A Trip to the Children’s Museum

Play is hard work!Photo by Tasha Pittser
Play is hard work at the Lied Discovery Children’s
Museum

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.

Clifford the Big Red Dog roomPhoto by Tasha Pittser
A place to put on your own “Clifford the Big Red
Dog” play

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.

Bad hair day!Photo by Tasha Pittser
Bad hair day! A visitor tries out the hurricane
simulator

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.

Grocery shoppingPhoto by Tasha Pittser
Ava shops for her favorite groceries in the
miniature Smith’s supermarket

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.

Comments

25 responses on “A Trip to the Children’s Museum

  1. Sounds like a fun childrens museum! I never like taking my kids to places where the people are “questionable”. It makes me uneasy, my kids stare and ask questions loudly, probably making those people uneasy as well. I would have to agree with cleaning the area up and making it more family friendly.

  2. One of the biggest issues with the museum is the area surrounding it. A Children’s Museum smack dab in the middle of one of the worst crime and homeless areas is the main thing that keeps parents away from what should be a safe, fun environment for young kids. Since work began on I-15, the homeless tents that once inhabited the edges of the freeway have been moved to this area of town. Either this museum needs a new home (Summerlin, Henderson, or Southern Highlands, for example) or the city needs to put forth a real effort to address the growing homeless problem in Las Vegas. If the museum were in Summerlin and had the same unsightly surroundings, that community would be up in arms, just like they were about planes flying over their homes. Good to see an article that addresses all sides and is not afraid to expose the truth about the Lied Children’s Museum.

  3. I agree. Coming from Denver and even a smaller town in Florida the museums here are a let down. I’ve been to Lied and the Natural History Museum. For a city our size we should have better (and more) museums.

  4. I am 30 years old and that made me want to go to the museum! I have never heard of a hurricane simulator. I wouldn’t look forward to dodging transients to enter the place, but my guess is that it would take an act of God (or his superior) to get that place moved to a more desirable location.

  5. Sounds like a great place to visit…with my husband, and maybe just once. I tend to stray from areas that are less than child-friendly, it wouldn’t encourage me to visit again. Think if the kids were on a field trip, without close supervision…okay I don’t want to think about that.

  6. This is a beautifully written article, which both makes me want to visit the museum immediately and also leaves me a bit hesitant and cautious. I love the idea of a Cultural Revolution in Las Vegas. That is the heart of this article, even more than the description of the Children’s Museum. Who says a city known for girlie shows and extravagance and gambling can’t also be a place where there is every kind of performance and art available, and of the highest standard, too?

  7. I’ve not visited the museums you mention but I’m all for more and better cultural attractions, whatever city they’re in.

  8. My work takes me to that area often so I’ve become a little immune to the shabby surroundings. But I’m sure it can be a bit daunting for families with small children. The fact that the museum shares space with the library (a favorite spot for homeless) is a bummer. However, I’m a believer in fixing up downtown, not moving businesses out. I’d join your revolution, Tasha! Great read.

  9. My kids love the museum! I can only imagine how much they would love it if it were bigger and had even more to do. They (and I) don’t have much to compare it to so we are happy with what we have. But it does sometimes get too crowded and I would be all for redoing it bigger and better!

  10. The museum looks quite nice and I wish we had something similar that was close by. I’d love to try out that hurricane simulator! Never seen one of those before.

  11. I agree with the author about much of what she wrote. Perhaps because I’m used to urban environments, the location doesn’t bother me as much as it does her. Also, I’ve just moved here from a city in Alabama that has nothing like this, plus no good parks for kids, so Vegas seems to me to offer a lot for families. Which is not to say that the museum doesn’t need some work. It’s such a big space — why is so much of it empty? Part of the Culture Revolution could be getting some serious fundraising events in place to add great activities to this museum. And to make it lighter and more colorful inside. Add more kid art, like that around the library downstairs. The toddler room is so festive — let’s get that colorful happy vibe throughout the museum. It’s very warehouse-y upstairs. Regardless, my son only knows this museum, he doesn’t compare it to anywhere else, and he loves it.

  12. Because Las Vegas is “Vegas” and has the razzle dazzle reputation created by some of the best minds in the destination marketing business, it’s easy to forget how young and relatively inexperienced the cultural traditions are here in Las Vegas.

    No one would dispute that the downtown Library complex sits in less-than-ideal location for Las Vegas families, but here are some other things to consider.

