Desert Companion

30 Things: Itineraries

Make it a day: Live in the past

Las Vegas may feel like the mecca of “new,” but families can find historical adventures that highlight the city’s recent and not-so-recent past. Grab your thinking caps and saddle-up for a day of yesteryear-inspired fun.

Book your tickets ahead of time and start your day at the Neon Museum (770 N Las Vegas Blvd., 702-387-6366). Take a 60-minute guided tour of the neon boneyard, learning about the city’s glittering past thanks to dozens of retired signs. Kids will particularly love the large “ugly duckling” sign and the famous Sahara camels. The museum’s visitor center, the transplanted La Concha Motel lobby, is a space-themed example of the 1960s design aesthetic that is becoming harder to find in Las Vegas. Next, move on to the nearby Las Vegas Natural History Museum (900 N Las Vegas Blvd., 702-384-3466) and proceed further down the historical timeline. This isn’t the largest, most state-of-the-art museum, but it is the perfect size for kids with a short attention span and can be explored in an hour or two. Learn about rocks and minerals, take a journey into a faithfully reproduced tomb of Tutankhamun, and watch the stingrays dine on their lunches. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop, where you’ll find one of those beloved penny-press machines. Crunch your shiny penny with the image of a dinosaur before you leave. Continue your historical explorations west of town at Bonnie Springs (16395 Bonnie Springs Rd., 702-875-4191), modeled after an 1880’s mining town. If the kids are feeling hungry, stop by the Wild West-inspired restaurant for a bison burger. Then check out the petting zoo and take a stroll through “old town.” You might even witness a faux gunfight along the way. Finish your history-themed day at nearby Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (6375 Hwy 159, 702-875-4141). Take a self-guided tour of the main ranch house or check out one of the park’s living history programs offered in spring and fall. However, if the kids have absorbed all of the historical goodness they can for one day, expend some energy outdoors. Walk up to little Lake Harriet or take the Overlook Trail that ends with a sweeping view of the desert. Those spending the day with older kids can embark on the more challenging Sandstone Canyon trail. If you brought snacks along, enjoy them at one of the picnic tables near the parking lot on the way back to your car. — S.V.

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Make it a day: Make a splash

Rather than spending another Saturday by the pool, plan a family-friendly day that will keep the kids happy while giving their brains a work-out. The Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay (3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-632-4555, is unique thanks to its focus on the more aggressive side of life under water. Along with less-threatening aquarium staples like colorful fish, jellyfish and horseshoe crabs, the Shark Reef is home to predators such as sharks and piranhas. Before you leave, say hello to the ancient-looking komodo dragon and the formidable golden crocodile. For further water-themed learning, head to Springs Preserve (333 S. Valley View Blvd., 702-822-7700). The flowing springs that once existed here played an important part in Las Vegas’ history, providing a habitable environment for people and wildlife. Explore the unique, nature-themed playground and stroll through the botanical gardens. Inside the Origen Museum, the flash-flood display demonstrates the power and danger of rapidly moving water while the Hoover Dam exhibit provides a visual representation of just how much water Southern Nevada uses each year. Head back outside to check out the desert animals that live behind the Origen Museum and take a minute to cool off in the mister on hot days. Now that you’ve learned a thing or two, it’s time for a break. Drive to Crab Corner (4161 S. Eastern Ave., 702-489-4646, for Maryland-style seafood. Parents can enjoy the hard-shell blue crabs, which are flown in daily, while kids who aren’t so sure about seafood can order the chicken tenders instead. End your water-themed day by getting soaked. Splash pads become essential parenting tools during spring and summer when the kids need to get active. Luckily, numerous splash pads can be found throughout the Valley. In the Northwest, try the colorful and imaginatively designed Centennial Hills Park (7101 N. Buffalo Drive), which offers two water play areas. At Aliante Nature Discovery Park in North Las Vegas (2600 Nature Park Drive), kids can run through the water feature when they aren’t digging in the sand or feeding the ducks. If the family dog is in desperate need of relief from the heat, head to Heritage Park in Henderson (350 E. Racetrack Rd.). This park’s splash pad is designed specifically for pooches. — S.V.


Make it a day: Get active

While pure fun might be the top priority for kids, parents seek family-friendly activities that engage the mind and help keep the body healthy too. Spend a day getting active — both mentally and physically — at these inspiring spots around the valley. Start your morning at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve (350 E. Galleria Dr., 702-267-4180, Home to nine ponds, the park is a popular hangout for waterfowl and desert-dwellers alike. Walk, don’t run, and use quiet voices to increase your chances of spotting a greater roadrunner or a common gallinule. Kids will get a kick out of donning their binoculars and recording their observations in a field journal, so don’t forget to bring along your bird-watching gear. Next, head to the Discovery Children’s Museum at Symphony Park (360 Promenade Pl., 702-382-3445, Although this museum offers all kinds of interactive displays for kids, the highlight is The Summit, a three-story climbing structure located in the heart of the museum. Climb, stair-step, and slide your way through this 70-foot-tall obstacle course of learning. Educational displays are located throughout the tower, ensuring that the kids’ brains and bodies will get a work-out. Active kids will also want to check out Fantasy Festival, where they can board a pirate ship or climb to the top of a medieval-inspired castle.

For further active fun, visit Sky Zone Las Vegas (7440 Dean Martin Dr. #201, 702-560-5900, Offering age-appropriate sessions (so that the little ones won’t get lost in the bouncing), this indoor trampoline park is the perfect place to keep kids active while they attempt to defy gravity. Practice your slam-dunking skills on the SkySlam basketball court or jump into a sea of spongy blocks in the Foam Zone. End your day with three colorful gentlemen who exemplify the intersection of active minds and active bodies: the Blue Man Group (Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, 877-459-0268, This show encourages its audience to contemplate everything from table manners to the human brain to the magnificence of modern plumbing. Once you’ve watched the Blue Man Group, get ready to move. The show ends with the Blue Men urging audience members to get active themselves and join the fun before dancing their way out of the theater. — S.V.

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