The Autry: A City Slicker's Guide to LA's Cowboy Museum
There are plenty of things young cowpokes will love at the Autry Museum of the American West, LA's "Cowboy Museum" in Griffith Park. The Autry boasts several hands-on exhibits, a kid-friendly movie studio, a lovely outdoor garden, and scavenger hunt opportunities. On the weekends, families can even try their hands at panning for gold (okay-fool's gold, but you do get to keep a nugget or two as a souvenir!). The Autry holds a free museum day once a month and conveniently has a restaurant on campus with a kids' menu. So giddy up, partner! Here's your guide to visiting the Autry Museum with kids.
Lights! Camera! Action!
The Autry Museum's youngest visitors can enjoy dressing up and playing pretend in the Imagined West Studios. This exhibit features a play barn and farm house filled with props and costumes, along with a play movie camera. There's also a mock horse in front of a green screen where kids can watch themselves "riding along" in a western film, alongside John Wayne. After hamming it up in the studio, continue on through the Imagination Gallery, which showcases real costumes and props from western movies and TV shows. There's even a 3-D display of a child's room from the 1950s with Lone Ranger toys and dolls (my, how things have changed!). Also in this area, visitors can find information about museum co-founder Gene Autry, the "singing cowboy," who had several hit songs and appeared in dozens of old Hollywood films.
Investigating Griffith Park
Another exhibit with a lot of interactive features is Investigating Griffith Park, which opened earlier this year. Use stamps and colored pencils to create a perfect day at Griffith Park while watching a beautifully-filmed aerial video of its 4,300 acres of land. Another widescreen shows movie and TV scenes filmed at Griffith Park (parental advisory encouraged; my daughters got a bit scared watching the famous fight scene from "Rebel Without A Cause.") In the back of the room, there's a cute clubhouse made for kids, with stuffed animals and books inside. Plus, there are tables throughout the exhibit with art projects, including coloring pages of P-22, Griffith Park's resident mountain lion and local celebrity. My 5 year-old stood mesmerized for a good 10 minutes watching a Griffith Park-themed marble run, and our whole family enjoyed seeing vintage images of the landscape on View Masters provided by the museum.
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Cowboy and Journeys Galleries
While older kids appreciate some of the history found in these downstairs galleries highlighting the wild wild West, little ones just like seeing the big stuff on display like a stagecoach and a life-sized Texas Longhorn. There are a few things in here that kids can touch, too, including stations where docents engage kids with old-timey toys and animal furs. Walk through an old-fashioned saloon, read about what cowboys really ate while out on the trail, and check out a vintage fire truck. Plus, no trip to the Autry is complete without a photo of your kids atop the big horse in this gallery. Cowboy hats are provided on the wall for extra effect.
Walk Through the Garden
Need a little fresh air? Go for a stroll through the Autry's Ethnobotanical Garden, a 7,000-square-foot space that features a pond, a waterfall, and more than 60 native plants. There are window boxes throughout the garden that tell how these plants are used to relieve medical ailments. My daughters love "painting" with water on the slate easels in the garden, and older children may enjoy doing the Autry's plant scavenger hunt (you can print one at home in advance or ask the front desk for a copy). Adjacent to the garden inside the museum is another Zen-ish exhibit called the California Road Trip. It's basically a small theater with a projection film showing some of California's most scenic landscapes. No words or narration necessary: just gorgeous shots of Mt. Whitney, the California Redwoods, and nightfall at Joshua Tree, among other natural landmarks.
Panning for gold never gets old. Photo courtesy of Autry Museum
Free Days and Special Events
The Gold Rush lives on at the Autry every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm. That's when visitors get a chance to pan for gold (albeit fool's gold) just like the '49ers did. Yes, you do get to keep what you find, though there is a three piece limit. The Autry is open and free on New Year's Day, as well as on the second Tuesday of every month. Bank of America cardholders can also enjoy free admission during the first full weekend of each month.
Other Things to Know
There is a restaurant on campus called the Crossroads West Cafe, with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and kid-friendly fare like chicken fingers and hot dogs. The Autry is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10am to 4pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 5pm. It's closed on most holidays, so be sure to check the website before going. Admission is $14 for adults and $6 for kids. Children under 3 get in free. Parking is next to the museum and is free and plentiful, and the Autry is directly across the street from the LA Zoo.
If you haven't yet visited this Griffith Park gem, now is the time to mosey on over to the Autry!
Photos by author, unless otherwise noted