10 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Las Vegas (and 3 to Avoid)

Family Travel on 02.17.12
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Photos: Britt Reints

When my husband suggested we take the kids to Vegas on our American road trip, I thought he was crazy. I knew he loved Vegas, and I love Vegas, but Vegas with kids? I couldn't imagine Sin City would make a good pit stop for a family. I knew there was more to be found in the desert oasis than casinos, but I wasn't sure the notorious nightlife or adult entertainment options would be any more appropriate for my two kids than gambling.

Come to find out, Vegas holds the same appeal for families as it does for adults traveling solo: a whole lot of fun and things you can only experience in Vegas!

1. Renew your wedding vows.

graceland wedding chapel

Do your kids like flipping through your wedding album? My 6-year old daughter has been telling me I need to have another wedding so that she can attend for several months now, so we jumped at the chance to grant her wish at the famous Graceland Wedding Chapel. Only in Vegas can you have your vows renewed by Elvis and give your kids a chance to ride in the limo with the (still) happy couple afterward.

2. Zip line over Fremont Street.

For $20 per person ($15 before dark), you and the kids can strap yourself to a cable wire and go soaring through the air under the bright lights of the Fremont Experience. If anyone in your family has considered trying zip lining, Fremont Flightlinez is one of the least expensive options I've ever come across for the experience. Be aware, however, that kids must be at least 60 lbs to zip line; weigh your kids before going if you're not sure to avoid a Fremont Street meltdown.

3. Take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.

grand canyon helicopter tours

Hiking the Grand Canyon is great for active people, but getting all the way to the bottom (and climbing back out) would be a challenge for even the fittest families. A helicopter tour can take you to the bottom and let you explore; your kids are guaranteed to get a new appreciation for geology and their earth sciences!

4. Go camping.

The bright lights and flashing signs of... well, of everywhere in Vegas can be a little much for anyone to take in all day and night. Camping at a park like Sam's Town RV Park is a nice way to get a break from all that stimulation. Why camp in Vegas? Because you can get the relaxation of camping at night with the fun of Vegas during the day.

5. Go boating on Lake Mead.

boating on lake mead

A short drive outside of the city, Lake Mead is a beautiful and largely undiscovered national park and recreation area that was created when the Hoover Dam stemmed the flow of the Colorado River. The Lake is over 100 miles long, guaranteeing everyone a little water and shoreline to themselves at any time of year. If you don't have your own boat to bring on vacation, rentals are available at the Las Vegas Boat Marina.

6. Catch a family-friendly comedy show.

The Red Skelton Tribute show is completely family friendly, and the kids won't mind the corniness one bit. The most entertaining part of taking kids to a comedy show is watching them laugh hysterically. In fact, we had more than one fellow audience member come up and thank us for bringing our kids because they had so much fun hearing their reactions.

7. Explore Black Canyon.

black canyon

On the other side of the Hoover Dam from Lake Mead, the Colorado River gently rolls through the Black Canyon. Although it's not nearly as deep or wide as the Grand Canyon, it's still a marvelous example of Mother Nature's handiwork. Your family can take a raft tour, rent kayaks or canoes, or go hiking on the rocky shores. Tent camping is also popular on some of the sandier beaches, including one that boasts a natural shower made from a hot spring waterfall.

9. Go skiing and snowboarding.

Yeah, you can ski in Vegas - well, about an hour outside of Vegas. From November through mid-April, the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort offers over 300 acres of snow-covered mountain trails for skiers and snowboarders of all ages and ability. Didn't pack your skis (or a winter coat) for your trip to the desert? No problem; LVSSR provides rentals of all equipment and winter gear, as well as group and private lessons for kids and adults.

8. Grab a gelato and watch the Bellagio fountain show.

bellagio fountain show

You can find handmade gelato all over Vegas, but the best deal is at a little stand just inside the doorway to the Bellagio, to the right of the notorious water fountain. For less than $5 you can grab a cup and then snag a spot to watch the water and lights dance to the music outside.

10. Check out the acrobats and jugglers at Circus Circus.

Another popular freebie show offered by a local casino is the regular circus performances at Circus Circus. The nice thing about this show is that it comes with a place to sit and it's indoors, making it perfect for chillier nights or the occasional rainstorm (they happen!) After you're done watching the circus folk, you can introduce your kids to the joy of gambling at the family-friendly arcade. (All judgment aside, it's not much different than the midway at any carnival or fair.)

Things You Might Want to Skip:

1. Staying in a casino hotel.

Las Vegas still allows smoking in the casinos, and all the extra oxygen and high-powered ventilation in the world can't completely eliminate the smell. If you'd rather not have to battle the smoke and the bells and whistles of the slots, consider staying at a hotel. Trump International is located a few blocks off the strip and may be one of the only buildings in town that doesn't have a single slot machine inside.

2. Eating at expensive buffets.

Vegas is known for elaborate buffets, but the days of cheap all-you-can-eat crab legs are long gone; expect to pay about $20 per person for the opportunity to gorge. This doesn't sound like a bad deal for adults, but kids who haven't hit the teen years are less likely to eat your money's worth. A great family-friendly option is the new I Love Burgers restaurant inside the Palazzo, where they're serving up gourmet burgers, fries, and shakes in a casual environment at reasonable prices.

3. Treasure Island's pirate show.

This free strip-side show outside Treasure Island is sexier than it is entertaining. The outfits are skimpy, the plot risqué, and the dancing itself subpar. Skip it and to MGM to see the less raunchy lions instead. (Updated: yes, MGM is taking the lions out and sending them "home". Not to worry as there is family-friendly entertainment in many of the casinos. Another favorite of ours: the Atlantis fountain show inside the Forum Shops at Ceasars Palace.)

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