Las Vegas: Neon Boneyard

By Richard White, 

I often wonder when developers and urban planners will wake up and see the light (pun intended), recognizing the importance of “lighting” in creating urban vitality - and I am not just talking about street lights.

When will they realize the bleakness of today’s city centers and urban streets is due in part to the absence of the colour, charm, playfulness and character that neon lights provided (day and night) to downtown hotels, restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and retailers.

Show me a street full of neon and I will show you a street full of life.  Human beings are attracted to neon like moths to a light bulb.  

Downtown Decline

The heyday for most of North American cities’ downtown was in the early to mid 20th century.  It was a time when downtown streets were full of bright, flashing neon lights. 

Perhaps the best articulation of the importance of neon light to creating great street life was in the 1964 hit song “Downtown” in which Petula Clark belted, “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty. How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there. You can forget all your troubles; forget all your cares.” 

 In retrospect, the mid ‘60s was also the beginning of the rise of minimalism urban design that shunned “ornamentation and decoration,” including neon signage.

Neon signs are works of art and function much like public art in creating a more visually engaging public realm that invites people to stop, look around and linger.  Cities around the world spending millions of dollars on public art each year that rarely captures the public’s imagination and is soon forgotten or ignored in the new minimalistic urban landscape.

Perhaps we should be encouraging developers to create signature neon signage that are “works of art” while at the same time help brand the building and add to are part of an engaging downtown wayfinding system.        


In my mind, the Boneyard Park is a must see Las Vegas attraction, way more interesting than The Strip.  It is much more authentic and offers an up close and personal look at one of the iconic artifacts of urban design - the neon sign. 

The link between folk art and neon art becomes more obvious the more you explore the Boneyard Park.

I am not sure which came first Disneyland or Vegas but there is a strong link between the two i.e. the sense of play, fun and fantasy. 

A perfect example of how neon signage was critical to the branding of hotels in Vegas. The sign immediately said "Fun" even without the lights on. 

Another example of branding and signage.  Love that the signage is large and easy to read. Too many downtown and suburban buildings today have small signage that is hidden away making it very difficult to find them.

The Boneyard is like a grave yard or junk yard; this just adds to the fun of exploring.  The juxtaposition of the different signs is wonderful. You also get the sense of how sculptural the signage is.  These truly are works of art. 

The Boneyard entrance is a wonderful mid-century modern building that is very inviting and memorable.

Freemont street recalls the main streets of many cities from the mid 20th century when the streets were indeed brighter and more fun visually than they are today.  

The Silver Slipper is fun day and night, male or female, young or old.  

Love the link between cartoons and neon characters.  

A good example of how neon signage can be used to add fun and colour to an otherwise ordinary streetscape. 

Lighting can also used to create a fun facade in the evening, which is even more important in winter cities like Calgary. 

Las Vegas’ Boneyard Park

Being in the Neon Boneyard Park (a two-acre oasis with over 150 historic neon signs) is like being in a museum’s storage room, with the “museum” being outdoors in the middle of the city. See artifacts in their raw state, not polished, lit up or presented in isolation on a pedestal. Here you see them randomly mixed together in junk-yard like fashion, yet they are still  wonderful works of art.

Las Vegas Signs Project has been restoring signs from the Boneyard Park and installing them along Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Vegas since 1996. Several restored neon signs including the Horse and Rider from the Hacienda Hotel and the Silver Slipper can be enjoyed day and night by both pedestrians and those in vehicles. 

Access to the Boneyard is by guided tour only.  Our tour guide was very informed and informal, providing lots of information but allowing lots of freedom to explore on our own, take pictures and ask lots of questions. 

Guided tours are 7 days a week and reservations are recommended.  (Note: As tours can be cancelled due to inclement weather - especially wind storms - don’t wait until the last day of your Vegas vacation to visit).

The Neon Museum’s Visitor Center is the lobby of the old La Concha Motel Lobby designed by acclaimed architect Paul Revere Williams. It is like something right out of the Jetsons.  Built in 1961, it is an excellent example of the mid-century modern Atomic and Space Age design with its curvilinear arches.

See Appendix for history of neon.

The crowd gathers waiting for the Freemont Experience to begin.  