    The state museum may not have the fossil collection found in Denver’s Natural History museum – but Denver is both a bigger city and an older one. The Clark County Museum rivals collections found in much more established and higher density cities. I bet your kids would get a kick out of the ghost town and being able to climb all over the locomotives at the county museum. Plus there are a dozen or so museums open to the public associated with UNLV, DRI and other research organizations based here. Virtually every public library and government building has rotating art collections and there are one-of-kind museums here – Liberace (which is a remarkable collection) and Nuclear Testing museum are just two that come to mind.

    (And none of these are in casinos… there are some pretty incredible art museums in some of the casinos too.) The Bellagio Art Gallery is a relatively tiny space that allows up close and intimate viewing of works that are on the same circuit with the most exclusive art galleries in the world. The current exhibit includes paintings and sculpture from major Contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein and Ed Ruscha. If such an exhibit were showing in Los Angeles, Seattle or even Denver, you’d have to stand in line for hours and hours. Here, you can usually walk right in. The longest wait I’ve ever had for a major showing at this gallery was ~ 15 minutes.

    No question, we need more museums and a greater depth of collections that will appeal to children of all ages —

    Mark

  13. I agree with the author. When I first took my kids to the museum I was wondering if we were even in the right place after seeing all the homeless people hanging around the outside. The location is awful. I am from Florida which had a couple decent children’s museums and I was disappointed in the one here in Vegas. On our recent visit the mini Smith’s grocery store was a complete disaster… boxes everywhere, no baskets to be found, plastic food on the ground.. that was one area that could have been a lot better if staff and perhaps other parents were able to clean up after the kids!

    Overall I expected more.

  14. I have been to the the Lied Discovery Museum and others in town many times with my daughter. There are definite things I would change or improve if I could. I have to admit I don’t like the area a few of the museums are in, but still go to them. I try to just mind my own business and walk on by and get inside. I can say my daughter always has a great time when we go to this museum especially as she gets older and she can enjoy more of the exhibits. I do agree the staff is very friendly and always there to assist the children in the exhibits or a craft. I would love to see more museums and exhibits for children in this city.. I figure since this is the place I call home for now I will make the best of what this city has to offer me and my family. I think your article was well written. I will defiinitely visit this museum and others again but do wish I didn’t have to feel a bit nervous when going to one. Whether that means cleaning up that are, which would be wonderful or moving them to a better area I am all for either one.

  15. I remember when Lied was built. It was such an innovation for Vegas! Over time, I’ve been sad to see exhibits removed and not replaced. It is also depressing to see exhibits that remain become run down. Sometimes it seems to take a while to get those exhibits fixed back up. That said, Lied has been a fabulous addition to our city. I remember well going to the Natural History Museum as a child and enjoy the variety that Lied adds to the educational opportunities available to our children. I also held my older son’s sixth birthday there–a great time was had by all (including the adults!) The urban environment isn’t a drawback for me, and I like that it is attached to the library. Makes visiting the library pretty convenient!

  16. Visiting from you blog. I will have to second that Denver has great museum and the new Denver Art Musuem is fantastic. Have you been? Even my kids loved it!

  17. I LOVED your honest opinion and details of your experience at the museum.
    I don’t neccesarily agree with moving the musem, but building another one would make much more sense. I think it’s great that it is in an area of LV that children of all cultures have access to it…why not spread the love?

  18. Wow! You’ve really gone easy on this prime example of how Las Vegas and, more generally, Nevada, is putting our State’s children last on its list of priorities. Maybe I am a bit biased due to the fact that I’ve just returned from Oregon where I took my three-year-old to the OMSI, which makes the Lied look like an armpit. Don’t get me wrong. I am glad Las Vegas has something to offer children in the way of culture, but the Lied could use some serious funding. Every time we go there (and I do have an annual pass), nearly all of the exhibits are worn from wear and tear and the place is dirty. It is virtually guaranteed that my child will come down with some sort of viral sinus infection one or two days after we visit the Lied. Walking into the museum, I always feel really sorry for the place because it is obviously a struggling endeavor. Oh, and, it IS really scary walking into the museum because of all the vagrants hanging around the entrance–yes, smoking cigarettes in front of a CHILDREN’s museum. Aside from all the foregoing, the museum unfortunately doesn’t have much to offer, and we are able to get through it all in about an hour. It’s a shame. This museum could be so much better if it just had some money behind it. God bless the people who run the place because they are obviously doing the best they can with what little they have, but I take it that, in this town, entertaining tourists with lap dances is far more important that enriching the children who have to grow up here.

