One of the best things in Las Vegas for vintage lovers and history buffs is a visit to the Neon Museum. It was originally known as the Neon Boneyard Park where old neon signs from famed hotels were sent for retirement. This open-air museum dedicated to preserving old neon signs can be found just north of Fremont Street. More than 200 signs have been salvaged from hotels and casinos along the Strip and downtown.
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1. A brief history of the Neon Museum
It was founded in 1996 by Las Vegas locals who wanted to preserve the stories and signs that shaped the city.
A beautiful example of Mid-Century Modern architecture, the Neon Museum Visitor’s Center is created from the original lobby of the 1961 La Concha Motel, designed by Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects.
The neon signs in Las Vegas that light up the night are made from neon gas, one of the noble gases. The gas is odorless and colorless. Where does the color come from?
The lights are produced by applying electricity to neon or argon in a sealed glass tube. Argon makes the light blue while neon makes it orange-red. According to LiveScience.com, many of the Neon signs along the Las Vegas strip are made from mercury and argon and are colored with phosphors.
2. Getting to the Neon Museum
The Neon Museum is located in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. If driving from the Strip, the museum can be reached in about 15 minutes via I-15 North, exit 75A. A free parking lot is across from the museum.
There are additional ways to reach it using public transportation including a combination of the monorail, the Deuce bus, and walking, as well as, ride-sharing apps.
3. What to expect at The Neon Museum
First, it could happen that right when you are in town, the museum is closed due to a film shooting. Luckily, I was able to grab a time right before my flight out. Yes, I’m just that crazy! I will take a chance on a perfectly timed outing at 3PM so I can get to the airport 15 minutes away for a 5:25 PM flight. Risky, I know. It worked this time, I don’t recommend it if you do not have TSA Pre-check or CLEAR to help you whiz through security. (Ok, I really don’t recommend doing this at ALL but I often choose when to YOLO and accept the consequences but failure is never an option.)
Second, make reservations early! As soon as you know you are going to Vegas and want to visit the museum. Tickets are released about one month in advance.
Neon Museum Tickets
General Admission is a self guided one-hour experience along the Neon Boneyard path. $20 only available from 3PM to 6PM.
Guided Tours are available from 7PM to 10:45PM. $28 for a 45-minute tour.
Brilliant! Tours are available from 9PM to 11PM. $23 for a 25 minute illuminated show with flashing/strobe lights and music.
The Good – Seeing the signs in their restored and vintage glory is a real treat.
The Bad – 3PM in August is an inferno. The sun is harsh and bright, horrible for photos and you can’t take professional equipment including cameras or tripods in during this type of visit. I chose this because it was my only option but my original plan was for a tour around sunset to experience the best of both worlds as daytime turns into night glows. You can only take photos with your cell phone and in the 106 degree heat that day, my phone overheated and shut down on me. I had to wait for it to cool off a bit so I could get on my way.
It’s a small area that holds a lot of beautiful signs, so it can be as quick as you want for a self-guided tour, although the experience at night might be a lot better.
Warning: There’s a long list of things you cannot bring in or do inside the museum. While children under 6 are free, you are advised that there is broken glass and rusty edges so be careful.
After purchase, you will receive a confirmation email and a separate email with your E-ticket.
4. The Neon Museum: A Short Guide to the Collection
Below you will find photos from some of the most notable pieces in the collection and a short fact regarding its significance to Las Vegas history.
- The Hard Rock Cafe Guitar – after 26 years on the Strip, it was recently taken down in 2017. It was modeled after a Gibson Les Paul played by Pete Townsend of the Who. It has over 4,000 feet of neon tubing, making it one the museum’s largest restoration projects.
- The Golden Nugget – In 1946, Guy McAfee (1888 -1960), a former Los Angeles police officer and gambler, opened the Golden Nugget at Fremont Street in Las Vegas. He is also credited with nicknaming “The Strip” after the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.
- Moulin Rouge – opened in 1955 as the first major racially integrated casino in Las Vegas. Designed by Betty Willis, who also created the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign and one of the few prominent women sign designers.
- Fitzgerald’s – owned by one of the first African-Americans to own a Las Vegas casino.
- Chief Court Hotel – circa 1940 sign “depicting a stereotypical Plains Indian” in an effort to romanticize the old west imagery. The local native community are actually the Paiutes. The casino was opened by Harold J. Stocker, son of Mayme Stocker who managed to obtain the first gaming permit once gambling was legalized in 1931.
- Betelgeuse – created in 2019 for exhibition with Tim Burton.
- Treasure Island Skull – opened in 1993 during the “family friendly marketing era”.
- Wedding Information from Ali Baba’s Wedding Center – Quick weddings and divorces in Las Vegas started growing in popularity by the 1940’s due to looser legislation.
5. How to get your photo with the iconic signs at The Neon Museum.
If you want to get your photo with the iconic signs at The Neon Museum, you’ll need to plan ahead or take very simple selfies during the self-guided tour:
Bring your own photographer for Portrait Hour during specific dates and times for $50. Only $35 for Nevada residents, active military, students, veterans, and seniors.
Bring your own equipment for a Photo Walk on pre scheduled dates and times for $50. $35 for Nevada residents, active military, students, veterans, and seniors.
Private Shoots are available by request with a project summary for approval with at least 2 weeks notice.
6. Visit the Neon Museum for Free or less.
Yes, there is a way to see it for free. If you are a member of a North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, you can use your reciprocal privileges at the Neon Museum. (AND the Burlesque Hall of Fame). A great benefit to supporting your local museum while saving you money when you travel!
Simply contact [email protected] with a copy of your NARM endorsed membership card and a complimentary ticket request for up to 2 adults and 2 children.
Museums for All ensures access to museums for people of all backgrounds with minimal admission fees of $3 per person for up to 4 people with the presentation of a SNAP (EBT) card and valid ID.
7. Kids Activities from the Neon Museum
Celebrate the largest sculptural sign element at the Neon Museum – Treasure Island’s fiberglass skull with an easy paper craft.
Additional art projects include the Stardust Star, Coin Castle King, and the Ugly Duckling available on the Neon Museum site.