When you think of Las Vegas, you probably think of fancy hotels, casinos offering dozens of ways to lose and win money, big-name celebrity shows, over-the-top performances like Cirque du Soleil and the Blue Man Group, magic shows, great restaurants and buffets, swimming pools, golf courses, and shopping. But museums on Las Vegas Strip? They may not be at the top of your list, but there are several museums worth visiting in Las Vegas.
The Best Museums in Las Vegas: Gangsters & Celebrities
If you’re a film noir fan, are fascinated by tales of crime families, or wonder where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, then you should definitely visit the Mob Museum. Officially known as the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, exhibits include a pair of sunglasses worn by Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Joe Bonanno’s 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun, and wiretap recordings that helped bring down John Gotti. Of course, the museum wouldn’t be complete without a place to party. It has an underground distillery and 1920’s-style speakeasy offering specialty cocktails like the Bee’s Knees and Giggle Water and locally-produced moonshine. There are free musical performances several times a month, guest lectures (for example, by the two DEA agents who tracked down Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar), and book signings.
If you’re more interested in celebrities like Beyonce, Muhammad Ali, and Elvis, then head to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. The museum encourages visitors to take selfies with the wax figures, order drinks at the Hangover Bar, play a virtual reality game with your friends, and experience the 4D special effects of what it feels like to fight crime with Marvel superheroes, including Spider-Man and Captain America.
The Best Museums in Las Vegas: Cars & Pinball Machines
A great place to learn about America’s fascination with cars is the Shelby Heritage Center. Carroll Shelby won his first road race in 1952 in an MG. In 1959, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in an Aston Martin. After retiring from racing, he turned his attention to manufacturing a better race car. He opened Shelby American in 1962 to produce the Cobra. In 1965, the Cobra Daytona Coupe was the first American car to win the World Manufacturers GT Championship. Shelby also worked on the Ford GT and Mustang. Even though he officially retired from the automotive industry in 1970, Lee Iacocca lured him back to work on improvements to the Dodge lineup. Today, Shelby American continues to produce performance cars, trucks, and parts. The Heritage Center includes the company’s headquarters, manufacturing facility, car collection, historical exhibits, and a retail shop full of automotive merchandise and apparel.
Another option for viewing rare cars is Counts Kustoms. The creation of Danny “The Count” Koker, this free museum in Las Vegas, and workshop features dozens of customized and restored classic cars, hot rods, motorcycles, and choppers. Some of Koker’s choppers have been purchased by leading rockers, including Tommy Lee and Ozzy Ozbourne. Koker appeared numerous times on TV’s “Pawn Stars”, which led to his own spinoff series, “Counting Cars”.
If you’re a “Pinball Wizard” or a pinball wanna-be, check out the Pinball Hall of Fame, which covers 25,000 square feet across Las Vegas Boulevard from the Mandalay Hotel. Most of the machines here were built in the 1950s, 60’s, and 70’s, the heyday of pinballs, and all are available to play. Admission is free, but there is a 25 or 50-cent charge to play, depending on the machine.
Museums on Las Vegas Strip: The Titanic
The Titanic exhibit at the Luxor Hotel features over 250 artifacts recovered from the wreck site, including a piece of the ship’s hull, chandeliers, china, unopened bottles of champagne (vintage 1900), and actual passenger luggage. There are also recreations of the ship’s grand staircase, outside promenade deck, and some of the rooms. Stories about the ship’s construction and the background of some of the passengers and crew are also featured.
The Best Museums in Las Vegas: Dinosaurs & Bearded Dragons
If you have your children with you, you should plan a trip to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. It features dinosaur exhibits and live animals, including bearded dragons, snakes, sharks, and leopard geckos. Like many local attractions, the museum’s entrance fee varies depending on age and military status.
Many children also love the Discovery Children’s Museum. One visitor said she spent three hours there with her children doing all sorts of fun activities. There is a life-size pirate ship, a medieval castle, a hands-on water exhibit complete with hooded raincoats to keep your clothes dry, a room where children can use watercolors and fluorescent crayons to make their own art pieces, an interactive display where visitors can take part in archeological digs, a 70-foot tower that presents unique physical and mental challenges, a computer lab, and opportunities to experiment with 3D printers, ceramics, and woodworking tools.
