Top Four Neon Sign Museums to Visit
Best Outdoor Neon Sign Museum
The Neon Museum is “dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment.” With their local roots down in Vegas, it’s no wonder they have access to so much neon Americana.
When you go, one of the first places you’ll want to visit is the so-called “Neon Boneyard,” where the Neon Museum keeps their 200+ “unrestored signs.” The museum offers guided tours of this and other areas! This can be a great way to understand why these antiques are so important to the museum’s curators.
Another area you’ll see when you go to the North Gallery. The North Gallery is like a maze of neon signs. It’s all outdoors and all gorgeous. You can catch all kinds of old neon signs and neon Americana, from huge to tiny. It’s breathtaking to see these neon signs up close. After all, many of them were originally designed to catch the attention of people walking or driving on the street, which is why they’re so much bigger in person. It’s quite a sight to see, and I recommend seeing those neon behemoths up close with your own eyes.
The Neon Museum has a Tim Burton exhibit, too. Yes – the same Tim Burton who directed Beetlejuice, Batman Returns, and Planet of the Apes. The Tim Burton Exhibit is a light show that showcases the neon signs that he used in his Mars Attacks! movie.
The Neon Museum also has a rotation of temporary exhibits. As of this writing, there are two of these. They are called “Neon Air” and “Blue Angel.” These exhibits are made by the museum's artists in residence.
Best Neon Sign Museum for Adults
Then there’s the MONA – the Museum Of Neon Art. Located in Southern California, the MONA holds regular exhibitions, neon classes, a so-called “neon cruise,” and more.
As of this writing, the MONA’s featured exhibit is called “Shine on, Two Artists Remembered: Brian Coleman (1945-2018) and Kinuo Ohashi (1952-2014)”.
Past exhibits had exciting titles like “She Bends: Women in Neon” and “it’s About Time,” a collection of neon clocks. With so much going on at the MONA all the time, you’ll be sure to catch something unique every time you go.
MONA’s “Neon Cruise” are specially themed bus tours that take you around Los Angeles and Hollywood. They always take place at night, and they’re always amazing. Some highlights are the LA theater district, Chinatown, and of course, good old Hollywood neon.
Mona’s classes are nothing to sneeze at, either. In Intro to Neon Art, you’ll be signing up for 8 weeks of learning the basics. What skills do you need to plan your neon sign or sculpture? And just how do you build that neon sign or sculpture? They meet on Wednesdays. Be sure to check it out.
In Bend, Blow, and Glow 1, you’ll learn how to cut, weld, and bend glass to make letters. You’ll be using a hand torch, so they don’t take anyone under 21!
All in all, as neon museums go, the MONA has a whole lot to offer.
Best Neon Sign Museum for Families
Unless you’re in the sign or neon industry, you probably haven’t heard about Signs of the Times yet. Signs of the Times is a long-running sign and neon journal, active since 1906. A man named Tod Swormstedt inherited the journal through his family. In 1999, after decades of working there as an editor, Swomstedt decided to start a sign museum. Six years later – in 2005 – the museum was up and running. Today, that museum is The American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The American Sign Museum offers a tremendous portfolio of signs, including, of course, beautiful neon signs, both big and small.
So, what’s there to do at The American Sign Museum?
Download the app and listen to their self-guided audio tour. Browse their walls of neon signs and neon advertisements. Notice how different neon fonts affect you in different ways. The American Sign Museum cleverly juxtaposes neon bubble font, neon cursive, neon block letters, and just about every neon font under the sun. The American Sign Museum is a wonderful place for your neon inspiration!
Among the hundreds of neon signs on display, you’ll see a neon dress shoe with the word “repair” inside (good advertising tactic, really catches the eye), a neon Christmas wreath with a bow (never buy another seasonal wreath again!), and Speedee, the retired McDonald’s mascot (last seen in the 1960s!).
The American Sign Museum touts its historical value. It even suggests that teachers bring their students to learn about America’s past, get a grip on language in use, and artistic design. They say they have experience with students, suggesting that the American Sign Museum is the best neon museum to bring your family to.
The American Sign Museum’s halls are crisp, clean, and shiny. The walls are colorful, yet detailed and organized. They display a slew of precious neon Americana that children and adults alike can appreciate for generations to come.
Here’s what Tod Swormstedt has to say about his creation: “Signs and sign making are a fascinating reflection of America through the years. If your experience at the American Sign Museum causes you to be more aware of signs in your travels and of their value to business and communities, we’ve done our job.”
Newest Neon Sign Museum
Finally, if you’re in or near The Dalles, Oregon, be sure to check out The National Sign Museum. The museum has a slew of functional, unique, and antique signs that give it a clean, genuine, and professional feel. Take a tour through modern American history with signs like Mohawk Gasoline, Polly Gas, Buster Brown Shoes, Cook’s Paints, B & K Root Beer, “OK” Used Cars, and much more. These neon advertisements for long-defunct companies offer us a unique glimpse into our national past.
The National Sign Museum’s “focus” is on the “evolution of the electric sign.” Finally completed in 2018, the National Sign Museum has neon signs that range from the pre-plastic era (“gold leaf signage”) to plastic usage and beyond.
With admission at just $5 for a student (including college level) and $10 for an adult, The National Sign Museum is a fun, educational, and affordable event for the whole family.
Thanks for reading, and have a great time at the museum!
About the author: Eliahu Case is a writer and editor from New York.