Desert Companion

Best of the City: Family & Leisure

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Photo courtesy Springs Preserve

The Springs Preserve has evolved from an interactive learning center to year-round hub of family-oriented festivals and community events.

Best Place to Teach Kids History

Las Vegas Natural History Museum
I consulted 8-year-old expert Kaden (my son) on where he likes to learn about history, and his enthusiastic first choice was the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. He hears the word “history,” and his brain immediately jumps to dinosaurs. This museum has a roaring T-Rex in its dinosaur exhibit, along with fossils and animal displays. The interactive activities keep kids engaged and entertained, and it’s an inexpensive, educational way to spend an afternoon with them. That checks off a lot of boxes for this mom! KK
900 Las Vegas Blvd. North, 89101, 702-384-3466, lvnhm.org

Best Art Museum

Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art
UNLV’s creative nexus used to earn such backhanded compliments as “it’ll do” — usually uttered in the context of Las Vegas lacking a metropolitan art emporium. But over the past few years, the Barrick has become more than our de facto contemporary museum. It’s a vital and vibrant showcase of social consciousness, chiefly crafted by homegrown talent we ought to be proud to call our own. And if you’ve attended one of its exhibition openings, you also know: The Barrick throws a good party. MP
UNLV, 702-895-3381, unlv.edu/barrickmuseum

Best History Museum

Nevada State Museum
There’s so much to see at the Springs Preserve (The seasonal butterfly habitat! Botanical garden! Early Las Vegas streetscape! A random coyote?) that it’s possible to entirely miss one of the best parts: the Nevada State Museum. With 70,000 square feet of history exhibits, it’s a comprehensive overview of all things Silver State, including the Folies Bergère costume archive, an ichthyosaur fossil, Indigenous peoples’ artifacts, and photographs of dearly-departed Las Vegas casinos. Bonus: It’s cool and dark inside, making it the perfect summer hideout that isn’t a casino. KD
309 S. Valley View Blvd., 702-486-5205, lasvegasnvmuseum.org

Best Hands-On Attraction

Pinball Hall of Fame
The Pinball Hall of Fame is the place for those who like old-school fun. Like a microcosm of the Strip itself, this indoor attraction has lights, bells, buzzers, and music. If you stop to listen, you can even hear the clapping of paddle buttons as everyone enjoys themselves. The new location, which opened across from Mandalay Bay in April, holds more than 200 games — best bang for your buck on the Strip! There’s something here for everyone, so bring out your inner kid. And note to those kids under 40: You have to pay for each game (no downloads!). LB
4925 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-597-2627, pinballmuseum.org 

Best Date Night

Area 15
She wants to explore a two-story psychedelic rabbit hole. You want to play air hockey and Pac-Man. She wants a celebrity-chef dinner without the white tablecloths. You want a Hogwarts-esque whiskey tasting. And both of you want to race each other on a lapping, indoor zipline. You can do all of this — and more — under the same roof. Area15 packs more experiences under one roof than an influencer’s Instagram page, and you just might get lucky afterward too. MP
3215 S. Rancho Dr., 702-846-1900, area15.com​​ 

Best Family Photo Spot

Eldorado Dry Lake Bed
This well-loved spot is no secret — it’s the ideal background for music videos and high-end fashion shoots. But the miles of desert landscape are also great for family photoshoots because of the vastness of the space. The kids can run, and run, and run some more … and not get lost. There’s almost no competition with other families for the perfect spot. That golden hour glow is incredible in the desert. And you can bring whatever random fancy couch or extreme vehicle to drape yourself over. The one downside: no bathroom. So, plan ahead. Also, it’s a desert out there, so remember water and snacks! KK
U.S. 95 South, 1-2 miles south of Boulder City, west side of the road

Best Place to Watch A Movie for Cinesnobs

Dolby Cinema at AMC Town Square 18
Whenever a Marvel movie opens, 50 screens in town typically show it. But the only one you’d want to view it on looms over the Dolby auditorium in the AMC Town Square 18. There, cinephiles nestle into reclining leather seats that can only absorb a fraction of the movie’s rumbling yet unmuddied sound. Add an astonishingly high-resolution picture, and there’s no other place — not even down the hall in the now-passé IMAX theater — that you’d want to see Deadpool’s butt. MP
6587 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-362-7283, amctheatres.com  

