Southwest Museum of the American Indian: LA’s First Museum

The Southwest Museum of the American Indian, created by Charles Lummis in 1907, was the first museum ever built in Los Angeles. So if for nothing else, then you need to see it to experience that unique history. The museum was going through a renovation when I went (in 2016), and there was only one main exhibit that I could see. That being said, there is a garden, old tunnels, and beautiful views from the deck, so here is all the information so you can check it out yourself.

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  • Free
  • Only open on Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM
  • Location: 234 Museum Dr. Mt. Washington, Los Angeles, California
  • This information is from my visit in 2016

Getting There

The Southwest Museum is located off of Highway 110, which is one of the oldest freeways in the entire United States. The freeway has a lot of history, so it is worth driving and visiting some of the historic sites. After getting off on Avenue 43, you will head over the road then follow the signs to the museum. It is located on the top of a small hill, and the driveway is a little steep, so watch out for other cars.

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The museum has a large parking lot that you can use. Remember, it is only open on Saturdays though.

The Museum

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On the way in, there are a few neat pieces of metal art that depict different important native American traditions.

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There is also a garden with succulents and other native plants from the area.

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Walking in, I was met by a docent who explained the process the museum was going through and told me where to go.

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There is only one main room currently, and it is dedicated to pottery. The pieces they have on display here are fantastic, and they tell the story of how pottery has changed over the centuries.

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I don’t usually enjoy these types of exhibits, but the pieces were beautiful.

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From here, you can head downstairs, where there are a few more displays with different tools used by the archeologists to uncover these pieces.

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Outside of the downstairs level is the Hopi Trail, which is a short little trail that has a lot of plants from the area and is nice for a stroll.

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The balcony here is also a great place to get a view of the town from above.

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The last thing you need to check out before you leave is the tunnel. You can take the elevator from the lower story down to the entrance to the tunnel, which is a way to enter the museum itself.

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The tunnel is fascinating, and I enjoyed exploring it, even though it is a little eerie being down there by yourself.

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Make sure to walk all the way out to the end of the tunnel so you can see the exterior facade, which is unique.

After that, head back up the elevator and out of the museum. All in all, this is an interesting spot with not a lot to see currently. It should be on your list for when the renovations are complete, so that you can experience the history yourself. Let me know if you have been in the comments and what you thought.

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