Downtown Vegas 2.0

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Exploring the newer side of historic Downtown Las Vegas

History books will tell you that downtown Las Vegas is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the entire city. These days, however, the area has become Sin City’s cutting edge. You may have already read about the ongoing $350-million Downtown Project – a revitalization effort spearheaded by CEO Tony Hsieh to bring a new kind of urbanism to the area immediately surrounding the old City Hall (which Hsieh is refurbishing as Zappos’ new world headquarters).


Also on the agenda for this fall: Shipping Container Park, a new open-air mall made from shipping containers; and Life is Beautiful, a two-day music, food, art, and learning festival to rival the SXSW shindig in Austin, TexasBetween now and then, however, there are plenty of new-ish hotspots and attractions to check out downtown. 

Because I often travel with my two daughters, No. 1 on my list is the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (which formerly was known as the Lied Children’s Discovery Museum). This facility opened in the spring of 2013 next to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts (which, in and of itself, is worth visiting), and offers some of the most interactive and exciting exhibits at any children’s museum in the country.

Viewfinder tip: Don’t miss Life is Beautiful, a two-day art, food, and music festival in downtown Las Vegas this October. 

My personal favorite exhibit is The Summit, a 70-foot tower that ascends all three floors of the museum and pokes through the roof. There’s a slide! There are science experiments! And, there’s also a great view.


Also on my list of downtown must-sees: Commonwealth, a circa-2012 lounge that has become uber-popular among locals and visiting hipsters alike. Why do I like this place? For starters, the cocktails – here you can get everything from punchbowls to boilermakers to a Wild Turkey whiskey sour garnished with beef jerky. I also love the vibe; inside you’ll find tin ceilings and antique furniture (as well as a speakeasy in the back dubbed The Laundry Room), while outside, on a roof deck, you can drink and watch the light show on the other side of Fremont Street (a.k.a. the Fremont Street Experience) come alive.

Inside the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum (photos courtesy of museum)


In terms of downtown Las Vegas hotels, old-school options are slowly but surely catching up with the times. Earlier this year, the El Cortez rolled out its Cabana Suites, 64 refurbished rooms in a standalone building with the feeling of a boutique hotel. Most of the accommodations have vintage furniture, lots of mirrors, and green walls. They’ve also got plenty of attitude. Also worth noting: The Downtown Grand, which is slated to open in the old Lady Luck footprint this October, and is expected to offer a pool deck with real grass (in the desert, this is a big deal).


Finally, check out the Neon Museum, which opened in its new south-of-downtown spot in 2012. This attraction revolves around The Neon Boneyard, a collection of more than 150 massive neon signs from Vegas casinos (and other establishments) of yesteryear. Tours here are guided and jam-packed with history; daytime bookings can be hot, while nighttime experiences are cooler and enable you to see a handful of the signs in action (that is, lit up). Whenever you visit the Neon Museum, be prepared to learn a ton. It’s not often you can say that about a trip to Vegas.

What are your favorite things to do and see in Downtown Las Vegas?

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Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit

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