Desert Companion

Big little world out there

This city-savvy survey of 29 family activities from Summerlin to Boulder City will keep your kids’ minds and bodies plenty busy


Centennial Hills: Learning naturally

Despite rapid growth, this suburban community in northwest Las Vegas has managed to maintain its rural flavor. There are historic parks, orchards and more modern amenities, such as libraries and community centers. Indeed, the Centennial Hills Community Center (6601 N. Buffalo Drive, 702-478-9622) is a 98,000-square-foot ode to fitness and fun, and has something for everyone. Adults can run, swim, lift, bicycle and stretch their way to better health while young people can exercise, create (paint and craft room), do homework (computers) and enjoy two outdoor pools with water slides during the summer. Add classroom space, locker rooms, a kitchen, child watch area, free kids’ gym for members and you never have to leave.

Floyd LambIf you get a hankering for the outdoors, consider a jaunt up the street, where nature and history collide (in a good way) at Floyd Lamb Park (9200 Tule Springs Road, 702-229-8100) at Tule Springs. You can ogle some nature (ample vegetation, fish-stocked lake and lots of wildlife — ducks, jackrabbits, wild geese, a peacock or two) or explore history (nearly two dozen buildings, some built as early as 1900, including a water tower that supplied H2O to ranch guests) all in a bucolic setting that is so, well, un-Vegas. Nearby Centennial Hills Library (6711 N. Buffalo. 702-507-6100): a well-rounded collection of books, magazines, newspapers? Check! DVDs, CDs, audio books and computers aplenty — 22-seat adult computer lab, 12 family resource computers, eight children’s computers and a Homework Help Center with 20 laptops? Check! Free Wi-Fi and wireless printing? Check! Additional accoutrements that make going to the library fun – weekly story times for kids, special programs events, used bookstore and café area? Check.

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Bird SanctuaryMeantime, you can practically make it a day doing all things fruity at the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary/Gilcrease Orchard (sanctuary, 8103 Racel St. 702-645-4224; orchard, 7800 N. Tenaya Way, 702 409-0655). Start at the 94-year-old sanctuary, a safe haven for all kinds of animals — birds, pigs and goats, llamas, donkeys and reptiles — since 1970. Then end the day at the 60-acre orchard, stocking up on the some of the valley’s freshest fruits and vegetables. Still hungry? “Home grown family fun” is the theme of the Las Vegas Farmers Market (702-562-2676, Held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month, the Tule Springs event (one of four held throughout the valley) features farmers and food vendors offerings variety of often locally sourced vittles, and artists and artisans showcase everything from paintings to crafts. — Damon Hodge


Summerlin area: Let’s active

Downtown’s art scene is growing, Henderson has history, and Boulder City is famous for the dam, but Summerlin is the neighborhood to explore if getting active is on the agenda.

It isn’t difficult to find a park, playground, or walking path in Summerlin. However, the most popular spots are those that offer a way to help take the edge off the desert heat. At Paseos Park (12122 Desert Moon Rd.), run through the enormous splash pad or play on the nearby covered playground. This park also has picnic tables in the shade. Don’t forget to bring along the beach toys; the Paseos Park sandbox is a favorite with toddlers. With its ample shade and wide variety of activities, this is the perfect stay-all-day playground.

Red Rock Lanes

For air-conditioned fun, strap on some bowling shoes and try to score a turkey at Red Rock Lanes (11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-797-7467). Unlike the typical smoke-filled, dimly lit bowling allies, Red Rock Lanes is bright, clean and family-friendly. To add a twist to your usual pin-dismantling routine, opt for cosmic bowling. Just try not to embarrass the kids too much with your sweet dance moves.

Mac ShackFamilies who are ready to refuel on carbohydrates can grab lunch at Mac Shack (8975 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-243-1722), where guests can have their meal custom-built to their specifications. Picky eaters will rejoice at the chance to choose their pasta, sauce, and optional extra ingredients. Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are available, making this a good option when you’re trying to satisfy a group. But be warned: Kids who clean their plates are offered a Tootsie Roll pop on their way out the door, so you know your family will be asking to come back again soon.

