Top-Flight Tourist Attractions Await Sightseers in Las Vegas

History & Heritage, Online Exclusives

One-of-a-kind museums, a mammoth observation wheel and a freezing-cold cocktail lounge provide fun ways to spend your time in America’s entertainment capital

Las Vegas is more than gambling, dining and going to shows. Avid sightseers find their own indulgences. 

Described below are a few attractions that rounded out my recent visit to Sin City.

First-Rate Museum Shines Spotlight on Shady Characters

Being a history hound, I made a beeline to downtown Las Vegas and a former courthouse/post office building that houses The Mob Museum. The three floors of exhibit galleries were crowded on the day I went and there was a lot of text to pore through, but I got engrossed in America’s sordid gangster-era past and learned much about organized crime, its connections to Las Vegas, and the power struggles between law enforcement and bad guys. 

If you’ve always been intrigued by Mob kingpins like Al Capone, ghoulish murder scenes and methods of capital punishment, you’ll spend several hours taking it all in. 

The Mob Museum chronicles the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone.(Photo credit: The Mob Museum)

The Mob Museum chronicles the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone.
(Photo credit: The Mob Museum)

Maybe you’re a fan of the long-running Dick Tracy comic strip or movies like The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, Goodfellas, Casino and Bugsy—the museum portrays pop culture and its ties to crime syndicates as well. Artifacts include a script from 1971’s The Godfather and a costume worn by actor James Gandolfini (as Mob boss Tony Soprano) in the HBO series The Sopranos.

The public’s fascination with cops and mobsters also is reflected in the exhibit featuring antique toys—guns, handcuffs, and figures of gangsters and the G-men (government agents) who went after them.

To me, some of the most interesting exhibits chronicled the beginnings of Las Vegas as a desert resort community in the 1940s and ’50s and how, as a wide-open city, it developed into fertile ground for daring adventures, colorful characters and shady schemes. Most tourists back in the day unknowingly stayed in or gambled at Mob-connected casinos. 

Mobsters in Vegas routinely rubbed shoulders with show-biz celebrities, as museum visitors learn. Frank Sinatra, as was widely reported, was under scrutiny for his alleged association with criminals like Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana. The museum also touches on alleged Mafia links to President John F. Kennedy and conspiracy theories surrounding his assassination. 

In the actual second-floor courtroom where the U.S. Senate’s Kefauver Committee in 1950 conducted historic hearings on organized crime’s involvement in the Las Vegas casino industry, museum guests are immersed in a high-tech, multi-screen video production that tells the story of that influential panel. Video displays throughout the galleries illuminate other subjects as well.

Some Mob Museum exhibits spotlight federal agents who fought organized crime. Dick Tracy, a comic strip about cops and robbers, originated in 1931. (Photo credit: The Mob Museum)

Some Mob Museum exhibits spotlight federal agents who fought organized crime. Dick Tracy, a comic strip about cops and robbers, originated in 1931. (Photo credit: The Mob Museum)

One of the Mob Museum’s most impressive possessions is the reconstructed St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall against which seven members of George “Bugsy” Moran’s Chicago gang were lined up and shot on February 14, 1929. When the building was torn down in 1967, the bricks from the bullet-riddled wall were removed, numbered and shipped to the purchaser, George Paley, in Vancouver, British Columbia. The museum acquired the bricks from the family. Under glass is the only firearm recovered from the scene, a Colt .38 revolver. Capone was suspected of orchestrating the Valentine Day’s hit but was never charged. 

Other artifacts at The Mob Museum include a chair from Nevada’s gas chamber. In 1951 Nevada became the first state—and first place in the world—to execute criminals using lethal gas, which it used on 32 persons until switching to lethal injection after 1983. Also on display is a replica of an electric chair from upstate New York’s Sing Sing prison, where one Mob boss was electrocuted in 1944. The last electric chair execution occurred there in 1963.

Besides covering gangsters from way back when, the museum looks at today’s crime syndicates around the world, including drug cartels, counterfeiters and groups that deal in the illegal trafficking of exotic animal parts like rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks.

As your museum visit winds down, you’ll come to “The Mob’s Greatest Hits,” a wall plastered with black-and-white photos of gangster-related killings that made national news. The scenes of bloody bodies and bombed-out cars are graphic. 

In the basement of the Depression-era government building, The Underground serves cocktails amidst trappings of 1920s-style speakeasys, the illegal bars that operated during Prohibition. Some drinks include house-made moonshine from the working distillery on the premises.

The Neon Sign Museum’s Neon Boneyard displays large-scale advertising artifacts from yesteryear. (Randy Mink Photo)

The Neon Sign Museum’s Neon Boneyard displays large-scale advertising artifacts from yesteryear. (Randy Mink Photo)

Museum Preserves Vintage Vegas Signs

History buffs also like the outdoor exhibition space at the Neon Museum Las Vegas, which showcases more than 250 iconic Las Vegas signs rescued from the wrecking ball. Most of the Neon Boneyard’s giant advertising artifacts are from casino-hotels, motels and restaurants. The oldest operational piece is the Chief Hotel Court sign from 1940. 

At sunset, the 20-some signs in working condition are lit up, and the others are illuminated by ground-level spotlights. Visits to the Neon Museum are self-guided, but interpreters are on hand to answer questions. Private tours can be arranged.

High-Altitude Sightseeing in Las Vegas

Taking a ride on North America’s tallest observation wheel is a must for Las Vegas first-timers. During its 30-minute rotation, the High Roller provides panoramic views of the Las Vegas Strip and surrounding valley through floor-to-ceiling windows in cabins that hold up to 40 guests. Each of the 28 spherical air-conditioned cabins has benches, but we, like most people in our pod, preferred to move about and take pictures. Private cabins can be arranged for groups of 10 or more and even accommodate weddings of up to 20 guests.

The High Roller stages nightly light shows. (Photo credit: The High Roller)

The High Roller stages nightly light shows. (Photo credit: The High Roller)

Illuminating the skyline at night, the 550-foot-tall wheel features more than 2,000 lights syncopated to music. The show, incorporating the fountains in the LINQ Promenade, presents countless combinations of changing colors and varying intensities. The Promenade is an open-air entertainment, retail and dining district by the LINQ Las Vegas Hotel. 

Baby, It’s Cold Inside

Constantly changing colored lights also bathe Minus5̊ ICEBAR, which offers another fun experience in the LINQ Promenade. The immersive ice attraction, which reminded me of an ice hotel where I stayed in Norway, serves frosty cocktails served in glasses made entirely of ice and dazzles guests with furniture, sculptures and wall displays made from crystal-clear blocks of ice shipped from Canada. Winter coats, gloves and hats are provided.

Offering relief from the desert relief, Minus5̊ ICEBAR maintains a consistently freezing temperature of 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-5 degrees Celsius).

Chilling out at Minus5̊ ICEBAR. (Photo credit: Minus5̊ ICEBAR

Chilling out at Minus5̊ ICEBAR. (Photo credit: Minus5̊ ICEBAR

Signature drinks include Frosted Berries, a cool blue concoction of strawberry vodka, peach schnapps and white cranberry juice. Boozy Hot Chocolate comes with your choice of alcohol and is topped with peppermint, marshmallows or Reese’s. Also available are mocktails like the Jack Frost, a blend of orange and pineapple juices and lemon-lime soda.

Besides the LINQ Promenade, Minus5̊ ICEBAR has Las Vegas locations at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino and The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes.

For more information on top U.S. museums and other attractions, you can subscribe to Leisure Group Travel for FREE

By Randy Mink, Senior Editor

Lead photo courtesy of The High Roller

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