Most visitors to Las Vegas come for the casinos, the bars on the Strip, and the big mainstream theater and music shows. However, there’s another side to the entertainment capital of the world, one that caters to all devotees of the cult, niche and specialized.
We’re talking about the true fans of films, comics and science fiction; the technology, science and computer enthusiasts; the collectors, gamers and lovers of kitsch. We’re talking, in other words, about those who are nerds, or geeks, and proud of it, and who may or may not be surprised at the wealth of experiences that Las Vegas has to offer them.
Watch the skies
The Nevada desert that surrounds Las Vegas is, of course, steeped in UFO lore, and buffs should keep their eyes peeled even as they first arrive in the city. If you’re flying in to the airport, look out for the “Janet planes” – unmarked white 737s with a red line along the windows that fly workers to Area 51 nearby. The name is said to stand for “Just Another Non-Existent Terminal”, as these are top-secret passenger airplanes operated by the United States Air Force, their purpose and destination codes highly classified.
If you’re coming in by car, take a detour along State Route 375, known as the “Extraterrestrial Highway” for the high number of UFO sightings experienced along its 98-mile length and, of course, its proximity to the aforementioned Area 51 government base. Halfway along, the small town of Rachel has many UFO and alien-themed attractions.
The atomic age
There’s also an Area 51 exhibit at the National Atomic Testing Museum on 755 E Flamingo Road, but the museum is worth a visit in its own right for its great mix of serious science and 1950s kitsch. Telling the story of America’s nuclear weapons testing program at the Nevada test site, the museum includes a simulated above-ground test, an early nuclear reactor, and prototype personal atomic weapons straight out of Buck Rogers.
Geek-friendly museums include the Neon Museum at 770 Las Vegas Boulevard North, especially the Neon Boneyard of rescued signs, and the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, AKA the Mob Museum, in a restored 1930s courthouse on 300 Stewart Avenue, a stone’s throw from Fremont Street. This includes a speakeasy and distillery, and is open from 9-9 every day.
The Pinball Hall of Fame is at 1610 E Tropicana, right opposite the sadly closed Liberace Museum. Owned by veteran arcade operator and collector Tim Arnold, this museum hosts the world’s largest collection of pinball machines, from the ’50s to the ’90s, and all can be played. All profits from this 10,000-square-foot geek wonderland go to the Salvation Army.
Games for geeks
Of course, Vegas is all about gaming, but the true geek probably has slightly different tastes from the average would-be high roller. Those looking for an alternative to the casino scene could try playing online bingo or head for the 30,000-square-foot, multi-level HyperX Esports Arena, where anyone can play from $10 per hour on everything from virtual reality platforms to retro gaming consoles. You can also place a wager on the weekend zombie paintball battles organized by the Zombie Apocalypse Store, which also sells everything you need to take part yourself.
No visit to Vegas would be complete without a relaxing drink or two, and luckily the city has many hangouts designed with geeks in mind. Top of the list has to be the Millennium Fandom Bar on 900 Las Vegas Boulevard, dedicated to fans of Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter and more. Next up is The Nerd on 450 Fremont, which includes arcade machines, a bowling alley and a dancefloor. Festooned with TV and movie memorabilia, at The Nerd, every night is cosplay night. For those looking for an authentic tiki bar experience, don’t miss the Golden Tiki in Chinatown, while SF and tech nerds can have their cocktails mixed by robots at the Tipsy Robot Bar at Planet Hollywood.
It may be a bit mainstream, but we’ll bet that few geeks can resist the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at Treasure Island. Where else can you see genuine props and costumes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, such as Captain America’s shield and Iron Man’s armor? The Container Park is also an essential visit, not least for the fire-breathing mantis at the entrance (direct from Burning Man) and the immersive 360-degree films at the Dome.
As you can see, Las Vegas is geek heaven with so much to do that you may never want to go home. Whether you love movies, tech, kitsch or video games, Vegas is the place for you.