A trip to Las Vegas offers plenty of adventure when you are far from the Strip – San Bernardino Sun.
Long-distance trips are not in sight for the family this year? Then consider Las Vegas. It offers many new adventures and sights off the beaten path, away from the crowds of the Strip.
In general, Las Vegas attractions have opened as COVID-19 restrictions ease. However, it is advisable to check the status of certain places before visiting and make reservations if necessary.
Dam but not the dam (Big Getaways in Boulder City)
For those who have never been there, the Hoover Dam should be high on the list. A tour and a walk through this technical marvel from the time of the Depression is an unforgettable experience. Most dam experiences have been closed at this writing, but things are changing. You can find updated information here.
28 miles southeast of the Las Vegas Strip, on I-215 and I-11, is Boulder City. Far from the bright lights of the gambling mecca and family friendly, this castle was home to the workers who built the Hoover Dam in 1931.
Historic railway route
Alan Bible Visitor Center, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 10 Lakeshore Road, Boulder City; 702-293-8990
This 7.5 mile circular route follows the incline of the last section of a 30 mile railway line built to carry construction materials to the dam. Visitors pass five 300-foot train tunnels along the path, which is open to dogs, strollers, and cyclists. The hike offers views of Lake Mead, remains of the dam construction, and historical markings along the way. Pay attention to heat warnings, keep an eye out for living things, wear comfortable shoes, and carry water.
Ride the rails
Nevada State Railroad Museum, 601 Yucca St., Boulder City; 702-486-5933
Railway researcher; 877-833-8588
If just walking through tunnels is not enough, there is the nearby Railway Museum, where visitors can see some of the powerful locomotives and locomotives that drove the development of the West. Visitors looking for a little adventure can take a 90-minute ride in a Rail Explorer, a pedal vehicle. Journey times and options vary; Advance booking is recommended. The ticket price includes admission to the museum.
Get a brew
Boulder Dam Brewing Co., 453 Nevada Highway, Boulder City; 702-243-2739
This is a cozy place to grab pub grub and draft and catch a few minutes of a game. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, forget about the Root Beer Float and try a real beer float. The Golden Cream serves a pint of Oaked Black Canyon Stout with a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream. A little wild? Yes. Worth the trip A heartfelt yes! Downtown you will also find a nearby park, shops, art and cafes, as well as the typical cluster of service companies, including the trusted hardware store.
Capture something cool
Chilly Jilly’z, 1680 Boulder City Parkway, Boulder City; 702-293-2373
What’s better than a frozen treat on a hot day? As someone who considers Dole Whip a rare treasure, Jilly’z is a goldmine of sweetness with frozen custard, malt, shakes, frappes, and shave ice, plus a full menu of family-friendly options. Since Jilly’z is on the north side of the Boulder City Parkway just before it is converted into a split highway, we found it easier to visit on our way back to Las Vegas. At the time of writing, a meal was available on the terrace.
Atomic, historical, organic
A day after spending four to five hours in the car, staying near downtown Las Vegas may be an easier choice. Fear not, you don’t have to hang out by the adult pool or indoor shooting range to find fun without gambling. A couple of options:
Experience the birth of the atomic age
National Nuclear Test Museum, 755 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas; 702-409-7366
Travel back in time and experience the harrowing vibrations of an atomic bomb explosion at the Ground Zero Theater and stroll through a fascinating and frightening collection of atomic and nuclear devices and memorabilia. Just 2.7 miles from the Strip, this Smithsonian branch gives visitors a complete overview of technology, radiation, weapons, and early nuclear age culture. The displays are eye-catching and interactive with detailed written support. While teenagers and adults could easily spend hours here, the little ones are likely to move quickly through the museum. (Don’t forget to pick up a shot glass with the classic atomic energy symbol on it.)
Get for the springs
Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas; 702-822-7700
State Museum of Nevada, 702-486-5205
(Visitors are advised to check the status of attractions and purchase tickets in advance. The Nevada State Museum was reopened in mid-April, but the indoor attractions at Springs Preserve, including the Origen Museum and Divine Café, were still open closed.)
