The Autry: A City Slicker's Guide to LA's Cowboy Museum

12/24/19 - By Jackie Jones

The Autry Museum offers an immersive exploration of the American West's rich heritage. With interactive exhibits that kids will enjoy, young visitors can journey through time, discovering the diverse cultures, adventures, and stories that shaped the Los Angeles region. There are plenty of things young cowpokes will love at the Autry Museum of the American West, LA's "Cowboy Museum" in Griffith Park. 

With its blend of education and entertainment, the Autry Museum offers an enriching experience for families looking to delve into the spirit of the American West. The Autry boasts several hands-on exhibits, a kid-friendly movie studio, and a lovely outdoor garden. 

Discover more adventures to do in Griffith Park with kids, bookmark these free museum days in Los Angeles, and check out our Museum Guide for Kids in Los Angeles and Orange County


What To Expect at The Autry Museum

Lights! Camera! Action!

The Autry Museum's youngest visitors can enjoy dressing up and playing pretend in the Imagined Wests exhibit. 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 beloved mountain lion (RIP). 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.

The Autry Museum: Cowboy American West Exhibits
Step into the history of the American West. Photo courtesy of Jackie Jones

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.

RELATED: The Inside Scoop on The Autry Museum of the American West's Family Play Space

The Autry Museum: Family Place Space
Play pretend at the immersive play space at the Autry. Photo courtesy of Kylie Williams

The Autry Family Play Space

Families can delve into a world of adventure and discovery at the engaging family play space. Designed to spark imagination and curiosity, this interactive area invites children to explore the rich history and culture of the American West through immersive exhibits and hands-on activities. Kids can play pretend at kitchen sets and cash registers, read books, carry around stuffed animals, and enjoy toy trains. 

Free Days at The Autry Museum

The Autry Museum is free every Tuesday and Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm. Bank of America cardholders can also enjoy free admission during the first full weekend of each month.  

Know Before You Go

  • 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 $18 for adults and $8 for kids. Children under two get in for free. 
  • Parking is next to the museum and is free and plentiful, and the Autry is directly across the street from the LA Zoo

Photos by author, unless otherwise noted

Places featured in this article: