Courtesy of MGM Resorts International
Courtesy of High Roller at the Linq Promenade
At 550 feet tall, Vegas's High Roller is the tallest observation wheel in North America—and a huge hit with kids.
Our writer, a Las Vegas expert, has looked at the city from nearly every angle: This time, it’s through the eyes of his three young daughters. His conclusion? When done right, traveling with children to Vegas doesn’t have to be a gamble.
On the morning of our fourth day in this desert metropolis, my then-7-year-old daughter woke up in a haze. She and her sisters—at the time, ages 10 and 3.5, respectively—had spent the past days wandering casinos (while kids can’t linger in designated gaming areas, an informal “keep moving” policy generally lets them pass through casino floors), chilling in ice bars, ogling tigers, and drinking decadent milkshakes with slices of cake on top. Understandably, the sustained excitement was starting to catch up with my middle child: “Dad,” she asked, “can you feel hungover from too much fun?”
Her question made me laugh but also put my mind at ease. I live in California but have covered Vegas as a solo traveler for nearly 20 years—writing and updating 13 guidebooks on the destination along the way—but was nervous to visit for the first time with kids. To help manage this anxiety, I’d planned our itinerary down to the hour, while being careful not to book too much into days that would play out in 100-degree heat. Clearly, I had done something right.
Yes, I had that careful itinerary and all the research that went into it, but Sin City still managed to surprise me with how kid-friendly it has become since I first started getting to know the place. As I look back on my family’s pre-COVID weeklong Las Vegas getaway, here are some of the family-focused things I discovered about my familiar friend, and five specific suggestions for things to do in Las Vegas with kids.
There are more than 20 major resorts in and around the Las Vegas Valley, and many of them have outstanding pools. Some pools are only open to hotel guests, but most (including those we cite here) offer some sort of day-pass option. The majority come standard with umbrellas, cabanas, and seat-side food and beverage service; others have standout amenities to excite even the most mortified tweens and teens. Some of the most family-friendly pools in Las Vegas include:
On our trip, we stayed at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which boasts one of the most kid-friendly pool complexes in town. There’s a lazy river. There’s a wave pool. There’s a beach with real sand. If you’ve got older kids, there are live music shows on select nights throughout the summer and fall. Heck, my kids would have been happy if we spent the entire week swimming and drinking virgin daiquiris right there.
Other pools have different draws. The pool at Golden Nugget Las Vegas Hotel & Casino has a waterslide that zips through a 200,000-gallon aquarium (aptly called “the Tank”) with sharks and other fish.
About 30 minutes off the Strip, in the western suburb of Summerlin, the Sandbar Pool at Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa has giant hot tubs that are popular with families, and pool attendants sometimes wander around handing out free nonalcoholic slushies.
The best resort pool for kids in all of Vegas, though, may be the Splash Zone at Circus Circus Hotel Resort; it features a water park with highlights like a 50-foot tower with three different slides, a water-feature playground with sprinklers and dump buckets, and a mobile food truck that serves poolside snacks. No, the Circus Circus pool is nothing fancy. But for families with young kids, it’s high on the wow factor, which really is all that matters here.
Individual Las Vegas resorts strive to stand apart from the pack by boasting at least one attraction you won’t find anywhere else in town.
During our stay at Mandalay Bay, we found two such spots: the Minus 5 Ice Experience and the Shark Reef Aquarium. The former, located in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place, is a bar made entirely of ice; the place admits kids before 6 p.m. and even serves them mocktails in cups made of ice.
The aquarium is out by the hotel convention center; it’s certified by the American Zoological Association (AZA), and its tanks contain more than 2,000 different marine animals, with 15 species of sharks.
Later in our visit, the kids and I climbed aboard gondola rides around the man-made “canals” that run through the Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian Las Vegas. Our gondoliers serenaded us with Italian arias, as they do in the real-deal Venice. The mellifluous sounds reverberated off the sky-painted ceiling and echoed like they might in church.
Other family-friendly must-dos on the Strip include FlyOver Las Vegas, a Disneyland-style ride that plays out while you are suspended with feet dangling in front of a 52.5-foot-wide spherical screen, and the Escape Game Las Vegas, a hard-to-solve escape room inside the Forum Shops near Caesars Palace. And as cheesy as it might seem, the 1,149-foot-tall Observation Deck atop the Strat Hotel & Casino really is spectacular, especially at night. (Fun fact: The structure is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States.)
Vegas is a food city, and there are plenty of dining options geared toward kids.