Age of LED

Today the most popular form of decorative lighting is LED light.  There are several reasons for this. While the initial price is almost the same as neon, once you have a neon sign there is no changing it, whereas LED lights can be updated as often as you like. 

Secondly and the biggest advantage of LED displays is that they use 5 to 10 times less power. Thirdly, neon tubes need their gases refilled periodically and the glass can break, while LED is maintenance-free. In addition, LED lights are brighter and can be seen from further away and even in daylight. 

Arguably, the best use of LED lighting is also in Vegas – The Freemont Experience, which began in 1995. Today, a 1,500 foot-long canopy (three football fields) covers Freemont Street in old downtown Vegas. It acts as a movie screen.  The canopy has 12.5 million LED lights, which when combined with 180 strobe lights and 8 robotic mirrors on each block plus a sophisticated computer system, can generate 16.7 million colour combinations. 

Combine this with the 555,000 watt sound system and you get an amazing light and sound show that attracts, on average, 25,000 people per night for the Freemont Experience.

While I realize not every downtown can afford this kind of nightly entertainment, more downtowns should seriously look at how sound and light shows can be part of their quest for 18/7 vitality. 

Another good example of use of LED lighting to enhance downtown vitality is “Crown Fountain” at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  Learn more: Putting the public in public art.


The Freemont Street canopy is washed with colour as thousands of people mill about waiting for the show to begin.  

Let the show begin...the canopy becomes a huge video screen for spectacular light and sound show.

Even at night the Crown Fountain attracts hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds to play and interact with the LED faces and the wading pool. 

Take away idea

Downtowns need to focus more, or as much on becoming entertainment districts as business districts.

They need to become a place where people, “Linger on the sidewalk. Where the neon signs and LED lights are pretty. The lights must be much brighter there, so you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares.”   

If you like this blog, you might like:

Downtowns need to be fun

Putting the public back into public art

Cruising in Chicago

The curse of minimalism






Neon History (excerpts from

Over the last 150 years, the luminous tube industry has evolved from the simple laboratory experiments in the second half of the 19th century to an industry of world-wide proportions.

In the late 1800s, scientists developed reliable and somewhat safe high voltage supplies and began running high voltages through many things to observe what would happen. Often, they tested to see how wide of an air gap the spark could jump. It was discovered the spark gap was inversely proportional to the pressure of the air and that an evacuated glass tube was the ideal method for viewing light from gas discharges.

After British researcher William Ramsey discovered the five rare gases between 1894-1898 (receiving the Nobel Prize in 1904), it then became possible for French scientist, Georges Claude, to figure out that these gases could be made to produce light discharges when electrical discharges were passed through them. Finally, the long desired method that scientists had been looking for - a form of practical lighting by glowworm or phosphorescent light which emitted “light without heat.”

By World War l, Claude had acquired many patents, but he had more on his mind than strictly scientific knowledge. He envisioned a lucrative market for his tubes in lighting and signage. Because neon gas produced the brightest light, it was used almost exclusively and soon the generic “Neon Sign” was born. By 1924, “Claude Neon” franchises appeared in 14 major cities across the United States. And by 1927, 611 out of a total of 750 neon signs in New York City had been made by Claude Neon Lights, Inc.

A great period of creativity for neon took place in the years that followed, a period when many design and animation techniques were developed. Unfortunately, the economic conditions caused by the Depression slowed neon’s growth. However, one place neon continued to work its magic during this period was on the exteriors of movie palaces, providing a colorfully glowing invitation to the fantasy world within.

Then following World War ll and the advent of plastics, manufacturers began promoting Plexiglas shadow boxes with fluorescent lighting, neon’s cousin, behind lettering and graphics. Neon, by then considered old fashioned, was relegated to use as a hidden light source. Still today, 75% of neon is used in this way.

During the last decade, neon has seen a rebirth, as artists, architects and interior designers have begun to rediscover its exciting possibilities. Neon tube construction hasn’t changed much since the days of Claude Neon. It’s still a handcrafted medium where a glassbender heats and forms each letter, one bend at a time. However, state-of-the art components and much-improved equipment make the neon tube of today superior to its predecessor.


