Have you ever wondered where all the old Vegas Neon signs go to die? No? Neither had I until I started researching things to do in Vegas with kids. One of the most surprising things we did in Las Vegas was a visit to the Las Vegas Boneyard, an amazing outdoor museum dedicated to the bold and beautiful icons of the city’s past.
Our visit provided an absolutely fascinating overview of the history of Las Vegas, how the city came to be and the various changes it’s been through since its inception.
The Museum feels like the most magnificent junk yard you’ve ever visited. With boldly coloured signs in various states of disrepair rested up against each other. Some are working, some are bold, some are faded and missing bulbs and neon tubes but they all feel exciting.
I love how the artifacts are artfully displayed. It looks random but is as visually pleasing as any art gallery I’ve visited.
We began our visit just breathing in the atmosphere, taking in what we could see and spotting some of the signs we recognised. But our trip really became special when we joined a guided tour. Knowledgable staff lead you around the boneyard, pointing out signs of particular interest, weaving their stories into tales of the history of Las Vegas. The good, the bad and the broken.
What you'll see at the Neon Museum
The Neon Museum is home to over 250 historic Vegas signs. Some have been diligently restored, some left as they were. Both are equally beautiful. The vintage fonts used on the majority of the signs demonstrate the trends of the time and somehow manage to still feel modern and eye catching in contrast to the simple choices used today. I love them! This was the era of the atomic bomb tests in the Nevada desert, our guide explained how the signs reflected this.
These days the signs do feel brash and slightly gaudy but that was the whole point, they are meant to catch your attention. the promise of excitement and untold riches are reminiscent of the 1950s heyday.
A few of our favourite signs were:
Wedding Chapel Sign
This one felt particularly poignant for us as we had renewed our vows at the Wee Kirk Wedding Chapel a few days before our visit to the neon museum. Weddings are still big business in Las Vegas due to the relaxed licensing laws. The sign was originally located at the Ali Baba wedding centre near the airport.
Benny Binion has been a big name in Vegas since the 1950s and played a huge part in its success. He was the first to introduce free drinks, “comps” and smarter casinos. He had a very interesting and sad past. I’ll let you google that. But his Casino was one of the first on the strip and the sign is perhaps even more famous than the man.
The Hard Rock Guitar
This is Boneyard’s largest ever restoration project, featuring around 4,110 feet of neon tubing. The guitar was originally based on Pete Townsend’s Gibson. It cost around $350,000 to restore.
The original Golden Nugget
The original Golden Nugget sign features the number 1905, rather than the actual date of its opening as you would expect. This is in honour of the founding year of the city, not the casino.
Mullet man playing pool
This is a gorgeous sculptural sign from Doc & Eddys pool Hall. It’s really hard to imagine just how big it is from these photos but you’ll feel tiny standing next to it.
The Moulin Rouge
This sign was originally located at the Moulin Rouge, which was the first racially integrated casino in Vegas. The sign was designed by Betty Willis who also designed the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign. What a sign!
The Red Barn
Another example of Las Vegas inclusivity, the Red Barn was one of the city’s first openly gay bars dating back to the 1970s.
Visiting the Neon Museum with kids
Piper, our 9 year old absolutely loved our visit to the Las Vegas Boneyard. This is not a boring, stuffy museum you have to drag the kids around. Just the size and colours of the letters will be enough to pique little ones interest. She listened carefully to our guides explanations of the origins of the signs and was fascinated to learn more about the history of the city.
We were all particularly interested in Vegas’s past relationship to families. In the past there have been tourism campaigns to encourage families to bring their children. Parents could visit with their kids, stay in lavish hotel rooms where they were encouraged to leave the children and enjoy evenings at shows and the tables. What a terrible idea it sounds now! Although Vegas is a brilliant city to visit with kids, families are definitely no longer top of their tourism agenda.
We visited during a special exhibition of one of Vegas’s most famous residents, Tim Burton. Piper loved seeing some of the characters she recognised from his famous movies.
Best time to visit the museum
We arrived at the boneyard in the late afternoon and the light was perfect for photos and to take in the detail of the old signs. At sunset the signs are lit by ground lighting and I imagine this is also a magical time to visit. Please note that the majority of your visit will be outside so in the glaring Nevada sunshine. Don’t forget your water and sunscreen.
History of the Las Vegas Boneyard
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas was first opened in 2012. It is dedicated to remembering and restoring the history of these essential parts of Vegas. When the city became popular, neon signs were used to attract visitors with hotels and casinos constantly trying to outdo each other, going bigger, brighter, bolder. The signs were expensive and often leased instead of owned. When a hotel wanted an upgrade, the old sign was thrown out to break down in the dessert. That is until the Neon museum lovingly sourced and saved them.
Helpful information about the Neon Museum
The Las Vegas Boneyard is open most days from 2pm until 10pm.
Guided tours are $28 per person and last around 45 minutes. We didn’t feel rushed at all and there was plenty of time for questions.
Kids under six are free (and often have the most interesting questions!). Do make sure you keep your kids close and tell them not to touch any of the signs. This is for their own safety and that of the historic collection. Make sure you all stick to the well laid out paths.
Las Vegas is a fabulous city, fun, frenetic but rarely free. If you’re looking for some time away from the crazy then make sure you schedule in a walk down the strip to take in all the iconic spots. It’s a great way to get the best shots for your instagram, an awesome workout and
If you’re in Las Vegas on a family holiday then one of my top tips would be to visit the Shark Reef Aquarium with kids. It provides a very welcome relief from the hectic madness of the strip, the endless ding ding dings and the unforgiving heat. Inside the aquarium is calm, quiet and cool.
Make sure you pin for later to plan your visit to the Las Vegas Boneyard