Two attractions and a cozy café with a wide view of the gardens share the adjoining rooms at this stop for all ages. The 189-acre Springs Preserve is just five miles north of the Strip and features a vibrant desert center, botanical garden, butterfly habitat, amphitheater and the Origen (an abbreviation of Original Generations) Museum, which tells the history of the Las Vegas Basin (geologically and cultural) with kinetic water sculptures, flash floods, and live animals.
Nearby, the Nevada State Museum has a matching counterpart with its mammoth and dinosaur fossil models, game artifacts, showgirl costumes, and a collection of historical items that look like they were pulled from the Las Vegas attic. Need a break Check out the Divine Cafe. The menus offer healthy choices for adults as well as dishes that will please even the pickiest little ones. A large, shaded dining terrace overlooks the preserve area.
Hey, Ethel, do you have a sweet tooth?
Ethel M Chocolates Factory and Cactus Garden, 2 Cactus Garden Drive, Henderson
If Hershey, Penn., Ghirardelli Square, and See’s Candy Shops are on the family must-see must-eat list, then check out the Las Vegas homemade chocolate quality at Ethel M Chocolates. The “M” stands for Mars, of course.
Ethel M Chocolates is named after the mother of M&M and Mars Candy founder Forrest Mars Sr. And true to the family heritage, the chocolates, tastings, and factory tours don’t disappoint. For those who need to recover from a sugar rush, the adjacent 3 acre cactus garden awaits.
Take a bite out of the bright lights
Public, 1126 E. Fremont St., Las Vegas; 702-331-5500
This hip, friendly coffee and breakfast / brunch / lunch spot offers wonderfully prepared light dishes in a canteen-like atmosphere. Looking for vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options for delicious scrambled eggs; Breakfast burritos; waffles soaked with fruit, syrup and cream; Baked goods and various goodies? This is the place. We are drawn to breakfast here, but lunch is also an option. No reservations, just walk-ins.
Big Dog’s Brewing Co, 4543 N. Rancho Drive, Las Vegas; 702-645-1404
Another escape from the Strip, Big Dogs style itself as Las Vegas’ original brewery. They have hearty portions, great beers and – in addition to the eclectic mix of pizza, pulled pork, pot roast, meatloaf and poutine – you can find some Wisconsin tributes like beer cheese soup, sausage and smoky brat mac and cheese. The selection of home brews is worth the admiration of any beer lover. We quickly focused on the Dirty Dog IPA, but the Black Lab Stout and Red Hydrant Brown Ale were also tempting.
Want more? Dig in or move on …
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Visitor Center, 3205 State Highway 159, Las Vegas; 702-515-5350
About 27 km west of downtown, the canyon’s visitor center is a 20 to 25-minute drive away, depending on the route and traffic. The canyon is a great place for rock hopping, hiking, biking, or strolling, or if you’re in the mood for a longer, air-conditioned adventure, consider the 21 km scenic drive. That being said, you may encounter wildlife, especially donkeys – don’t feed them, they will likely bite or kick!
Dig up this Las Vegas, 800 W. Roban Ave., Las Vegas; 702-222-4344
For every kid who loves moving dirt in a yellow Tonka truck but has found a desk job in real life, there’s Dig This. After the safety briefing, visitors can sit in the driver’s seat and crank up a full-size 10-ton bulldozer, a 20-ton hydraulic excavator (think modern steam shovels) or a skid steer loader. Depending on their specific equipment, youngsters can also get into the action. Dig This even has birthday parties and rides for young children.
Valley of Fire State Park, 29450 Valley of Fire Highway, Overton; 702-397-2088
Valley of Fire is more of a day trip than a short excursion. It is located approximately 1 hour northeast of downtown Las Vegas on I-15 and the Valley of Fire Highway. But the breathtaking red Aztec sandstone outcrops, amazing rock formations, petrified trees and the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock are more than worth the kilometers. As always, the visitor center is a good first port of call. You can find more parking and driving directions at theunendingjourney.com/valley-of-fire-state-park-guide and alltrails.com. Bring water, good walking shoes and an awareness of the expected temperatures of the day.