Are you looking for a quintessential California experience for your family? Look no farther than a colorful institution dedicated to the history of Western history and culture– the Autry National Center, located in Griffith Park next to the LA Zoo. Behind the exhibits and research libraries and diverse, fun programming is an overarching theory that the Autry called “convergence” — that is, a pulling together of the stories and experiences of the diverse people who have made the American West their home.
There’s a year-round calendar of adventure at the Autry. Here are our favorite events and activities:
1. Autry Explorers
Grab an Autry Explorers Passport and return to the Center on a monthly basis to take part in a variety of monthly programming designed for families. The program, designed in 2013, encourages participants to explore the history, cultural traditions, and magnificent landscape of the American West and does so with diverse and lively monthly programming specifically to encourage family visits. So far, the program has hosted a nature hike, an American Girl Doll day and each program has hands-on activities to help your family get to know everything Autry over time. Stamp your passport more than twice and be eligible for prizes.
We also like the Heroes of Western Movies Scavenger Hunt available at the front desk.
2. Panning for Gold
We’ve all heard of the Gold Rush and he ’49ers, and fourth graders learn about the rush of development that built Northern California once gold was discovered “in them hills!” Bring that history alive every Every Saturday and Sunday, from 11:00 AM–3:00 PM, when the kids can put a gold pan to work, shaking through the silt to discover treasure… or not. (Who knows, they might appreciate their allowance just a bit more after this experience). Long considered one of the most reliable kid-friendly activities in town, the museum’s long-standing Pan for Gold! This spring, the museum’s long-standing Pan for Gold! exhibit is getting revamped and moved into a newer, larger outdoor space, starting in the Summer of 2014. So, if you’ve done it before, make time to come back and do it again, in a new, improved setting. And if you’ve never done it, what are you waiting for?
3. Riding in the Movies
The history of the West owes a great deal to the movie business and it’s romantic depiction of the landscape and cowboys in the truly American art form of the Western. Climb aboard a prop horse and cavort in front of a ‘green screen’ for an Instagram-perfect experience!
4. Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl
Taking place on July 26 this year (2014), this day-long event is the Autry’s best family friendly event of the year, where visitors are encouraged to ‘find their inner cowboy or cowgirl!” With games, western food and art projects galore, this is worth putting on the calendar now!
5. American Indian Arts Market Place
In the old days, you could only get authentic turquoise jewelry by traveling to Santa Fe, where the annual Indian Market drew international crowds. The Autry’s annual American Indian Arts Market Place has that feel – the weekend long event takes place in mid-November, and artisans from all over the west show up to enter the competition, which includes a juried prize – with the best piece ultimately being obtained by the museum. Serious collectors and the rest of us all line up for the dazzling visuals, incredible food and wonderful celebration of native arts — from jewelry and painting to baskets and sculpture, to bead-work, photography and woodwork.
6. Thoughtful Programming and Experiences
Membership has plenty of privileges at the Autry, especially for families, who will find themselves revisiting campus throughout the year to drop in for inventive and engaging programming, such as a day with American Girl doll Kaya, a What is a Western? film series, lectures and exhibits focused on Women of the West, and much more.
7. The Autry Store
From furniture to jewelry, pottery to paperwork and many items in-between — including beautiful Pendelton blankets and a wide library of novels, coffee-table books and movies. As museum bookstores go, this one has a unique subject to cover and does so masterfully.
8. Masters of the American West
The country’s premiere Western Art show, Masters of the American West, takes place at the Autry in February and March each year, with painters and sculptures from all over the world entering work to be purchased and judged by a jury. Members of the public can view and purchase the work – some of which is quite extraordinary – and the Autry chooses the best piece to add to the collection each year. (Above, this year’s winner: Dustin Van Wechel, Headstrong). This year’s show is up until March 16, 2014.
9. Crossroads West
10. Free Parking!
Nobody doesn’t love a deal, and parking at the Autry is always free. Just ride your horse on up and come on in… just like the old days.