Welcome to International Museum Day, Las Vegas-Style!

All across the globe today, people are perusing informational dioramas and gazing at imaginative artwork as a part of International Museum Day. The Las Vegas metropolitan area, with its burgeoning population of more than two million inhabitants, has many excellent institutions that present and preserve human culture’s achievements and the natural world’s wonders. Here’s a look at some of the best institutions in the area to visit on your personal museum celebration. So get out and enjoy!

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Close to The Smith Center’s metaphorical heart – and actual structure – is DISCOVERY Children’s Museum, our neighbor in Symphony Park. A perfect place for families with inquisitive young kids, this institution keeps visitors busy learning. Of its many exhibits, The Summit is the largest. It’s a 70-foot, three-story tower filled with hands-on examples of scientific principles including flight, visual perception, sound and electricity. Other areas include the environmental Eco City – where little folks can learn about sustainability – and the archaeological Ancient City. It’s definitely an interactive and fun destination.

Head downtown for a museum that is oh so very Vegas – The Mob Museum. While organized crime is certainly not unique to Las Vegas, it’s a fact that it played a significant role in its early days as a gambling destination. Never glorifying the mafia, the museum is filled with well-curated, compelling exhibits that examine notorious figures like Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. It also focuses on the law enforcement agencies and officials that combated such criminals, such as Eliot Ness and Estes Kefauver.

Another “only in Vegas” institution is the Neon Museum, a favorite of tourists and locals alike. Located on the northern edge of downtown, it’s a collection of outlandish signs that once graced hotels, casinos and other businesses in Las Vegas. Most of the signage in the museum’s collection is housed at the Neon Boneyard, a two-acre outdoor area that’s a thrill to walk through. A number of restored signs – such as the iconic Silver Slipper, Lucky Cuss Motel and Binion’s Horseshoe marquees – are located along Las Vegas Boulevard. A highlight of the Neon Museum proper is its entrance – the La Concha Visitors Center. It’s a gorgeously curved foyer of a former mid-century modern hotel that graced The Strip for decades.

Downtown is ringed by more places to learn about the history of Las Vegas, the Mojave Desert and the world beyond. The Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort looks at the early American settlers in the area and their hardscrabble lives. Nearby is the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. It features exhibits ranging from dinosaurs to Ancient Egypt. West of The Smith Center up Alta Drive is the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, possibly the only collection anywhere to front-forward both an enormous mammoth skeleton and a towering showgirl feather headdress. A great deal of the museum’s informative collection is dedicated to the Native American cultures that have lived in what is now Southern Nevada for millennia. The adjacent Origen Museum at the vast Springs Preserve explores the unique ecology of the Mojave Desert.

To take in some pop culture and high art exhibits, head to The Strip. At Madame Taussads Las Vegas at The Venetian, you can meander past uncanny wax replicas of famous individuals including Michael Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lopez and Wayne Newton. There’s even the likeness of Whoopi Goldberg that was located in the Reynolds Hall Grand Lobby during our run of Ghost the Musical last year! At the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, take in stunning temporary exhibits like Fabergé Revealed, which runs through May 25, and the upcomingPicasso Creatures and Creativity, which opens July 3. And just a bit east over on Paradise Road, “The King” is back in the building. Elvis: The Exhibition at the Westgate Las Vegas is showing hundreds of artifacts from the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll star. Top off your art roundup by strolling through the Barrick Museum at UNLV.

If you’re interested in the technology that made Las Vegas’ astronomical growth possible, visit the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum in the Boulder Dam Hotel. It reveals the story of the concrete bulwark that tamed the mighty Colorado River. At the dam itself, take in the beauty of the art deco design that inspired the architectural décor of The Smith Center and Genius In Flight, the graceful sculpture at the center of our Grand Lobby. At the fascinating National Atomic Testing Museum near UNLV, learn about the terrific and terrible power of the atom bombs that were tested north of Las Vegas during the Cold War era. For some machinery dedicated to mere leisure, drop some quarters at the funky Pinball Hall of Fame.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for exhibits in the great outdoors, drive to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Its visitor center has interesting displays on the geology and biology of the gorgeous natural formation. You might even get a glimpse of Las Vegas’ reptilian mascot, Mojave Max the desert tortoise! Nearby at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, amble through the luxurious ranch house once owned by celebrities like German actress Vera Krupp and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. You can also look over a paleontological dig site at the newly created Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on the northwestern periphery of town. It is the final resting place of extinct creatures such as North American horses, camels and dire wolves. And finally, Museum Day in Las Vegas wouldn't be complete without checking out the oldest museum in the Vegas Valley, the Clark County Museum.

With all these local choices, Las Vegas is a great place to be during International Museum Day.

(Photo credits, left to right: DISCOVERY Children’s Museum; The Mob Museum)
Story by Greg Thilmont

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