When you think of Las Vegas, you probably picture gambling, buffets and shows. In reality, the city has much more to offer than that.
Vegas has a rich history, with the Hoover Dam, mob and the Department of Energy all taking credit for its emergence in the middle of a previously barren desert. People move to Vegas from around the world, and stay there for a reason. It has a pulse outside the strip, filled with weird and wonderful sights.
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Las Vegas, I got you covered.
1) The Mob Museum
This museum was put together by mobsters and law enforcement officers alike. It contains interactive exhibits and pieces of Vegas history — the good, bad, and the ugly. Aptly located in a historic courthouse, it details the mob’s rise and law enforcement’s response. There’s hours of history here, but you can ask anyone who works there to help orient you. Just be aware, you may be talking to a retired mobster.
Two experiences that come at an additional charge but are worth considering are the Use of Force Training and Crime Lab. The Use of Force Training is run by law enforcement personnel and puts you in both a virtual reality and live simulation of a confrontation with a police suspect. You’ll be trained to handle a weapon (it has a kickback but no actual discharge) and encouraged to de-escalate the situation with your voice. It is educational and eye-opening.
The second experience, the Crime Lab, allows you to partake in a digital autopsy, compare bullet casings to try to find a match, analyze fingerprints, learn more about DNA samples and other forensic evidence. You get about a half hour in the lab with approximately 10 other people.
There’s a speakeasy in the basement that is worth a visit in itself. It contains hidden rooms and paintings that you can walk behind. Drinks aren’t served in a glass, but rather in a jar and hidden in a hollow book, prohibition style. That way, if there was a raid, bartenders could deny having poured the alcohol. Admission is included with your museum ticket before 5pm. after, guests can enter through a side door, so long as they get the password from the proper social media channels first.
2) National Atomic Testing Museum
One of the reasons Vegas experienced a boom of people in the mid 1900’s was due to the jobs brought in by the atomic testing site located nearby. Today, the Department of Energy controls what is known as “Area 51,” a parcel of land bigger than the state of Rhode Island in the middle of the Nevada desert. International treaties prohibit nuclear testing since the 90’s but weapons are still maintained by their individual components. You can actually take a free tour of the area if you manage to snag a reservation ahead of time, find out more information here.
The museum has neat pieces like a name plate that survived detonation of a bomb to letters written by Albert Einstein regarding the use of such weapons. There are two separate videos shown, one about the pressure to innovate and remain secure during World War II which ends in a simulated backlist from an explosion and the other about the science behind nuclear warheads. You’ll also have the chance to see Miss Atomic Bomb, a Tropicana dancer that became the mascot of the atomic testing site thanks to her perky… smile.
3) SlotZilla Zipline
Confession: this was my first time going ziplining and I was nervous. There are two lines available, one that’s slightly lower and send you out in a seated position and one at the very top where you ride Superman style. Since I was just starting out, I choose the first option. You have to secure all your belongings in a bag that’s latched on to your harness, so you can’t have a camera with you while you’re riding.
The line takes you out straight over Fremont Street, so it’s enjoyable day or night. There are pictures available for purchase after. The ziplining part itself goes pretty fast–3 minutes tops, but the ride at the top level is meant to be longer. Look for coupons if possible, many of the downtown casinos will offer a discount.
4) Neon Museum
Also known as the Neon Boneyard, this is the place where old Vegas signs go when they’re retired. Only instead of losing these iconic pieces, the Neon Museum is a nonprofit that restores them and puts then on display for the public. Guests can take a guided walking tour or peruse unaccompanied. Pictures are allowed, including those taken for personal websites and blogs, but commercial or staged photo shoots have to be arranged beforehand. You can get more information about film and photo shoots here.
I went at night to see the “Brilliant!” light show, and it lived up to its name. The signs in boneyard B (there are so many they had to expand across the street) dance to music and have lights displayed on them since they’re in the process of getting fixed and aren’t independently functional yet.
One of the coolest things about this place is that it actually looks like a graveyard from above, thanks to a retired skull from Treasure Island that makes this a prime spot for drone footage.
5) Thrill Rides at the Stratosphere
If you’re a thrill seeker, then the top of the Stratosphere is where you want to be. There’s the Big Shot, which shoot you straight up at an accelerated speed then slowly lowers you down. There’s Insanity, a giant mechanical arms that spins you 64 feet out over the tower edge, and there’s X-Scream, a seesaw of sorts where you’re catapulted back and forth over the Vegas skyline.
This is also the place where you can do the SkyJump, which allows you to plunge off the top of a Vegas building and be lowered down by ropes in a control descent. Speeds reach 40mph, so this is not for the faint of heart. If you simply want a view, you can go up for the views, although the tower is a separate admission view. You can also visit the Top of the World restaurant for a drink, views included.
6) Gold Spike
This bar’s funky backyard features giant life-sized game pieces, including giant chess, Jenga, foosball, beer pong and Twister. There’s also a main stage, tiny house and food truck. It’s meant to be a family-friendly hangout during the day and fun youth spot at night. There are sofas and power outlets inside in the “living room” area, making it a great co-working space during the week. WiFi is free, you just have to “like” Gold Spike on Facebook to gain access. The restaurant and bar are open 24 hours. Thursday though Saturday nights there’s live music outdoors and a DJ indoors.
7) Seven Magic Mountains
This outdoor art installation is only in place through the end of 2018, so if you want to get your rainbow-colored rock pictures, you need to hurry. It’s unsure what the city will do with the artwork after then since it’s been such a popular tourist attraction.
Located in Henderson, Nevada, it takes about 15-20 minutes to reach from the strip if you’re driving. It’s free to enter and there’s plenty of parking on site.
8) Pinball Hall of Fame
When I heard hall of fame, I expected to find machines behind glass counters, meant to be admired but never played again. The Pinball Hall of Fame is the opposite, and every gamer’s dream. Picture decades of games, restored to their former glory and able to be played for their original price, whether thats $.25 or $1. Games range from Pac-Man to pinball to classic car racing. There are machines to make change on site but no ATM, so bring cash with you. There’s also popcorn that you can buy, though you’ll probably have your hands full with controllers.
The founder has a passion for restoring games and wanted to build a safe space where kids could come play. It’s open late, till 11pm most weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday. The best part? All profits get donated to the Salvation Army.
I hope you enjoyed this post and are ready to discover some of Las Vegas’ lesser known attractions. Until next time, safe travels!
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