Wreck City: The Experience of Experimentation

As a recent transplant to Calgary, I’m constantly absorbing, searching and learning, about the city, its offerings and its character. I came here with a blank slate, no expectations (having never been here before) or real understanding of the city's identity. Specifically seeking to understand cultural identity, as a creative worker, I tried to piece together some pillars – the larger art institutions, the creative spaces, the galleries and those making it happen. What is harder to tap into is the essence of the cultural experience in a city – the organic, the happenstance, and the interventions that create a positive, vibrant, rich environment.

Thus, I was excited to visit Wreck City: An Epilogue for 809 – the recent public art installation happening in response to nine houses, including beloved garage gallery 809, set for demolition. With 8 curators (Matthew Mark Bourree, Caitlind r.c. Brown, Jennifer Crighton, Brandon Dalmer, Andrew Frosst, John Frosst, Shawn Mankowske, and Ryan Scott.) inviting over 100 artists to participate, this project was something I had not experienced the likes of before, in my  years of passionate exploration of public art. Some works were responsive to the architectural elements of the house, others were about playful interaction with the four walls, while some touched on the past, previous residents and the lives they lived. 

One of the many notes left by the over 8,000 visitors to Wreck City. Illustrates the importance of engagement in public art.

I felt a genuine joy when swinging on a swing, crossing a wooden footbridge linked between two houses, or lying on the floor to see a room created upside-down. I felt simultaneously sad and inspired coming across a wall of messages from “Wreck City” visitors. Their thoughts, reactions and emotions were revealing what Calgarians from all walks of life are thinking about their city. Comments ranged from -   'I feel like crying', 'More fun public art like Wreck City, unpretentious and accessible...', to  'Make it livable. Walk, bike, local markets not big box', 'There is beauty in destruction'.

Though some spaces and works were more successful than others, it was the overall experience of this project that was invigorating, and we need more of it, not just in Calgary, but in many North American cities. We have not left enough room for active culture – continuous, organic happenings that grow naturally as part of our city, or pop-up unexpectedly. Sometimes the best experiences or memories we have happen when we least expect them, when they surprise us, when our plans change and develop. It is similar with art – it needs room to breathe and grow. In our cities, we have over-planned and over-stipulated, placing value on a controlled outcome, rather than the process of creation. The intrigue, the provocation and the daring are replaced with the safe, the comfortable, and the inoffensive. We have created public art with an 'X' to mark the spot – it will fulfil this need, it will check that box, and poof: uninteresting public art.

The importance of experimentation is that it creates a sense of freedom and magic, and opens up the city. It demonstrates that creativity is valued, that all citizens have a voice in their city, and a desire to be a place that embraces fun, new energy, and a dose of self-criticality. Wreck City was an opportunity for people to see Calgary let its hair down, and trust a group of individuals to change the site as they wanted

Bridge by Alia Shahab

Whatever your opinion of the project, its great success was in its transitory, experimental nature. Turning the city into a lab for creativity is something that allows us to share experiences more democratically – with neighbors, residents, artists, business owners, friends and strangers- because there are no boundaries, and art is everywhere.

Wreck City was playful, provocative, and got people together, from all ages and backgrounds. Such experiences shows what our city looks like underneath, stripping away the boundaries (the gallery wall, the museum doors), the regulations and rules, and participating with others to experience fun, sadness, frustrations, together. 

Weaving by Suzen Green

Artist Jeremy Pavka

I think Calgarians are looking for more of these experiences, and want a city that is rich and diverse in interest. There is great power in the unexpected and allowing people to explore and form their own opinions. When we dictate the outcome of the artwork, we are telling people what they should know, how to experience. When there is no room for thought or interaction, it’s a one-way conversation.

Experiments in public space change how we view things and alter our expectations. An un-manufactured experience – raw and genuine- It asks us to be part of something greater, to share, and to learn.


Everyday Art Tourist recently relocated to Calgary from the GTA and works in the creative sector. With over 7 years of experience in both Canada and the US, large museums, small non-profits, and government, Everyday Art Tourist’s focus is on public art and cultural policy. EAT will be a regular guest contributor to EverydayTourist. 

EverydayTourist note: I received the guest blog this week from a new Calgarian and thought it captured some to the ideas that I have been blogging about recently Calgary: North America’s Newest Design City and Alberta’s Dream and Wonderland public artworks.  I think the author correctly points out that most public art in Calgary doesn’t really capture the public’s imagination and is more or less ignored.  Perhaps it is because it is too contrived, too planned, and too safe and too soon becomes part of the urban landscape.  I believe “Wreck City” had over 8,000 people visit in just one week, the same week that Jaume Plensa’s Alberta’s Dream was installed downtown to almost no reaction.  It created a buzz and an urgency that rarely happen with public art. 