My girls are still talking about our lunch at Black Tap inside the Venetian. Sure, the fried pickles, onion rings, and indulgent burgers were divine. But the main attraction was the milkshakes—mine came with two churros and a whole Choco Taco sticking out of whipped cream on the top; the one my youngest daughter ordered was rimmed with sprinkles and garnished with an entire slice of cake.
We had another memorable dining experience at Maxie’s, a diner toward the back of the Linq Promenade between the Flamingo and the Linq Hotel. Here, the girls ordered stacks of pancakes topped with cotton candy or Fruity Pebbles; the eatery also serves benedicts in hunks of white bread.
No trip to Las Vegas is complete without at least one gut-stuffing buffet stop; some buffets shut down in the wake of COVID-19, but many all-you-can-eat stalwarts are still going strong. One of my personal favorites is the Buffet at Wynn Las Vegas, where a new family-friendly pancake station serves made-to-order flapjacks in flavors such as red velvet, bananas foster, and strawberry shortcake. Another great one: Bacchanal Buffet inside Caesars Palace. This is one of the few all-you-can-eat restaurants that serves freshly squeezed specialty breakfast juices, such as watermelon, carrot, and celery.
For the frozen dessert lovers in your family, head downtown and check out Luv-It Frozen Custard, which has been in business since 1973. Special flavors change every day, but the Fresh Banana Nut is always available on Sundays.
For decades, Las Vegans pined for professional sports teams with top-notch facilities. In a matter of years, they’ve gotten their wish—and then some.
We sampled some of this action firsthand: Sin City’s WNBA team, the Las Vegas Aces, plays at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Within moments of walking through the door, a team employee outfitted our girls with Aces T-shirts—every person who attended got one. This simple act got them hooked—they didn’t know any of the players’ names but screamed and cheered until their voices got raspy anyway.
Elsewhere around town, other teams have generated a buzz. The Las Vegas Raiders moved from Oakland before the 2020 NFL season, and they play at the swanky Allegiant Stadium, which offers 75-minute field and behind-the-scenes tours that football-obsessed kids will love. The Las Vegas Aviators, a minor-league affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, play in a ballpark out in Summerlin that has a pool beyond the outfield fence (you need a special ticket for that) and designated areas for kids to run and play. Finally, you can’t set foot in Vegas these days without hearing about the Golden Knights, the now five-year-old professional hockey team that plays in the T-Mobile Arena (between New York-New York Hotel & Casino and Park MGM) and made the Stanley Cup Final in its first year.
There are even more stand-alone attractions in and around Las Vegas that are sure to leave kids (and—who are we kidding?—parents) shaking off “fun hangovers.”
Number one on the list: Area 15, which bills itself as an “immersive entertainment and events complex,” but really is a shopping mall of creative genius. Among the diversions here are axe-throwing, a dual-track zipline, and Wink World, a sequence of infinity mirror rooms from the creator of “Blue Man Group.” The main attraction is Omega Mart, an interactive playground from the art collective Meow Wolf; save a few hours to do it right.
Another must-see: High Roller, which sits at the back of the Linq Promenade off the Strip and, at 550 feet tall, currently holds the record for the tallest observation wheel in North America. When we visited, my two younger daughters sang some favorite songs and held their own dance party in the sky as our pod crested the top of the wheel and delivered panoramic views of the Vegas Valley. One entire revolution took about 30 minutes; a computer monitor provided us with a constant elevation reading along the way.
Later in the trip, we checked out the Discovery Children’s Museum in Downtown. I’ve been to dozens of children’s museums in the 10 years I’ve written about family travel, and this might be the best of the bunch. Its centerpiece is a seven-story climbing structure that enables kids to explore different exhibits and floors. (Technically, very flexible parents can use the structure, too.) A maker space offering open play or special classes on topics like 3-D printing also kept my girls occupied for hours.
Elsewhere in the Downtown area, kids love the tree house in the center of the Downtown Container Park shopping mall for its three-story tunnel slide; there’s also a nearby set of giant blue blocks with which kids (and grown-ups) can play.
Last but not least, the Springs Preserve is an expansive facility on the north side of town that essentially offers three museums in one: the Nevada State Museum, a museum about the origin of Las Vegas, and a recreated Las Vegas streetscape from 1905. It also features a sustainability gallery, playground, botanical garden, and 180 acres of trails. You could spend the whole day there and still have more to see. Which just means you’ll have to bring the kids back again to more fully explore it—and to do the rest of kid-friendly Vegas right.
This article was originally published in July 2019. It was updated in January 2022 to include current information.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.
more from afar
We Reviewed the CDC-Approved COVID Home Tests for International Travel—Here’s What to Know
COVID + Travel