Museums are always an exciting place for kids to learn and discover, but interactive exhibits, like the new Play! at the Autry, take exploration to a whole other level. Just as the name describes, this amazing, new exhibit is all about playtime throughout history and your whole family will have a blast learning and playing together when you check it out.

From an early American Indian toy ball to the latest video game technology, the Autry’s new exhibit covers the history of play and the common bonds it creates across cultures and time. Combining over 200 items, like bicycles from the 1950s, electric trains, Barbie dolls, and GI Joes (all from the Autry’s collection) with dozens of interactive, hands-on elements, the exhibit is organized into four themed sections.

First Up: Go outside (While Inside)
Despite being indoors, the first section manages to make you feel like you’ve just stepped out into an awesome backyard. There are so many displays to check out, like a miniature city built entirely out of cardboard, but the thing your curious kids (and you) won’t be able to take your eyes, and hands, off of is the stunning tree in the center. Built out of old toys and recycled objects, from baseball bats to a mailbox, you could spend your entire visit just exploring this tree and not be bored.

(Quick Tip: Look a little closer at the peephole cut into the mailbox and you’ll find an awesome surprise. Be on the lookout for similar peepholes at various spots throughout the entire exhibit.)

Beyond the tree is a cozy nook built to look like a cavern, but inside it feels like the clubhouse every kid dreams of. You’ll find shelves of books to read, pillows that look like boulders, but are as soft as, well, pillows, and the most gigantic teddy bear you’ve ever snuggled.

Learning to Be a Grown-Up
From the outdoors you’ll move to a pretend playhouse that is so stylishly adorable, you’ll kind of wish it was your own house. Featuring a fully loaded play kitchen, living room, and bedroom decked out in miniature mod furniture perfect for pint-sized visitors, it will be nearly impossible to drag them away to see the rest of the exhibit.

Just outside of the house you’ll find a collection of dolls from Malibu Barbie to American Girl, and all the accessories in between. Across from the display cases are the learning toys, where you’ll find an Erector Set that you can move with a knob, and a construction space where kids can create their own masterpieces out of LEGOs and Lincoln Logs.

Make Believe
The imaginative play continues as you make your way past a display of Disney-themed toys to a small theater tucked away around the corner. With costumes and props stored in the wings and real set pieces that you can move along a track, your theatrical tykes can dress up and put on a show, while you watch from the row of theater seats set up in front.

Game Changers
Last, but not least, you’ll arrive in the modern era where young techies will go gaga over the room filled with video games. From the original Pong to Guitar Hero, as well as Donkey Kong on a Nintendo and touchscreen games on tablets, junior gamers will marvel at how much technology has changed since mom and dad were kids.

Beyond the Exhibit
The fun doesn’t end when you step out of the exhibit exit. You’ll find hopscotch courts painted on the ground in the museum’s exterior courtyards. The Autry is also hosting Drop-In Family Fun: Let’s Play throughout the summer in conjunction with the exhibit. Tuesdays through Fridays 10:30 a.m. -2:30 p.m., June 20-July 28, families can play a game of four square, hone their hula hoop skills and play checkers and other games. There will also be themed scavenger hunts to help you explore the rest of the museum, photo-booths with dress-up items and story times.

The exhibit is open now through January 7, 2018. Museum admission is $14 for adults, $6 for children ages 3-12, and free for kids 2 and under. Admission is free on the second Tuesday of every month.

The Autry Museum
‪4700 Western Heritage Way
‪Griffith Park

—written and photos by Shahrzad Warkentin