Look for more guest blogs from Everyday Art Tourist in the future.

Calgary: North America's Newest "Design" City (Revisited)

As a result of the strong response to this blog, I have add some additional projects which have been suggested to me that further position Calgary as one of North America's leading "Design" cities.  

Recently I was reviewing my collection of photos of urban places and spaces in Calgary and began to realize that over the past 10 years Cowtown has become home to some pretty amazing and diverse new urban design projects.  There are several major projects that have definitely raised the bar with respect to urban design.  The diversity of the projects also impressed me - hospitals / office / bridges / parks / riverwalks / parkades / art galleries / underpasses / private homes.  I have not even touched on public art, which will be a future blog. 

However, not everyone agrees with me that Calgary's design standards have been elevated especially when it come to office buildings.  While working on this blog a colleague told me when it comes to office buildings they still tend to be short and rectangular. He is disappointed that Calgary has none of the  interesting computer generated shapes that we are seeing in places like Dubai.

 Another colleague, who has brought major international investors to the city to look a development opportunities shared with me confidentially that these investors are underwhelmed by the sense of place we have created so far.  I am thinking that will have to wait for its own blog - "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" of urban design in Calgary. You can't please everyone.  

While it is hard for Calgary to compete with non-democratic governed cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore or Shanghai, where the economics and planning rules are totally different, I believe we can compete with other North American cities for the quality of our urban design, especially over the past 10 years or so.  I think Calgary is ready to be placed on the international map of architectural tourism cities. 

While we may not have the "Wild, Weird & Wacky" architecture that some cities have, I believe we have moved away from the pioneer prairie pragmatism of the past. I am not sure there is an emerging Calgary school of design yet. However I do see a trend emerging with the introduction of the subtle use of bold colours in many of the new condos and smaller office buildings as well as the bridges.  Colour seems to be the accent pillow for Calgary's urban designers. 

Some of Calgary's new "Design" buildings have been created by signature architects  from around the world, while others have been done by our local design community.  I thought it would be interesting to put together a photo essay of Calgary in the early 21st century.  

Be sure to read to the end as I have placed Calgary's most controversial and perhaps its most challenging urban design project near the end.  

SAIT Parkade is a hidden gem as you can't really see it unless you are driving into the parkade are taking the LRT.  The skin of the parkade is made of aluminum that has thousands of holes punch into it to allow for ventilation, as well as creating the pixilation that results in the mural of the Calgary's prairie sky.   As a result of the changing sun light, the mural is constantly changing. 

Bing Tom Architects from Vancouver designed the Parkade, in collaboration with Vancouver artist Roderick Quin who designed the cloudscape mural.

The new 4th Street SE Underpass connects Calgary's historic Stampede Park with the new East Village urban village being created on the other side of the CPR railway tracks.  Immediately on the other side will be the new National Music Centre  and King Eddy Hotel (Calgary's home of the blues).  The underpass has won unanimous praise for its sleek and simple design, with great sight lines.  It has already been the catalyst for the development of the Village Ice Cream shop that serves delicious home-made ice cream. It has also inspired the City to redevelop the City Centre's other underpasses.

Broadway Malyan was he lead designer on the underpass, with Marshall Tittemore Architects being the local consultants. 

Calgary is home to over 60 skybridges (called +15 bridges in Calgary as they are 15 feet off the ground).  This one has been retrofitted with colour film on the glass to give it a contemporary stain glass feel.  This bridge enhances the arts district nature of the area as it connects Calgary's Museum of Contemporary Art with the EPCOR Performing Art Centre, as well as a major parkade and the Municipal Building (aka The Blue Monster).

The "Cloud"  is an interactive art installation by artist Caitlind r.c. Brown that was unveiled at Nuit Blanche September 15th 2012 on Calgary's Olympic Plaza.  The artwork is made of 1000 working light bulbs with pull chains and 5000 burt- out light bulbs donated by public. Visitors independently pull the chains to turn the light bulbs on and off which result in a shimmering effect.  While I was there, the public all got together to turn off all the light bulbs and then at a count of 3 they pulled the chains all the lights came on at once.  You gotta like public art that is fun.

Several new major skyscrapers have been built in downtown Calgary since the beginning of the 21st century.  The one that gets the most attention is The Bow tower as it was designed by Norman Foster and has a unique semi-circular shape that mirrors the "bow shape" in the Bow River as it passes through downtown.  However, Jamieson Place is the one that I like the most with its strong vertical lines that trust just  slightly above the top of the tower.  It has a 21st century Art Deco feel to me.  However, the Calgary architectural firm of Gibbs Gage who designed the building talk about Frank Lloyd Wright (the father of prairie architecture) as their inspiration. Inside is an amazing winter garden with a huge growing wall and hanging glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. 

Recently Calgary's 100 year old Memorial Park was redesigned adding in fountains, more flower planting and a bistro restaurant to the existing 100 year old sandstone Carnegie Library building and the many war memorials.  It is home to one of Calgary's many Remembrance Day ceremonies.  

I take a lot of flack over the fact that I like this building a lot.  But then i am a sucker for colour and I am a kid at heart.  Yes, it looks like lego design, which is not surprising as children were consulted in the design.  I love the fact that the building shouts "children."

This is the roof of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology parkade located in the centre of the campus. There is a full-size playing field on the roof connect to the recreation centre. The glass ramp is the  dramatic pedestrian entrance to the parkade from campus. 

This photo captures the new Wonderland sculpture by Jaume Plensa on the plaza of the Norman Foster Bow Tower.  In the background is the Suncor Centre (built in the '80s), which consists of two towers the tallest one was the tallest in Calgary until the Bow was constructed.  The Suncor Tower has an interesting slanted roof top and the two towers together make a reference in their design to the iconic prairie grain elevator.

This photo is taken from the Esker Art Gallery which is located on the eastern edge of the Centre City.  The downtown skyline can be seen in the background.  Like the SAIT campus buildings there is a lot of use of neon sticks in the ceilings of the gathering spaces.  Both were designed by the same Calgary architectural firm Kasian.  

Looking down at the cafeteria study area in SAIT's Trades & Technology space.  This building was also designed by the Calgary architectural firm KASIAN. 

This rendering of the Eight Avenue Place office complex illustrated perhaps the best new office building design that is more Calgary centric.  The two towers combine to create a Rocky Mountain ridge-like edge and the glass captures and reflect the luminous big blue Calgary sky.  The lead architects for the project were Pickard Chilton with Gibbs Gage as the local architects. 

This photo illustrates how the skin of the EAP towers capture the electric blue Calgary sky to create a shimmering effect that is analogous to the shimmering sunlight in the mountains with the snow.  The building colour and shape changes through-out the day as the different plans of the building capture the light differently; this is not captured in the rendering.

Calgary's new sense of design extends into residential developments also. The inner-city streets are being invaded by contemporary infills like this one.  One of the distinguishing features is multiple slanted roofs and strong lines both vertically and horizontally, that seem to reflect Calgary's sense of place which is a the transition from the flat prairies to the vertical thrust of the Rocky Mountains.  

Another example of the infills that are on every block of our inner city communities.  In this case a modern duplex has been built where there once was a small cottage bungalow.

This is Calgary's RiverwWalk not to be confused with San Antonio's River Walk.  It is a promenade that extends from Chinatown to Fort Calgary where it will link up with the Stampede Parks promenade.  On the west side it links to the Eau Claire Promenade all the way to Shaw Millennium Park. Downtown Calgary is the hub for an 800 km city-wide pathway system. On nice days winter and summer, thousands of Calgarians with stroll and ride the pathways. 

Another look at our RiverWalk which has several places to sit and contemplate the river's edge.  The Bow River is one of the best fly fishing rivers in the world.  Even in downtown Calgary, you can walk to the rivers edge and try your hand a fly fishing. 

This is Caglary's Peace Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava, which has been very controversial for a variety of reasons from cost to procurement.  However, since completion it seems to have captured the public imagination and makes a bold statement along Calgary's Memorial Drive which has recently been redesigned as a more ceremonial street. 

Another view of the Peace Bridge and how it links to the pathway on the north side of the Bow River.  It is all part of the Downtown Bow River pedestrian experience.  A second iconic pedestrian bridge is currently under construction at the east end of the Downtown to create a circular urban walking path.  

