Darrin Bush Las Vegas News Bureau
Best Animal Attraction: Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay
Home to more than 2,000 different individual underwater creatures, Shark Reef enables families to get underwater in the desert. The main habitat—which comprises an acrylic tunnel through which you can walk—holds roughly 1.3 million gallons, making it one of the largest tanks in all of North America. The aquarium boasts a touch pool with horseshoe crabs, rays, and baby zebra sharks, as well as special opportunities to feed sting rays, sea turtles, and sharks.
Runners up: Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage; Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas; Lion Habitat Ranch in Henderson.
Creative Commons photo by Renee is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Best Museum: Springs Preserve
Technically, the Springs Preserve is four museums in one. The 180-acre parcel in North Las Vegas comprises the Nevada State Museum; the Origen Museum, which spotlights the history of human settlement in the Vegas Valley; Boomtown 1905, a recreated streetscape that tells the story of Vegas from 1905-1920; and WaterWorks, which offers a look at how the Las Vegas Valley Water District pumps water all over the region. There also are hiking and biking trails, a botanical garden, and a massive playground that was actually designed by kids.
Thomas J. Story
Best Outdoorsy Fun: Cowboy Trail Rides
One of the best ways to explore and experience the ochre-red mountains that ring the Las Vegas Valley is on horseback. That’s what makes Cowboy Trail Rides so special. The outfitter, which operates out of a nondescript ranch in Summerlin near the entrance to Red Rock National Conservation Area (pictured), offers two-hour rides as well as half- and full-day guided tours up and into the hills. Some tours include lunch or dinner; all include sightings of jackrabbits and the occasional Joshua trees. Longer trips climb to a ridge with breathtaking views of the Strip.
Courtesy of Esports Arena Las Vegas
Best Application of Technology: Esports Arena Las Vegas
Video gaming maniacs will love the Esports Arena, which opened in the spring of 2018 in the old LAX nightclub space at Luxor Las Veags. With a competition stage and a 50-foot LED wall, the arena is set up to host gaming tournaments, which it schedules regularly. At just about all other times, the 30,000-square-foot facility is available for open gaming, too. Telescopic seats make the experience comfortable; there’s also an Asian-inspired food menu (think hand rolls and rice bowls) from celebrity chef José Andrés.
Courtesy of Cowabunga Bay
Best Water Park: Cowabunga Bay
Cowabunga Bay, in Henderson, has something for kids of all ages, including splash pools, a lazy river, and an area for kids four feet and under. The 35,000-square-foot wave pool is designed to resemble a drive-in movie theater, and real movies play while four-foot waves crash on the sandy beach. Of course the main attractions are the water slides. One, named Beach Blanket Banzai, has four riders to a raft and starts 60 feet off the ground. Another, Point Panic, runs through a pitch-black tunnel with lighting features that keep things interesting.
Courtesy of New York-New York Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Best Ride: Big Apple Coaster
Las Vegas is full of thrill rides, some more kid-friendly than others. So long as your kids can (literally) stomach going upside down, they’ll love the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York. The ride starts inside, then heads outside for hairpin turns, corkscrews, and a few loops behind a replica of the Statue of Liberty. The biggest drop: 144 feet. The fastest speed: About 67 mph. There’s even a 180-degree “heartline” twist-and-dive maneuver, which basically is a barrel roll on one axis. True to the theme, coaster cars are designed to look like taxi cabs.
Courtesy of Bellagio Las Vegas
Best Theatrical Show: O by Cirque du Soleil
Some of the best shows in Las Vegas are geared toward kids. Without question, the best of the bunch is O by Cirque du Soleil. The 90-minute performance is all about humans using their bodies to defy logic on, in, or above a giant pool. Like the scene where performers jump from 60 feet into a 17-feet-deep section of a pool. Or the part when carousel horses “gallop” around the pool with tiny radio-controlled propellers beneath their tails. Kids also will love it when performers launch themselves off Russian swings, fly 20 feet in the air, and then return with a splash.
Creative Commons photo by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Best Arcade: Pinball Hall of Fame
The Pinball Hall of Fame (PHoF) is not your typical modern-day arcade; instead, it’s home to the world’s largest pinball collection. At last check, there were nearly 150 machines on display—all of them are playable and none costs more than 50 cents a game (most cost only a quarter). The machines are anywhere from 20 to 60 years old—some date all the way back to the 1950s, when pinball machines first became popular. Because the PHoF is a nonprofit, all proceeds go to local non-denominational charities.
Courtesy of Honey Salt
Best Kid-Friendly Restaurant: Honey Salt
When the husband-and-wife team of restaurateur Elizabeth Blau and chef Kim Canteenwalla started Summerlin’s Honey Salt in November 2012, they consulted their then-7-year-old son, Cole, about what to put on a kids’ menu. The boy’s choices are still popular among the under-10 set. Specifically, kids rave about the potato-chip nachos, the cornflake-encrusted chicken tenders, the burger (pictured), and the “sushi” dessert that amounts to Rice Krispy treats with gummies on top. Weekend brunch is a treat for grownups, too, with all-you-can-drink mimosas and brioche monkey bread doused in caramel sauce.
Courtesy of Ethel M. Chocolates
Best Sweet Treat: Ethel M. Chocolates
Kids love chocolate, and Las Vegas has a host of places to indulge a sweet tooth. No. 1 on the list: Ethel M. Chocolates, which is the largest independent chocolatier in the Vegas Valley. In the fall of 2017, Ethel M. remodeled its Henderson shop and chocolate factory to include a viewing aisle from which visitors can take a self-guided tour and watch candy makers preparing small-batch fillings such as satin crème, caramel, and peanut butter. For a heaping serving of eye candy, the new digs also boast one of the largest cactus gardens in the United States (Word to the wise: Don’t eat the cacti).