End a high-energy day with the kids by visiting the Summerlin branch of the Clark County Library District (1771 Inner Circle, 702-507-3860). With plenty of children’s books to peruse, this is a quiet way to shift into low gear before heading home. Parents of hesitant readers can seek out expert advice from librarians, finding the perfect page-turner to inspire their youngsters. Before you leave, visit the library’s art gallery for rotating exhibits from local artists. This small space is a manageable way to introduce toddlers to fine art. — Sarah Vernetti


Downtown: Culture crawl

Bringing your family to the urban core of Las Vegas isn’t quite the gritty ordeal it was a mere handful of years ago. Today downtown teems with museums, parks and other kid-friendly spots. You can make a whole and very wholesome day out of hanging in the ’hood — just avoid over-explaining the term “gentlemen’s club” when driving near or around Industrial Road, okay?

Natural History Museum

Discovery museumConsider heading straight for the heart of the Cultural Corridor, a six-block stretch of businesses and creative landmarks along the Strip between Bonanza Road and Washington Avenue. There you’ll find the beloved Natural History Museum (900 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 702-384-3466), which houses upcoming exhibits like the dinosaur egg-tastic Hatching the Past (starting May 24). Kids’ faces will light up at the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 702-387-6366), where a guide leads you through a tour of the outdoor Boneyard. Retro-cool vintage signs — Caesars Palace, Binion’s Horseshoe — can be viewed up close and personal. The nearby (and still-new) Discovery Children’s Museum in Symphony Park (360 Promenade Place, 702-382-3445) is another must-see, offering three levels of imaginative exhibits for wee ones (Toddler Town) and aspiring scientists (Patents Pending) alike. Oh, and don’t forget Springs Preserve (333 S. Valley View Blvd., 702-822-7700), a 180-acre eco-themed attraction with exhibits, bike trails, animal shows and botanicals. And if you crave local history, Nevada State Museum shares the same campus.

Springs Preserve

Container ParkEver feel the need to shop, eat, enjoy a drink and watch your kids play in a treehouse loaded with slides? Go ahead and indulge that desire at Downtown Container Park (719 Fremont St.), where you’ll also encounter a giant, steel-plated praying mantis that shoots fireballs at night. (Don’t worry; you won’t need a flame-resistant suit.) Boutique candy, vibrant artworks, live music — this place offers many compelling reason to be your new home away from home.

Some kids don’t seem to suffer vertigo, which is why you might think about leading yours up to the top of Stratosphere (2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 702-380-7777). The tower and observation deck are 1,100 feet in the air, with a 360-degree view of the valley, plus four thrill rides — Big Shot, Insanity, X Scream and the bungee-blasting SkyJump. The view is breathtaking. Another option for rambunctious little dudes and dudettes is SlotZilla (425 Fremont St.), a slot machine-themed zip-line ride that takes you anywhere between 70 to 110 feet above the entire length (1,700 feet) of Fremont Street Experience. Doing crazy stuff? It’s not just for tourists anymore.

Lunchtime is always the right time to hit Rock ‘N’ Noodles (1108 S. 3rd St., 702-522-9953), a quick, convenient place to treat the tykes to plates prepared for their palates — Just Like Paradise (fettuccine with creamy alfredo and diced pancetta), 99 Red Balloons (spaghetti with marinara and mini-meatballs), Return of the Mac (elbow macaroni with cheddar sauce, ground beef and bacon). The walls, adorned with classic rock album covers, allow for great conversation and games, too. For dessert, head over to Art of Flavors gelato shop (1616 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Suite 130, 702-676-1027) for unique tastes like Strawberry Pepper Balsamic. (There are simpler, kid-friendly flavors, too.) — Jarret Keene


Henderson: Take flight

Henderson, it’s A Place to Call Home — so boasts the city’s logo — and, certainly, it’s a popular spot to raise the kids, but after racing from the soccer field to the dance studio, to the pool, and the PTA meeting, what is there really for a family to do within the 103 square miles that make up Nevada’s second-largest city?