The Core shopping centre's glass roof is 3 blocks long, creates a unique perspective of the surrounding office buildings.  It also creates a sunny shopping experience even in the middle of the winter. 

The Devonian Gardens (DG) were first created in 1977, but recently were redesign to become a more formal garden.  DG is attached to The Core shopping centre and also includes a full children's playground and Koi ponds that are loved by children.  It is an oasis in the middle of the downtown. 

Hotel Le Germain building is a vertical office tower and hotel tower with a horizontal condo on top.  Each tower has its own design and materials  At street level is the lobby and restaurants.  Truly a mixed-use building and definitely an out-of-the-box design. 

Is Calgary ready to become an "design destination" for tourists and students of architecture and urban design?  Some would say it is premature.  However, I think one could easily spend several days exploring Cowtown's new urban design sensibility.  I have not even touched on our public art or our public spaces, nor have I looked at our new condos.   And then there is also the gems of the past and our two historical Main Streets Stephen Avenue Walk and Inglewood.  Yes, I believe Calgary is ready for those urban explorers!  And just to prove it I have a few more fun / funky cowtown urban design gems to share with you! 

This is an image of the copper underbelly of the Sunalta Station of Calgary's new west leg of our Light Rapid Transit System.  It is the new gateway into the Downtown from the west, offering riders a spectacular view of the downtown skyline. In the evening when the sun is setting, the glass towers can become a symphony of gold and copper colours.  I am not sure if the designers had this in mind when they chose the materials. 

This is the street view of the Sunalta Station, Calgary's first elevated LRT station.  Designed by local architectural firm GEC the elliptical shape works to protect the station from wind, snow and rain.  It was also inspired the Chinook Arch cloud formation which brings warm winds to Calgary in the winter. 

The South Health Campus (hospital) open recently on the southern edge of the city. It will become the hub for a master planned urban village.  It features an prairie mural as part of its design.  The architects for this project is the Calgary firm KASAIN, who also did the Children's Hospital 

Another view of the South Health Campus' distinctive design that is a hybrid of art and architecture. 

Telus SPARK, Calgary's new Science Centre glows at night. Colours can fade in and out to create a light show like the northern lights.  It is the gateway to the Centre City from the east and provides a hit of Calgary's new urban design sensibility for those driving along the Deerfoot Trail (Calgary's busiest freeway).  Photo credit: Leblond Studio Inc. 2011

In 2009, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, installed a state of the art LED lighting system on the 110 year old  Langevin Bridge which is the gateway into the downtown for many visitors to city from the airport.  The lights can be programmed in an infinite number of ways to celebrate various holidays and special events.  The total energy consumption per year is the equivalent of about 3 homes.  Photo credit: CMLC

The Child Development Centre at the University of Calgary is one of several new buildings that are transforming it into a "design" campus.  This building I believe was Calgary's first LEED platinum building.  It is home to a school and The Ability HUB for Autism and several other organizations. 

EEEL Building on the University of Calgary campus i believe just received its LEED Platinum status.  EEL stands for Energy Environment Experiential Learning.

The Winter Garden at Jamieson Place offers a tranquil place to sit, relax and reflect.  The Green Wall in the background is 22 ft hight and 100 ft wide and has over 20,000 plants.  It was designed by McRae Anderson of McCaren Designs who chose plant types, leaf shapes, sizes and textures to  mirror the topographical changes in the land around Calgary as you move from prairie grasslands to foothills to mountains.  

In the foreground is one of three Dale Chihuly glass sculptures that hang over the infinity ponds.  

The Water Center presents a dramatic gateway into the Center City via an industrial area on the south east edge.  In shape and materials it suggests a huge culvert from the road side.  It is also home to a major public art projects as part of the City's 1% for public art program.  

Calgary also has some "design" condos in the Center City like "Colours" by local developer Paul Battistella.  In this case the podium is a parking garage but it is nicely designed with random colour panels  that add a bright and youthful sense of place along the emerging First Street promenade area. 

This is an older photo of the Arriva condo which was the first condo to be built in Victoria Park one of Calgary's oldest communities.  It was designed by local architects BKDI and was suppose to have 3 towers but went bankrupt.  However, it has been bought out of receivership and a new tower is planned next to it, however, it won't be a sister design. 

