Gone are the glory days of the Wild West, but you can still get in on the action at the Autry Museum of the American West. Just across from the entrance to the L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park, you’ll find this 36,000-square foot complex with over 500,000 works of art and artifacts from the American frontier.
Co-founded by musical western star Gene Autry in 1988, it’s natural that the museum would dedicate space to cool Western film memorabilia, from the pistols used by Steve McQueen to costumes from 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. There’s even a replica movie set of an Old Western town with storefronts. (Little-known fact: The first-ever feature-length movie filmed in Hollywood was a Western—the 1914 silent film The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The camera used to film it is here, too.)
A bronze statue of “the singing cowboy” Autry greets you at the entrance, but the museum covers much more than just Hollywood gunslingers—you’ll learn all about the real Old West, too. You’ll find engraved golden pistols given to Annie Oakley by her husband Frank Butler. There’s an extensive saddle display, a mail stage coach from 1855, Smith & Wesson revolvers, pioneer portraits, cowboy hats, buckskin jackets—even a saloon with a mahogany bar and roulette wheel.
Western lore aside, the Autry also celebrates the region’s contemporary artists. Every year, it curates the Masters of the American West, a magnificent exhibition with works from more than 70 Western artists. Yet the real must-see is the annual American Indian Arts Marketplace held in November, where visitors can peruse and purchase paintings, sculpture, basketry, carvings, and other items from roughly 200 artists and artisans representing over 40 different tribes.
As the largest municipal park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park protects 4,511 acres of mountains and canyons at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a remarkable stretch of rough, hilly wilderness in the heart of an enormous urban area—and it’s also home to a wealth of culture.
Want to hike? Choose from more than 50 miles of trails lacing the chaparral-studded slopes, including one to the top of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood, the park’s highest point. Another trail takes you to the site of the Old Zoo, where you can explore animal enclosures that have been abandoned and untouched for over 50 years. Unpaved roads also provide access for mountain bikers and trail rides; guided rides out of Sunset Ranch include great views of the Hollywood sign.
Griffith Park has a more refined side, too. Learn about American western art at the Autry Museum of the American West. Leading musicians love to play at the open-air Greek Theatre. Kids can get close-up looks at koalas and Komodo dragons at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. And high on a slope overlooking Los Angeles, the landmark Art Deco-era Griffith Observatory gives you a window to the cosmos.
The sprawling public park is now well known for its cameo in 2016’s smash hit La La Land—actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone begin their epic dance scene twirling on one of Griffith Park’s hilltops as city lights twinkle below (more on this later). But the public park has been around for generations. It was an eccentric mining tycoon, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who in 1896 donated over 3,000 acres of his Rancho Los Felis to the City of Los Angeles. It was a Christmas gift to be used as “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses.” Since Griffith’s original contribution, bits and pieces have been added to the park, which now attracts more than 10 million visitors a year.
No time for an African safari or Amazon adventure? Then take a walk on the wild side at this remarkable—and remarkably varied--attraction in L.A.’s Griffith Park. Explore tropical habitats at Rainforest of the Americas, and observe chimps in a natural setting of waterfalls, palm trees, and rock formations in Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. (World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall praised the chimps’ digs as one of the world’s outstanding zoo habitats.)
The L.A. Zoo is home to more than 1,100 animals, including 29 endangered species. Get close-up (but safe) looks at spectacular Sumatran tigers, deadly Komodo dragons, and bright orange orangutans. The zoo is also a horticultural paradise with more than 7,500 individual plants. And, as you’ll discover in the kid-friendly California Condor Rescue Zone, it has played a key role in bringing the iconic California condor back from the brink of extinction.
Insider’s tip: Go nose-to-nose with a rhino at the zoo’s Indian Rhino Encounter.