Well, certainly Henderson folks love their movies! The Green Valley District’s outdoor picture show, On the Green, makes for free good-weather fun. Every Friday and Saturday from May to October, the District shows family-friendly classics such as Ghostbusters and Gremlins. Plastic chairs are available, but you’re welcome to bring your own blankets to cozy up on; popcorn is free; and film listings and times are available online. (   

If you’re looking for a more luxurious theatre-going option, check out Green Valley’s Galaxy Luxury+ Theatres (4500 E. Sunset Road #10) where the ticket price is the same as most other cinemas in town, but the experience is so much better. Beyond the latest sound and projection technology, Galaxy offers movie-goers super-plush reclining seats; wine and beer for mom and dad to pair with their popcorn; a gourmet sausage bar; reserved seating; and the most current blockbusters.

Maybe your family would rather experience adventure than watch it on the big screen. Las Vegas Flight Ventures ( lets you experience what it’s like to captain a jet airliner in one of four modern, full-motion simulators — this is the same cool technology that the commercial airlines use. Each cockpit can accommodate a family of four, including the captain; and there is no age requirement, although kids need to be 48 inches tall to be able to see the runway. $399 gets you a 30-minute preflight briefing, and clears you for takeoff and a full hour in the Boeing 737 simulator. Prices climb from there.

Bird watching

Think flying’s for the birds? The Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve (35 E. Galleria Drive, 702-267-4180) is a nature-lover’s paradise, attracting serious birders from all over the world. Overlooking nine evaporation ponds from the city’s wastewater reclamation project, the preserve hosts thousands of migratory birds traveling the Pacific Flyway, en route from Alaska to South America, and several resident desert birds — more than 200 species in total. Birding, tours and various educational workshops are free.

King Putt

For family entertainment that falls somewhere between high-flying and bird watching, King Putt (27 Stephanie Street, 702-541-6807, boasts on its website that it has the most advanced mini-golf course in the country. Glow-in-the-dark and interactive, the Egyptian-themed course is popular with kiddies, daddies and mummies (forgive me). But, don’t worry, if King Tut freaks you out, you can shoot him with a laser gun. Besides golf, King Putt has laser tag, as well as a generous arcade and a pizzeria. — Chantal Corcoran


Boulder City: History lives

With its Hoover Dam-building history and absence of casinos, Boulder City is an interesting contrast to Las Vegas. Escape the city and spend a day exploring the quieter side of Southern Nevada with the kids.

Start the day at Hemenway Park (401 Ville Dr.), where families will find a playground, basketball courts, picnic areas, and a rather conspicuous family of bighorn sheep. Although they sometimes wander up towards the parking lot, you’ll most likely find them sitting on the east side of the park in the shade. The bighorn sheep is the state animal of Nevada, so finding a few to observe in real life should be on every Las Vegas kid’s to-do list.

TunnelsNext, head to Lake Mead and hike the Historical Railroad Tunnel trail. Enjoy beautiful views of the lake, and enjoy the wildflowers if you visit during the spring. This hike is ideal for families since the trail is wide and relatively flat. Not far into your stroll, you’ll be treated with a dose of history: on the right-hand side of the trail, you’ll see a marker and several large concrete plugs. These served as placeholders during the construction of Hoover Dam and were removed when the turbines were installed into the powerhouse floor.

After you’ve finished your hike, drive into historic downtown Boulder City for a stroll down Nevada Way. With plenty of quirky motels, shops and restaurants along the way, it offers a small-town experience that kids growing up in Las Vegas might not get back home. Be sure to notice the sculptures that line the downtown streets, particularly Peter Pan and Babe the Pig by Mary Zimmerman. Stop in at Grandma Daisy’s (530 Nevada Way, 702-294-6639) for a scoop of ice cream or a chocolate turtle.

MilosBefore you hit the road, visit the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum (1305 Arizona Street, 702-294-1988), which focuses on the growth of the town and its role in the construction of the dam. Interactive displays describe what life was like for the workers and their families, many of whom had left their hometowns to find work during the Great Depression. If you want to extend your time in Boulder City, plan ahead and book a room at the Boulder Dam Hotel (1305 Arizona St., 702-293-3510), which is owned and operated by the museum. — Sarah Vernetti

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