  19. I agree that the museum needs a bigger space. We have visited the Children’s Museum and the Natural History Museum in ABQ, and both are about 3 times the size if not more, with a lot more interactive activities for little ones. The first time we took my daughter to the ABQ one, she was less than 2, and I still spent all morning there with her. I had heard (but can’t remember when and who knows if it’s still in the works) that they had or wanted to purchase a bigger space here in Las Vegas and were planning to move the LIED museum in the future. I would be completely thrilled if that was the case, for the space, and more activities. I agree that the staff has always been helpful and enthusiastic. My daughter is 3, but if she really wants to do something, she can choose to wait or not.

    The location does not bother me, perhaps it is because I worked as a teenager just down the street at the DULA pool as a teenager, which served the homeless community, or perhaps it is because I like to think that homeless people; are not better or worse than us, just people in unfortunate circumstances for reasons I don’t pretend to understand. If anything, it makes me want to get more involved in the homeless outreach, and if the opportunity presents itself– and it has– we have extended a helping hand. It’s not really hard to explain to my kids that not all people are fortunate enough to have a roof, clothes, food and money for their needs. I would hope, that it helps develop empathy and humility in them.

  20. Looks like lots of fun! It’s good to hear a really honest opinion. At least now when I go visit, I know how to be prepared and what to expect! Thanks so much for telling it all and keeping us informed as well.

  21. I currently live in Minnesota and am really thinking about moving out that way!
    I get really excited but then I remember that it’s not just ME moving, I have 4 children and I always wonder is there anything that they are going to be able to do?
    We do alot here as far as parks, museums, mall of america and so on and id really hate to bring them out there and for them to be prisoners, My concerns have ranged from the scorpions! ( a very typical minnesotan thing to say lol) to the safety even though there are parts everywhere that are dangerous! down to what will my kids and i do?
    How are the schools? jobs? etc..I have been doing research but everyone knows you can research all you want and you never know tell you get there!
    The last time i checked….Minnesota isn’t the safest place either! Our downtown isn’t the safest place in the world! What did you mean by “colorful”

  22. Lisa,

    If you moved out here, your children certainly wouldn’t be prisoners! 😉 Las Vegas has one of the best winters around. While your family in Minnesota would be shacked up inside trying to stay out of the bitter cold, you’d be enjoying the parks and sunshine (and 60 degree weather) in Las Vegas! I love our Las Vegas’ winters.

    There are many, many amazing communities here and the city continues to enhance them with better parks, pools and family-friendly activities. I just wrote an article about my favorite parks in the valley. You can read that here- http://living-las-vegas.com/2009/03/family-parks-las-vegas/.

    I meant colorful as in the wide range of types of people- from the mothers with small babies at the museum, to the book worms at the library, to the guy who lives in a tent down the street at the community service center….they all visit the Children’s Museum building! Keeps things interesting! 🙂 I didn’t say unsafe- I think the place is perfectly safe. I’ve NEVER felt unsafe while visiting, and actually, the museum employees are quite welcoming!

    Next month I’m writing about the mom groups that are in Las Vegas- you might watch for that. One of those groups would help a newcomer like you find even more family-friendly, community activites that only a local would know about. 😉

    I hope this helps- Las Vegas has a lot to offer families like yours!

  23. Well thank you Tasha for the response and the information!
    You hit it right on the head as far as the winters here!! Id be lying if i didn’t say that I don’t get on the net and look up the weather out there almost everyday LOL!

    I think it’s more of the, “unknown” that scares me although you never really, “know” what’s going to happen anywhere!
    What i DO know is my welcome is wore out here in Minnesota and i’d hate myself if i didn’t at least give it a try.

    I am really interested in the mom groups! I think that is really cool and would be very helpful for someone like me, so thanks a lot for the heads up on that!! I think its great that you guys have that sort of thing makes coming there more comforting!

    Well I will be keeping my eyes open for anymore information available thanks again Tasha!

  24. OH ONE MORE THING!!!

    Im still worried about the wildlife out there!! LOL

    Have you had any problems with anything or am I just reading to much into it?!

    Thanks again!

  25. Tasha,

    Great article!! I especially loved the part where you talk about a “colorful” neighborhood.. Lol. Is it like downtown Vegas? Because when we were there to get our Marriage License, that in itself was a “colorful” neighborhood! ( And I’m not talking about neon lights and sky high Marquis! ) 🙂

    I remember those field trips we would take back in school and I too LOVED them all. Any museum was great. Art or science. Did you know that they are closing down the Planetarium that we would always go to?!? How SAD is that? I loved that place and am sad that Sarah will never be able to enjoy it either 🙁

    Take care!

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