Valley of Fire. Credit: Catherine Ryan Gregory
2. Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas might be one of the country’s biggest partying destinations, but it’s totally underrated for families. There are so many off-the-Strip, kid-friendly adventures!
More than 15 nonstop flights a day will whisk you from Seattle to Las Vegas; flight time is only two and a half hours.
It’s practically a crime how many people visit Las Vegas and don’t realize how close they are to this superlative state park. Just an hour’s drive from the city, Valley of Fire is the perfect day trip for when your eyes need a break from neon lights. Climb boulders at The Beehives, a complex of rocky outcroppings near the western entrance of the park, then check out the petroglyphs carved into Atlatl Rock. Choose a short hike, and bring more water and snacks than you think you’ll need — you’re in the desert, after all.
Pro tip: You’ll need to drive between destinations within the park. Encourage your kids to watch for bighorn sheep out the window to keep them entertained in the car.
The Strip is home to incredible collections of art you can see for free — but for some hands-on fun, your kids need to check out the Discovery Children’s Museum. This multistory museum is packed with things to do, from making music and constructing a kid-size house to upcycling in the makerspace to climbing through a maze of tunnels and slides. My kids especially loved the water-play area and the stage, where they dressed up and performed for their adoring fans — that is, their parents.
Pro tip: Click the calendar icon on the museum’s website to see the many special attractions on the day you visit. A given day might include an art project about animal adaptation to cold weather, a coding project for pre-K kids and a lesson in reading maps — plus a chance to navigate to hidden treasure!
Part museum, part natural area, Springs Preserve is an all family-friendly destination. The enormous complex sprawls across 180 acres, so don’t feel pressured to see it all. Instead, tailor your visit to your kids’ interests. You can check out rattlesnakes and tarantulas (behind glass, thank goodness!), clamber around on a playground, learn about the history of the city, stroll along paths lined with native plants and even hold very still while a butterfly perches on your nose in the butterfly garden (open seasonally).
Pro tip: Membership to Springs Preserve can be worth the cost, even if you don’t live in Las Vegas. That’s because the preserve has a whole slew of reciprocal agreements, so you’ll get free or discounted entry to other parks and attractions across the country.
What would you get if you crossed a shipping port with a playground? Downtown Container Park, of course! This retail hub’s centerpiece is a playground with a tree fort that is partially made out of old shipping containers. You may also see live music or performers. Check the website to see if you can time your visit with the famous nighttime “mantis show,” when flames are blasted out of an enormous metal sculpture of a praying mantis. It wouldn’t be Las Vegas if it weren’t over the top, right?
Pro tip: The park (more of a shopping mall than a typical park) does not allow outside food or drink, so eat beforehand or plan to grab a bite at one of the park’s restaurants and cafés.
Next stop: canyon land