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The Softer Side of Vegas

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Even though Las Vegas has its tawdry, glitter-filled, gangster-dominated history and reputation, there is also a much “softer” side to it than you might think.

All over the area one can find a myriad of relaxing sites and attractions.

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Among them are the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, a brilliant, indoor explosion of colorful flowers, plants, and trees artfully and theatrically arranged around seasonally-inspired gazebos, water features, ponds, bridges and other garden themed elements.

The Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo is overflowing with exotic birds, swans, ducks, fish, pelicans, turtles, and the highlight of the habitat, a huge flock of spectacular Chilean flamingos.

There’s also The Arts Factory, a 50-year-old traditional bowstring truss architecture commercial warehouse serving as the centerpiece of the 18b Las Vegas Arts District where visitors can enjoy a wide array of cultural activities including First Fridays Art Walks, poetry readings, concerts, live theatrical performances, and more.

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A little bit outside of the city you’ll find Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a 195,819-acre expanse encompassing over 30 miles of hiking trails, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and a 13-mile scenic drive, as well as the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary, providing a safe-haven for a bevy of animals ranging from giant tortoises to Peking ducks, donkeys, parakeets, emus, ostriches, geese, pigs, swans, and miniature horses, just to name a few.

But there were two attractions that showed up repeatedly in my search, as true Las Vegas gems: the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum.

The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum can best be described as an interactive journey through one of the most time-enduring aspects of American history.

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The “Case Files” here are divided into a variety of exciting and intriguing exhibits, artifacts, historic timelines, notable names, and Pop Culture elements, far more than a simple exploration of the life and crimes of folks like Al Capone, John Gotti, Sam Giancana, or Frank Costello. Instead you’ll find a uniquely integrated, multi-sensory, unparalleled and revealing insight and understanding of the history of organized crime and law enforcement from its inception up until today, and of the role it has played in many areas of our cultural landscape.

You could literally spend hours here immersing yourself in exhibits like Prohibition, Hollywood and the Mob, The Feds Fight Back, and Open City, coupled with a wealth of awe-inspiring artifacts including wiretap recordings, a Tommy Gun, a 1919 World Series Ticket (that’s a story in itself!), and items from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Wall, among others.

It is amazing, world-class attraction that draws thousands of visitors from all over the world every year, and should definitely be included on any Vegas itinerary.

The Neon Museum

Everyone the world over is familiar with the most famous sign in town— “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas”–designed by Betty Willis in 1959. But what became of the numerous iconic signs and marquees that once graced long-gone hotels, business establishments, and other historic Vegas spots? You’ll find them, and the rich history that made them famous, at the Neon Museum.

Dedicated to “collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment,” the Neon Museum is a true Las Vegas treasure, its Visitor Center an iconic piece of history itself, housed inside the former lobby of the famous La Concha Motel originally built in 1961.

But the real treasures here are located outside in “the Neon Boneyard,” a celebratory final resting place for some 150 glorious, rescued from the wrecking ball, artistic artifacts chronicling decades of Las Vegas history, growth and community.

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Unlike most museum environments, perusing the collection here is only via one-hour guided tours, during which the docents regale visitors with more fascinating, introspective facts, stories, and personal insights that one could possibly glean from reading explanatory signage on their own.

While meandering through the Boneyard you’ll learn about the signs which once graced the façade of the Sahara Hotel, the Green Shack restaurant, Binion Horseshoe Club, Landmark and 5th Street Liquors, the Moulin Rouge, Society Cleaners, and Ann Meyers Queen of Hearts Hotel, just to name a few.

Tours runs all day, but the best time to visit is at night (the last tour starts at 8:30pm) when the signs and marquees are illuminated in all their glory; another “softer” way to trip the light fantastic in Vegas!

Note: Visitors can purchase a Mob Museum/Neon Museum combo ticket to enjoy two great attractions at one low price.

Learn more above Las Vegas, one of America’s most famous cities!

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