When I was growing up in Denver, I loved taking all-day trips to the museum. I would stand in front of some of the dioramas and wish I could step right in. Art, culture and imagination seemed to be my natural habitat, so even before I become a parent I knew I’d be taking my kids to museums. Lots of museums. What I didn’t expect was that I’d be raising my kids in Sin City. But, alas, here we are.
In my little-person opinion, Las Vegas focuses too much on gambling and casinos for the tourists, and not enough on museums and culture for the suburban folk who actually live here full time. (Anyone want to help me start a Las Vegas Culture Revolution? I’ll burn my leopard-print bra in a street march if you will.) But though the museums in Las Vegas can’t hold a candle to those in Denver, I try to make the best of it for my kids’ sake. In that spirit, I recently visited the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum with my 3-year-old daughter Ava.
The museum sits across from Cashman Field at 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North. This is an older part of town, and the surrounding streets are popular areas for the homeless to camp. Driving through this “colorful” neighborhood with my kids made me a little uncomfortable, to be honest. The museum is housed in a large, impressively contemporary-looking building that also hosts a public library and a community service center. To say the location attracts a wide mix of Las Vegans would be an understatement.
Once we got past the homeless men smoking outside the doors, our visit was pretty enjoyable. The museum has more than a hundred hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages to try. The first floor caters to the younger crowd, and Ava and I spent most of our time there.
Ava loved the toddler room, which was restricted to kids 5 and under and had lots of cushy, wont-hurt-if-she-falls features like a padded play area and a mini-bedroom perfectly sized for a preschooler. The room also had a comfy couch and plenty of Clifford the Big Red Dog books for some quiet reading; Clifford is a traveling exhibit open through May 25, 2009, so visit soon.
The second floor is geared more to elementary-aged kids, who are drawn like lemmings to the hurricane simulator exhibit, a telephone-sized booth that children can enter to experience hurricane-worthy winds. Having never been through a hurricane, I would have tried it myself if I didn’t think it would totally freak Ava out. Another fun-looking exhibit is “Be a Radio DJ,” but the long line of noisy, understandably impatient kids waiting to test it out kept me away. My daughter’s 3 years old – she doesn’t “wait” in line. We do it immediately or we skip it.
There’s plenty to do at Lied, but I advise a short visit. With masses of kids running in every direction, screaming and having the time of their lives, I wouldn’t have been able to stay more than a couple of hours without reaching for the Valium. Luckily, there were plenty of interesting exhibits to keep my imagination as satisfied as my daughter’s. My favorite was the miniature Smith’s grocery store, which featured little grocery baskets to push and plenty of shelves filled with plastic fruit and veggies, cans of soup and boxes of cereal to shop for. Ava walked through and was able to select groceries just like she sees me do every week! It was a hoot.
Though my daughter and I spent only a few hours at the Lied, we covered the entire museum. It’s a pretty small space, but it’s clean, well cared for and lovingly managed by a friendly and helpful staff that is obviously dedicated to creating interesting programs that will engage the museum’s diverse population of visitors.
My Culture Revolution wish is that the museum would move to a better, more kid-friendly neighborhood, and the new building would be twice the size. Would I recommend the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum? Yes. Just make sure to bring your camera, your hand sanitizer and your patience.
Admission: $8 for adults and $7 for children. Discounts for AAA members, large groups and seniors. An annual membership for an adult and a child costs $55. Plenty of parking.