Best Place to Watch a Movie for the Rest of Us

Regal Cinebarre in Palace Station
For us normals who pay more attention to dialogue than the difference between Dolby and THX, Regal Cinebarre in Palace Station is the best place to catch a flick. It’s like watching a movie with a casino twist. Luxury seating and in-seat food service from a full menu make you feel like a VIP without having to shell out the big bucks. On the second floor of Palace Station, the theater boasts a full bar and lounge area where you can watch the big game — or grab an adult beverage to go with your popcorn! LB
Palace Station, 844-462-7342, regmovies.com 

Best Day Trip

Mojave National Preserve
Look, there’s nothing wrong with Red Rock, Mt. Charleston, and Lake Mead, but when your go-to wilderness spots just aren’t hitting like they used to, get on the 15 and get yourself to the Mojave National Preserve. Across the state line in California, this 1.6-million-acre area offers complete solitude just an hour from the Strip. (Read: You won’t get trapped in the crowds that plague more popular destinations such as Zion.) Wander a massive Joshua tree forest, climb the silky-soft hills of the Kelso Dunes, go subterranean inside a lava tube, or check out the visitor center inside 100-year-old train station. The options —  and the vistas— are endless. KD
70 miles south of Las Vegas off I-15, 760-252-6100, nps.gov/moja

Best Hike

Liberty Bell Arch
This hike is named after the natural arch it takes you to, but the real draw is the stunning view of the Colorado River you’ll get if you walk just a little farther. On the Arizona-Nevada line, the Liberty Bell Arch hike shares a trailhead with the popular White Rock Canyon Trail (you know, the one that goes to those hot springs from your friend’s Instagram). The approximately five-mile trail has something for everyone: a side trip to a mine area, the possibility of spotting bighorn sheep, a natural arch, and that final breathtaking overlook of the Colorado River snaking through Black Canyon. KD
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, nps.gov/lake/learn/nature/liberty-bell-arch

Best Public Institution/Facility

Windmill Library
Overlook the adolescent bodies strewn over its seats. And never mind the low bar that renders this modernist structure one of the Valley’s greatest architectural marvels. The Windmill branch of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District draws all manner of humanity because it quite literally has something for everyone — be it desktop PCs to watch blooper reels on YouTube, free concerts by touring acts in the auditorium, meeting space for the Dungeons & Dragons club, and countless stacks of artifacts known as books and DVDs. Stimuli abound at the most unlikely hang in Las Vegas. MP
7060 W. Windmill Lane, 702-507-6030, lvccld.org/locations/wm 

Best Staycation Spot

Lake Las Vegas
When I make the turn onto Lake Las Vegas Parkway, I feel as though I’ve left Las Vegas behind and entered a remote paradise. There’s a variety of charming restaurants to choose from, and if you wander the village at night, you’re likely to encounter live music. Multiple water sport options include leisurely kayaking and flyboarding for the more adventurous. The kids can wear themselves out at the Aqua Park while adults enjoy a drink on a yacht called La Contessa. This is my favorite choice when I need a day or two away in Southern Nevada! KK
lakelasvegas.com


HALL OF FAME
Best All-Around Family Attraction

Springs PreserveThe Springs Preserve ostensibly began as an interactive edutainment complex built on the literal wellspring of Las Vegas, but it’s flourished well beyond any such easy pigeonholing since it opened to the public in 2007. To be sure, the preserve’s educational offerings are as full-fledged as ever — consider its engaging historic exhibits, its rotating roster of classes and demonstrations, its teaching gardens and interactive museums. Bravo for every bell and whistle in its suite of family attractions! But perhaps just as importantly, the Springs Preserve has also matured, quite naturally, into a vital cultural venue and diverse community gathering space, hosting everything from the Black History Month Festival (Feb. 19) to November’s Dia De Muertos (which itself has evolved into a splendid fall blockbuster). All that, and the preserve also serves as Las Vegas’ Central Park, its looping and meandering trails offering a bit of natural respite amid the thrum and rattle of the restless city. AK
333 S. Valley View Blvd., springspreserve.org