Currently under construction the St. Patrick's Island Bridge is designed to look like a skipping stone.  It will link Calgary's East Village to St. Patrick's Island which is being redeveloped as a mixed-use recreational area.   When combined with the historic Centre Street bridge and the Peace bridge it will create a wonderful figure 8 walking tour of the majestic Bow River.  The bridge was designed by RFR from Paris.   

Get "Off The Beaten Path" with these 10 tips!

#10 A good first impression is critical to a good time.

We suggest you look for something close to your hotel that you know you like to do and check it out immediately after checking-in.  Maybe hang out at a public plaza and people watch? Head to a neighbourhood pub and chat with the locals to see what is happening while you are there.  Maybe there is a great museum or shopping close by.  Make sure you start your adventure on the right track. 

#9 Take the Bus.

We love riding the bus more than the subway when we have a choice.  Travelling above ground allows you to see things that you might not have otherwise seen.  Can't count the number of times we have jumped off the bus because we saw something interesting that we didn't know about. There is often a local bus route that is very scenic or passes by many of the local attractions.  Be a bus rider!

#8 Dare to be different.

Challenge yourself to do something you wouldn't normally do.  Maybe it is a museum or gallery if you aren't normally a culture vulture.  Maybe a sporting event if you aren't a jock. Be prepared to try new things!

#7 Ask a local.

ocals are a wealth of knowledge don't be afraid to ask them for tips.  We find they are more than happy to share their insights...great way to find a hidden gem. We ask people on the bus, in line ups and at cafes are the best.  Don't be afraid to ask!

#6 Pretend you are a local

Brenda loves to check out the local grocery stores and shop for a picnic or pick up some food for breakfast or lunch in our hotel room  Grocery stores are a great place to do some urban exploring, mix with the locals and learn some cultural difference. It was great fun in Frankfurt to wander the aisles of the Grocery store and stop in their cafe and watch how they managed recycling bottles and plastics - bottles and cans are sucked into some sort of machine like something from Star Trek. 

#5 Avoid the Franchises.

We have a rule that we never eat or drink at a national or international franchise if we can avoid it. We know it is tempting to o somewhere familiar, but resist the temptation - it will be worth it

#4 Do your research in advance.

You don't want to waste time on your vacation doing research so make sure you have a list of things you want to see or do.  Perhaps organize them into 2 or 3 things each day.  We like to have one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.  e would never have found the Tiki Lounge in Great Falls MT with the mermaid swimmers if we hadn't done our research. 

#3 Be spontaneous.

I know we just said make a plan, but don't get locked into the plan.  If you see or hear something that is captures your interest then GO FOR IT! The best experience are often spontaneous ones!  Like the time we exited I90 at the last minute to check out Livingston Montana. 

#2 Be a flaneur!

Always reserve some time to just wander aimlessly - take the sidewalk less traveled, head down a back alley that looks interesting, take a bus to the end of the line and then get off on the way back t a stop that looked interesting. 

#1 Stop / Look /Listen

Don't always be in a rush.  Spend an hour in the morning at a local cafe / breakfast spot and watch the locals grab their coffee and scurrying off to work. You will appreciate that you are on vacation!  


Found this amazing washroom in a thrift store when we decided to get off the interstate highway and check out Livingston Montana.  Also got some great books at the thrift store.

iding the tram in Lyon provided us with a much better appreciation of the city and how people live there today vs centuries ago. 

While in the local grocery store in Anchorage we found this guy putting out an amazing display of orchids.  Had a wonderful chat with him about growing and care of orchids.  That wasn't in our plan. 

ecided to check out Main Street Coeur d'Alene while staying at the lakeside resort and lucked out as it was parade day.  Kids were having fun riding their bikes, push cars, walking dogs up Main Street.  It was very fun and colourful. We could never have planned this! 

We love street markets.  Paris has markets everyday in different locations, so we had is all mapped out so that everyday started with a market. From there we just let things happen.

n doing our research we knew that we arrived in Frankfurt on Saturday morning which was flea market day on the river.  We hustle our buns from airport to hotel, threw our bags in the room and headed to the river.  It was a lovely April day and the "green beach" was full of people hanging out.  Guess what we did all afternoon?