One of the least successful Las Vegas tourism campaigns of all time was the mid-1990s push to promote the Strip as a family destination. Most of the casinos objected to this promotion, for the obvious reason that children aren’t allowed to gamble. After all, gaming has traditionally subsidized all the free attractions in the Strip hotels, and not surprisingly, the casinos want a return on their investments. And anywhere that children need to be entertained, Mom and Dad—and their wallets—will follow. (That’s why the more heavily promoted, and successful, campaign was the later “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan.) All that said, Vegas can still be a kid-friendly town—of you just know where to look (or, ahem, not look). There are dozens of things to do here with your little ones, even if you may need to occasionally avert young eyes from the mobile billboards for ladies-on-demand. Here are the five spots I always recommend to anyone coming to Vegas with the whole family:
Fountains of Bellagio
There are plenty of free attractions along the three-mile stretch of the Strip, but the one you definitely won’t want to miss is the choreographed Fountains of Bellagio, the colorful waters that start their dance every half hour from 3 pm. Even sullen teenagers will delight here, especially since super DJ Tiesto introduced a set of his own music for the fountains.
High Roller Observation Wheel at the Linq
At 550 feet high, the High Roller boasts of being the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, which opened in 2014 at The Linq, the walkable district between The Quad and Flamingo. It anchors a surprisingly fun little neighborhood—think Disney meets the Fulton Fish Market—including the 78,000-square-foot Brooklyn Bowl, and tons of dining, including perennial kid-favorite Hash House a Go Go, where “twisted farm food” arrives in troughs.
Discovery Children’s Museum
Just north of the Strip is Las Vegas’ Downtown—the formerly down-and-out “Glitter Gulch”—and now reinvented as a playground for all ages. Among its best additions is the three-story Discovery Children’s Museum, full of interactive exhibits for both kids and adults. Don’t miss Patent Pending, where young inventors can create contraptions to withstand an earthquake; a mystery town where kids can uncover clues; and the 70-foot, 13-level tower with slides and climbing tubes.
The Dolphin Habitat and Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden at the Mirage
Programs like Trainer for a Day let you get up close with the dolphins at the incredible Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage, and an underground viewing area lets you see the incredible mammals at play. (If you call ahead, grown-ups there’s even a yoga class that takes place in the peaceful viewing area.) Nearby, Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden houses endangered white tigers and lions, as well as leopards and other rare wildlife.
Adventuredome at Circus Circus
This indoor theme park in Circus Circus is the largest of its kind in America, and it packs in families for rides like the spinning Chaos or Sling Shot, which shoots up like a rocket launch with a 4G force. The newest ride is El Loco, which lets you experience a negative 1.5 “vertical G” as you climb 70 feet before dropping over and under backward. Live circus acts, games, and tamer rides are great for the littlest visitors (and for those who’d like to hold down their funnel cakes).