The Springs Reserve three miles west of downtown on South Valley View Boulevard is also worth a stop. The 180-acre property has walking trails, botanical gardens, a butterfly habitat, and lots of interesting indoor displays, including actual dinosaur tracks that were discovered in some rocks on the property.
The Origen Museum at Springs Reserve features several interactive exhibits, including simulations of flash floods and earthquakes. There is a short film about the building of the Hoover Dam and a model of the dam itself. The live animals exhibited here include desert cottontails, Gila monsters, gophers, gray foxes, and relict leopard frogs once thought to be extinct. The Nevada State Museum, which includes a 13-foot articulated mammoth skeleton, is also located here.
The Best Museums in Las Vegas: History of Atomic Bombs
A big part of Las Vegas’ history is its connection to America’s nuclear program. The world’s first nuclear test was held in 1945, at the Alamogordo Bombing Range In New Mexico. After World War II, the US established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which conducted additional tests in the Marshall Islands and selected dry river beds like Frenchman’s Flat, 65 miles north of Las Vegas, for future tests. Nuclear testing began in Nevada in 1951. Over the next 40 years, 1,021 nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site, including 921 underground tests. The site has been renamed the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and is still used for national security needs and research.
To learn more about the nuclear tests, you can visit the National Atomic Testing Museum on East Flamingo Road. The museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, has 8,000 square feet of information and exhibits about America’s nuclear development and testing program, the earliest rockets and missiles, actual ballistic cases, personal weapons like the Backpack Nuke and the Davy Crockett Weapon System, and even features a simulation of an above-ground test. The green silo is here, which the EPA used to help test the environmental effects of the tests on plants and animals. There are also pieces of the Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center.
The Best Museums in Las Vegas: Surreal Experiences
One of the newest attractions in Las Vegas is Omega Mart. Its creators at Meow Wolf describe it as “an interactive, mind-bending, immersive art experience”. Visitors have used words like “astonishing, unpredictable, and jaw-dropping” in their reviews. On the surface, it looks like a very colorful supermarket or grocery store. But the products lining the shelves are artistic creations, with names such as dehydrated water and tooth slime. Then there are the portals that take you to various rooms, tunnels, and slides for further exploration, startling visual effects, and fun.
Omega Mart is located in Area 15, off I-15 on South Rancho Drive, just minutes from the Strip. It is a collection of immersive experiences, including Museum Fiasco and Wink World, which offer synchronized audiovisual displays of light and sound; Birdly, which gives you the feeling of the wind beneath your wings and shows what certain cities and activities would look like from a bird’s-eye view; and Haley’s Comet, which offers a zip-line roller-track experience across the entire Area 15 complex. Area 15 is open to children until 10 pm; after that, you must be 21.
Museums on Las Vegas Strip: Fine Art on Display
If all of this has provided too much stimulation, then you might be in the mood to see some world-class paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media exhibits. Wandering through the following exhibits can provide an inspiring and relaxing break from the hubbub of the casinos, shopping, and active nightlife here.
The ARIA collection features paintings, sculptures, and one-of-a-kind installations. Artists on display include Maya Lin and Henry Moore. The art can be seen on a free, walking tour of the ARIA Resort & Casino and other ARIA properties.
The exhibits at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art change every couple of months. One recent exhibit focused on the historical, social, and cultural aspects of several West African traditions.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas is home to the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art and the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery. Recent/current exhibits at the Barrick include the Mojave Project and Still Motion. Admission is free to all exhibits, workshops, and lectures at both galleries.
Shopping, Shows, & Museums on Las Vegas Strip
This list of the best museums in Las Vegas has hopefully helped you see that there is a lot more to do in Las Vegas than playing the slots. Art galleries, historical exhibits, car collections, and interactive, immersive experiences can entertain, educate and help you stay cool. So check them out, in between your Miracle Mile shopping and casino jaunts that is. And don’t forget that Miracle Mile Shops also offers several entertainment venues featuring comedy, magic shows, music, and even performing pets. It is basically a one-stop-shop for fun!