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Top 10 Arts & Culture

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We Run Down the 10 Best Arts & Culture Attractions in Vegas

Although most people don’t immediately (or perhaps ever?) think of “art” or “culture” when they think of Las Vegas—the gaming, nightlife and entertainment can be a bit distracting, we admit—the truth is that just like any other major city, this jewel in the Mojave Desert offers a wide array of cultural experiences to both visitors and locals. Although there’s a lot to choose from, we’re going straight for the punch to run down the 10 best:

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

The Smith Center

Photo Courtesy of Geri Kodey

There are basically two eras in Las Vegas’ cultural history: before The Smith Center for the Performing Arts opened, and after. This game-changing downtown destination, which opened in 2012, was designed to rival the world’s top performing arts centers. With Art Deco-inspired architecture (topped by an iconic 17-story bell tower), the Smith Center is home to multiple venues, including the 2000-seat Reynolds Hall, the 250-seat Cabaret Jazz nightclub, and the intimate Troesch Studio Theater. In addition to hosting a bevy of Broadway productions, musical acts and comedic acts, the Smith Center is also home to both the Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre, as well as a robust educational program. 361 Symphony Park Ave., (702) 749-2000, thesmithcenter.com

First Friday Las Vegas
Launched in 2002 by a small group of artists and business owners in what is now the 18b Las Vegas Arts District, this monthly gallery walk has grown over the years to become a giant celebration of arts and culture sprawling over most of the revitalized downtown area. Held (as the name suggests) on the first Friday of every month, the event shuts down several blocks downtown to create a street fair environment featuring dozens of artists, vendors, live bands, a children’s area, food trucks and much more, with area galleries, restaurants and bars joining in the fun. Las Vegas Arts District, firstfridaylasvegas.com

The Springs Preserve

 Springs Preserve Desert Living Center Patio Gallery

This 180-acre attraction dedicated to sustainable living in the Mojave Desert is set on the site of the original natural springs that provided a respite and refuge for weary travellers (and settlers) in the centuries before Las Vegas was even a thought. Home to multiple museums (including the Nevada State Museum), an art gallery, 3.65 miles of hiking and biking trails, botanical gardens, and a cafe offering panoramic views of the Strip, the Preserve hosts seasonal special events, traveling exhibits and ever-changing programming, ensuring there’s something new for families to experience on every visit. The Springs Preserve is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with general admission ranging from $10.95 to $18.95 for non-locals and $4.95 to $9.95 for locals. 333 S. Valley View Blvd., (702) 822-7700 springspreserve.org

Inspire Theater
Although it’s relatively small (only 200 seats), Inspire Theater offers a state-of-the-art venue for a variety of live events, including spoken word performances, film screenings, variety shows, lectures and performing arts. The theater is the anchor of an ultra-modern, three-floor complex that includes Inspire News Cafe, a European-style coffee shop and newsstand on the ground level (replete with an Espresso Book Machine, which allows instant printing of paperback books), and multiple bars, including a members-only cocktail club and a rooftop lounge with a killer view of Fremont Street. 107 Las Vegas Blvd. S., (702) 489-9110, inspirelasvegas.com

Art Square Theatre
Located in the heart of the downtown Arts District, Art Square Theatre is a snug, multi-purpose black box theater that’s home to resident Cockroach Theatre, a long-standing fixture of the local performing arts scene that produces compelling plays from both local, resident playwrights and such lauded names such as David Mamet, Jean-Paul Sartre and Sarah Ruhl. The 100-capacity venue also hosts productions from other local theater companies, plus other special events. 1025 S. First St., 702) 818-3422, cockroachtheatre.com

Clark County Museum
If you’ve ever tuned into an episode of The History Channel’s hit reality show Pawn Stars, chances are you’re familiar with Mark Hall-Patton, the white-bearded, bespectacled history expert in the wide-brim hat. When he’s not offering up his historical assessment of pawn shop fodder on the boob tube, he’s administrator of the Clark County Museum, a 30-acre cultural attraction located just southeast of Las Vegas. It tells the story of Southern Nevada’s history through a collection of restored buildings, in which daily life from various eras throughout the past is recreated for visitors to experience up-close. Highlights include a 1918 Union Pacific railroad steam engine, a resurrected ghost town, and a Paiute village. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day), and admission is only $2 for adults and $1 for seniors and children. 1830 S. Boulder Highway, (702) 455-7955, clarkcountynv.gov

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art

Photo Credit: Cashman Photo

Sure, most “galleries” inside of Las Vegas casinos are usually artist-driven vanity retail outlets, but trust us, the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is nothing like that—this is the real deal. This refined cultural oasis inside Bellagio Las Vegas offers temporary exhibitions featuring works from the country’s top artistic institutions, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, with such artistic giants as Claude Monet, Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe hanging on the gallery’s walls at one time. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. General admission is $16, $13 for Nevada residents and seniors, and $11 for students, teachers and military. Bellagio Las Vegas, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd S., (702) 693.7871, bellagio.com

UNLV Performing Arts Center
Only a mile from both the Las Vegas Strip and McCarran Airport, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas offers more than just college degrees—it’s also home to a variety of museums, galleries and arts venues, including the Performing Arts Center, a cluster of venues on the north side of campus that includes the 1,800-seat Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall, the 550-seat Judy Bayley Theatre, and intimate Black Box Theatre, plus a 300-seat concert venue replete with a hand-crafted, 3,000-pipe organ. In addition to seasonal plays from the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, the Performing Arts Center also plays host to the Barrick Lecture Series, which presents renowned speakers on a variety of topics, and the Charles Vanda Master Series, highlighting the world’s best classical music and dance performers. 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, (702) 895-3535, pac.unlv.edu

Super Summer Theatre
How can you experience the unique natural beauty surrounding Las Vegas and take in some fine culture at the same time? If it’s between May and September, you can trek about 10 miles outside of the city to the Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, where Super Summer Theatre presents family-friendly musical productions in a natural, outdoor venue, where temperatures run about 10 degrees cooler than in the city (a jacket is recommended). These evening programs offer meadow seating under the stars, a concession stand, and a covered picnic pavilion. Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, Highway 159, (702) 594-7529, supersummertheatre.org

Water Street District
Once the bustling center of life in the City of Henderson (located just southeast of Las Vegas), Water Street retains its Old Town charm, populated by quaint art galleries, mom-and-pop shops and an interesting mix of modern and historic architecture, with many buildings adorned by some of the valley’s best large-scale murals, including one by celebrated artist Robert Beckmann. It’s worth a trip for a historic stroll (a self-guided walking tour is available at WaterStreetDistrict.com), a special event at the Henderson Events Plaza, or the weekly farmer’s market. Water Street District, Downtown Henderson, 702-267-1515, WaterStreetDistrict.com

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