It was bright sunny day in Las Vegas and I was taking a tour through the history of the city in the faded glow of the infamous neon signs that recalled a story of Las Vegas so long ago. With a collection of signs dating back to the 1930’s to modern day, I imagined a different time. Back when the Rat Pack and the Mob (Bugsy Siegel) ruled the city – a time made glamourous and violent on television and in movies. Each of the neon signs in the neon boneyard, part of the Neon Museum, tell a story of a legendary casino, restaurant, hotel or business in Las Vegas. Each one is a work of art with yards of tubing, neon bulbs and unique craftsmanship. Many signs are in disarray from the desert elements as seen during the tour of the outdoor spaces. Nine signs have been restored and are now installed throughout the city as public art. A few other signs have been restored and are aglow at night on the tour while others (i.e. Hard Rock Guitar) are waiting for your help to restore them to their original beauty.
The Neon Museum is located further down the Strip so I had to take a cab from the Wynn Hotel (about $10). When the cab arrived at the museum entrance, I already felt a bit of a throwback to an earlier time in motel history as I entered the restored lobby of the former La Concha motel. The building hosts the front desk, a gift shop and bathrooms (accessed outside). The one hour tours are led by a guide and on my tour, we were led by a Las Vegas local and former district attorney. Neon Museum tours are offered every 20 minutes all day and into the night. The night time tours get to see a few illuminated signs.
Tip: Book online in advance as the tours are small and sell out quickly.
The more than 200 signs located outside are arranged in a J shaped sand filled walking path. The guide told us that it is a one-time walking tour so take photos while he talks as we wouldn’t have an opportunity to go back (usually due to the crowds and tour behind). Since it was a quiet day we did linger a bit longer to allow a few of us (me and a UK photographer) to take more photos. The tour group was small with ten visitors which was a good size to hear the guide talk about the history of the signs.
The Famous Neon Museum Signs
The cursive “in Love” sign is a favorite for couples and those who get married at the Neon Museum. There was a wedding during my tour visit – the ceremony has it’s own location at the musuem.
The Aladdin Hotel was famous for Elvis Presley’s wedding to Priscilla in 1967. This is the iconic Aladdin lamp, sadly you can’t get close to rub it for a wish as it’s behind a few other signs, plus no touching is a rule on the tour.
Binion’s Horseshoe Casino had a few signs on its facade. One of those with interlocking H’s sits in the side yard behind a fence waiting to be restored in order to move to the tourist area. It contained eight miles of neon and 30,000 light bulbs when it was installed in 1961.
The Las Vegas Casinos Signs at the Neon Museum
The tour started with the casino signs and I was struggling to remember any of these casinos as most seemed to be before my time. I did notice the $ in the Sassy Sally’s sign which was a subliminal message about money but I never heard of Sassy Sally’s casino.
Las Vegas Motel & Hotel signs at the Neon Museum
Before the mega casino and hotels, Las Vegas had a plethora of motels in the desert. The hotel and motel signs welcome you at the end of the casino signs as you turn a corner. Taking a cue from it’s desert location is the Yucca Motel and its interesting sign you can’t miss!
The Desert Rose sign was faded and the bright blue, white and red sign has now been restored.
Las Vegas Business Signs at the Neon Museum
In a small roundabout on the left after the hotels/motels is a section for signs from Las Vegas businesses. One local favorite was designed by the owner’s young daughter – this happy dancing shirt was perched above the Steiner Cleaners shop.
What is surprising about the signs is the sheer size up close, an example is the guy playing pool. He is massive and made of metal and neon. I’m sure he looked small when perched in his original location.
Don’t forget the wedding business and various restaurants in Las Vegas – there’s so many of each and these are a few neon signs in the Neon Museum collection. I wonder how many weddings started with a steak dinner, trip to the wedding chapel and then a honeymoon at the local motel?
Smaller Neon Signs at the Neon Museum
The larger neon signs seem to get much of the notice but there are smaller signs, symbols and props that complete the neon sign vision. Here are a few smaller touches to look for on your visit.
Neon Signs Restored at the Neon Musuem
The cost to restore a signs can be quite a significant investment so the non-profit relies on donations. Currently, they are raising money to restore the iconic Hard Rock Guitar, estimated to cost $350,000 for restoration and maintenance), you can donate to the neon sign restoration to see it light up again. A few other restored neon signs have been completed (Desert Rose above and Liberace sign below)
The Liberace (don’t know who he is? He was a Las Vegas icon) signature sign was restored to acknowledge the famous entertainer and is now behind partition to protect it.
The Stardust sign, once the tallest sign in the world in 1968 is a highlight as the tour ends its time in the collection of signs.
Neon Museum – North Gallery End Point
In the North Gallery area (a common area viewable from the start and end points of the tour) are a plethora of signs that the guide will point out to explain. You can spend a bit more time in this area pre/post tour. You can also look back at the starting point of the tour.
The Neon Museum Gift Shop
All tours end in the gift shop and the Neon Museum gift shop has a good selection of souvenirs, books about Las Vegas and Neon signs and snacks. The prices were reasonable and support the work of the non-profit museum.
Neon Signs in Las Vegas
The museum has restored nine signs and installed them as public art throughout the city. A nighttime tour of these signs is offered by the museum. If you venture to the Freemont Street Experience (frankly not my favorite spot) you can see other neon signs such as Binion’s and the 4 Queens Casino as well as many new neon signs in the area.
Fun Neon Sign Photo Game
Look to take photos of each letter of your name and then create your own artwork at home. Note that if you have a “Z” like me, you’ll need to improvise a sideways “N”.
Final Thoughts – The Neon Museum Tour
This was a lovely tour that I’d highly recommend you take time out of your Las Vegas schedule to visit. You should also book online in advance as the small tour size sells out quickly especially for more popular times and the photo walks. For me, I was super excited to learn more about the signs history, the colorful characters behind the signs and the museum’s efforts to preserve the history of Las Vegas through its neon signs.