Best Sports Venue

Las Vegas Ballpark
T-Mobile Arena may offer a Michael Bay-level experience, but it’s the sports venue mercifully free of a corporate moniker that makes catching a game in person appealing to me. You don’t have to be a fan of the Aviators — the triple-A team of the possibly Vegas-bound Oakland Athletics — to enjoy a night at Summerlin’s crown jewel. It’s a 10,000-plus-seat mini-bowl with an IMAX-dwarfing video board, Vegas-centric food and drink options that are leagues above the dog-and-Bud Light standard, and — for you diamond dippers — a pool. Despite the modern touches, this ballpark continues the tradition of neighborhood stadiums that outcharm their major league equivalents. MP
1650 S. Pavilion Center Drive, 702-943-7200, thelvballpark.com

Best Place to Walk Your Dog

Cottonwood Canyon Park Trail
This east-west greenway runs along the natural wash bordering The Canyons Village in Summerlin. Bikers, runners, and strollers frequent the three-mile multiuse path that includes multiple offshoots and diversions where you and Rover can do some urban exploring. The trail is an out-and-back running from South Hualapai Way toward the 215 less than a block north of Charleston Boulevard. HK
summerlink.com/community/parks

Best Playground

The Treehouse playground at Downtown Container Park
This giant treehouse is perfect for the active child with a wild imagination. There’s a lot going on in it: a 33-foot slide and plenty of hideouts. Adjacent to the playground is a big grassy area containing foam blocks for kids to build with ... often to the tune of live music. My eight-year-old is a huge fan of the NEOS (electronic-interactive) playground. Bars and restaurants are close enough that parents can enjoy a drink or two while keeping an eye on the older kids. And the playground stays open for the kids-at-heart after 9 p.m. KK
707 E. Fremont St., 702-359-9982, downtowncontainerpark.com

Best Place to Take Kids for a Sugar Rush

Yonutz! Fantastical Donuts and Ice Cream
My son Kaden once again offered his expert opinion on the best place for a treat: “Yonutz!” This place somehow magically smashes icecream into donuts and tops them with candy. If you’re more in the mood for a chilled treat, you can get a donut-topped milkshake with sugary cereal smashed inside. And the décor is as bright, colorful, and Instagrammble as the food. These desserts are not for the faint of heart, but they make a fantastic bribe when needed. KK
5765 Centennial Center Blvd. Suite 180, 702-483-6593, yonutz.com 

Best Place to People-Watch

Any bar patio facing Main Street
“Pretend it’s a city,” Fran Lebowitz once said. The Arts District is that place where you can pretend Las Vegas is “a city,” rather than a major tourist destination. Sure, the volume of humanity is far greater on the Strip, but for a curated selection, Main Street is the place to go. The tourists are usually a bit more stylish and well-behaved here than the norm (usually), although the crowd runs more local. There’s always someone fully decked in mid-photo shoot, as well as a few art/fashion types who just look that way all the time. Crew members and actors half-costumed for a show, bike clubs on rides twinkling with Christmas lights, couples dawdling over date-night ice cream cones … Plenty of bars and restaurants offer seating with a panoramic view, so pull up to ReBar, Hudl, Good Pie or one of the many others and enjoy life’s rich pageant. LTR
Downtown Las Vegas, 18barts.org

Best Revival

Water Street District
Decades in the making, Water Street is achieving its potential as a robust community hub. Replacing the oft-moribund convention center last year, Lifeguard Arena (the Henderson Silver Knights’ HQ) attracts ice skaters and hockey players of all ages from morning to night. MacKenzie River (in the arena), Sticks Tavern, and Chinitas Tapas and Sushi are among the recently arrived culinary delights — and more are on the way. Lovelady and Mojave breweries augment the venerable Gold Mine Tavern. Reinvestment in The Pass (formerly the Eldorado) vies for the older gaming crowd at more established casinos. The street’s momentum is as unmistakable as a gifted figure skater gliding across the ice, ready to surprise observers with its next move. PS
Downtown Henderson, waterstreetdistrict.com/places

Barrick Museum: Lonnie Timmons III / UNLV; Pinball Hall of Fame: Brent Holmes; Windmill Library and Water Street District: Sabin Orr

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