The Neon Museum in Las Vegas is a unique little museum. The museum is part art, architecture, design, advertising, and history. It is a monument to one of the world’s most fascinating cities and to the art form it made famous. This outdoor museum is the final resting place for more than 200 of Las Vegas’ former neon signs and displays about 120 of them.
I’m always on the lookout for museums and tours that will entertain tweens and teens and this certainly fit the bill. Although the museum allows children on the tour, it is best appreciated by kids 5th grade and above.
The visitors’ center is located inside the historic La Concha Motel lobby, which was saved from demolition and relocated to its current location. The main lobby and a small gift shop is there. There is also a self-guided “touch screen” that has some good information on Vegas and a selfie photo booth but the real exhibits are outside in the Neon Boneyard. It is only available to the public through a guided tour and participants are limited. In the Boneyard you’ll find a collection of neon signs ranging from local businesses, to casinos, to food places, Mom & Pops, etc. The signs with their spectacular colors, intricate animation and size are also considered by many to be true works of art. The collection ranges from the 1940s to present day.
Volunteer guides provide context for the signs. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable on Las Vegas history. We booked our tour for the first tour of the day (hoping to avoid the mind-melting Las Vegas heat. The museum does provides shade umbrellas.) There are also night tours available. There are seven restored signs that are turned on and the rest of the collection is illuminated by led lights along the ground.
I want to share some of my favorite exhibits on the tour.
The Ugly Duckling Car Sales sign
This two-sided baby duck is just too cute! It’s from the former Ugly Duckling Car Sales. Now the duck’s neon head peeks over the wall of the Neon Museum, and it was the first sign I noticed from the parking lot and the last sign visited on our tour.
The Steiner’s “Happy Shirt” sign
This is one of the animated signs in the boneyard. The sign was for a dry cleaner and it was designed by the owner’s daughter when she was only 12 years old. Our tour guide also pointed out that this happy, well-pressed, button-down shirt originally had a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
Doc and Eddy’s Pool Hall “Pool Player”
This 10-foot-tall Pool Player once stood on the roof of Doc and Eddy’s Pool Hall. The body is made of hand-welded steel, his hair locks are made from rebar and his clothes, including his jeans and the partially unbuttoned pseudo Hawaiian shirt, was painted on. It is not technically a sign in the traditional sense, but is an interesting addition to the boneyard.
The Green Shack sign
The oldest sign in the collection came from the Green Shack restaurant on Fremont Street and dates back to the 1930s. The sign was put together with a flat head screwdriver.
At the sign for the Green Shack restaurant, find out about owner, Mrs. Mattie (Jimmie) Jones and her “spirited” brand of entrepreneurship—prior to opening the Green Shack, she sold bootleg whiskey out of her house. She is the mother of the Las Vegas liquor license; the Green Shack was issued was the city’s first liquor license. Green Shack was one of the longest running restaurants in Las Vegas closing in 1999.
The Moulin Rouge sign
Our guide shared how trailblazing woman sign designer, Betty Willis, made significant contributions to Las Vegas’ visual landscape. (She also designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.)
Our guide shared with us a little of the history on integration in Las Vegas. It wasn’t that long ago Las Vegas casinos made racial “exceptions” only for entertainers (i.e., Sammy Davis Jr.). Advertised as the “first major interracial hotel” in the nation, Moulin Rouge set the standard for other hotels in Vegas to loosen up their segregation policies.
With about 120 signs in the boneyard to choose from, it was challenging to narrow it down to just 5.
Some tips for visiting the museum:
- Book online and early. The tours sell out—especially on weekends
- Make sure you have lots of battery life and room on your memory card. Don’t wait to take pictures till the end of the t
our. They will not allow you to walk back through.
- Bring a hat, water and wear sunscreen. It gets very hot out there.
You might also like our post 7 Tips for Taking Pics at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” Sign.