant Tour: 0900 – tickets sold until 1545; Visitor Center: 0900 – 1700. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
- Admission: $10/Self-guided Visitors’ Center tour,$15/Power Plant Tour (includes access to the visitors’ center as well), additionally, there is a small discount for military families which brings the Power Plant Tour down to $12. Children 2 years old and under are free.
- Parking: $10/vehicle (parking garage)
Viva Las Vegas,
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