Being a fan of both history and neon signs, the Neon Museum in Las Vegas (sometimes called the Neon Boneyard) has long been on my list of things to see when visiting the city. Finally, my schedule lined up, and I was able to take a stroll through Las Vegas history in what might be my new favorite museum in the area.
Background on the Neon Museum
The Neon Museum, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit, sits on two and a quarter acres and is filled with signs throughout Las Vegas’ history. All the way from historic signs from the 1930s to brand-new neon that Tim Burton designed just for the museum.
Founded in 1996, the Neon Museum started out as the YESCO (Young Electric Sign Company) Boneyard. YESCO is the primary company that designs and manufactures the electric signs in Las Vegas. The company was founded in Utah in the 1920s and opened a Las Vegas branch in 1933.
Over the years, as casinos went out of business and were demolished or simply needed their signs replaced, many of the old signage was saved and stored at the boneyard. At that time, the museum would give tours by appointment only.
In October 2012, the Neon Museum opened to the public, and in the first ten years, it had over a million visitors.
In addition to all of the historic signs at the Neon Museum, the museum is the home to the lobby for the La Concha Motel. The motel, which was located on the Las Vegas Strip, opened in 1961 and closed in 2004.
After the La Concha Motel closed and most of the buildings were demolished, the concrete shell lobby was moved to the Neon Museum in 2006, where it serves as the museum’s lobby. Celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan, and Ann Margaret once stood in this very lobby while checking into their rooms.
The Neon Museum Tour
There were several ticket options for visiting the Neon Museum, but I opted for the nighttime guided tour. I figured the best way to enjoy neon was by basking in its glow, which wasn’t possible during the day.
At night there wasn’t a self-guided option, but that was fine with me as the tour gave plenty of background on everything we saw, which was very informative. I should note that while there are over 200 signs at the museum, only a handful are in operation and lit up.
The tour takes about 45 minutes and walks you through several distinct areas of Las Vegas history, as told through neon. The casinos are represented, of course, with iconic signs from legends like the Desert Inn, Flamingo, Fitzgeralds, and Stardust, but other industries are represented too. During the tour, we were taken through sections with signs from motels, restaurants, bars, and all manner of shops. One of the most impressive signs on display is a giant neon duck from a car dealership.
The entire museum (aside from the lobby and gift shop) is located outdoors. It only rains about 27 days a year in Las Vegas, but it does get pretty cold in the winter, so dress accordingly. Summer days can be brutally hot as well.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and was able to answer any question that was asked of him, even about signs that weren’t directly covered on the tour. He even stuck around after the tour to answer more questions, including ours, about the signs leftover from a Tim Burton exhibition that ended in 2020.
I thought one of the more impressive signs at the Neon Museum was the sign for the Moulin Rouge, a short-lived but significant casino in Las Vegas history. The casino only lasted about six months but had the distinction of being the first racially integrated casino in the United States.
The Moulin Rouge’s sign has been beautifully restored and looks amazing lit up. Adding to its beauty is the fact that the neon changes color as the tubes age, with the original tubes and the new ones having two different shades of pink on the sign that really makes it stand out.
Other Ticket Options
In addition to the guided tour at night, there were several other options for visiting the Neon Museum.
The museum offers timed entrances during the day that gives you up to an hour to walk around the boneyard and check everything out. These tickets are available daily.
Once a month, the Neon Museum offers an hour-long photo walk, where you can bring your camera, tripods, and extra lenses. Standard tours only allow photography with phones, so if you want something better, this is the chance.
Once a week, they have a portrait hour where you can take personal portraits with your own photographer. This occurs in the museum’s North Gallery, not in the “Boneyard.” They only sell 15 tickets to this and imagine it is pretty popular with Instagrammers.
The Neon Museum usually has special programs going on as well. On our visit, they had a nightly show in the North Gallery that involved music and lasers to light up some of the unrestored signs. It was possible to purchase tickets to that combined with the main tour, and I regret not doing that.
Every night the museum offers one tour in Spanish as well.
Overall I thought the nighttime guided tour was excellent and would highly recommend it. If it is your first visit to the museum, that would be my choice. I mean, if you are going to a neon museum unless you just can’t possibly make it at night due to your schedule, it’s hard to pass on seeing the signs lit up.
The Neon Museum is located at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North, Las Vegas, NV.
It is highly recommended that you buy tickets in advance because they only allow a limited number of people on each tour.