It’s a well known fact that Griffith Park Observatory is one of the best, and most accessible, places to see the sun set over Los Angeles. Thousands of people also come here to catch a closer look at the “Hollywood” sign located on adjacent Mount Lee. The Observatory itself is a destination in its own right, but unless you really dig for information before you arrive you may not give the observatory the time it really needs.
The World’s Most Visited Observatory
Griffith Park Observatory has been visited by over 70 million people since it opened in 1933 making it the most visited observatory in the world. With a starring role in numerous Hollywood blockbuster movies, its iconic beige facade has never been far from people’s minds.
Loved To Death
In January 2002 it closed for a $93 million dollar, multi year renovation and expansion. 70 million pairs of feet took their toll on the ageing structure. Like Leonard Nimoy explains in the informative (and free) movie about the observatory’s origin, people had literally loved the place to death.
Reopening in November 2006 with an expanded collection of exhibits, the world’s largest photo of the Universe, a newly waterproofed planetarium dome and the new Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theatre, the observatory is as popular today as it was when it first opened.
Getting To Griffith Park Observatory
With steep mountain passes to traverse, the road network is understandably limited. Traffic on the road leading to the observatory is one of the more notorious bottlenecks. If you drive expect to have to park quite a way down the mountain and walk up. The best way to get up here is the Dash shuttle service that runs in a continuous loop every 20 minutes from the Red Line Metro station at Vermont/Sunset. Not only do you get dropped right at the door to the Observatory but you won’t have the headache of finding a parking space either. If you have a TAP card from the Metro system with a stored value, you can use the service for $0.35 one way instead of the walk on cash price of $1.50.
Griffith Park Observatory Exhibits
Thousands of people flock here daily to see the sun set. There is no charge to enter the observatory and look at the exhibits or use the facilities. A very reasonable $7 charge for one of 3 planetarium shows that play throughout the day won’t break the bank. The last live show of the day called, “Centre Of The Universe”, is a particularly informative look at the history of astronomy and our understanding today. The 290 seat Samuel Oschin Planetarium is one of the finest and most state of the art planetariums in the world. I would highly recommend purchasing a ticket while visiting.
The observatory has a telescope trained on the sun during the day giving daytime visitors the chance to view a live image on a screen. On clear days when the famous LA smog doesn’t get in the way, the views over Downtown and towards Venice and Santa Monica Beaches are also hard to beat.
Inside the observatory, the main floor is split into two separate galleries. The Wilder Hall Of The Eye focusses on mans history of observation of the night sky. It is split into 4 exhibit areas each highlighting key developments in our ability to see further and further out into the solar system. It empties out onto the East Terrace for views over Griffith Park. The West Terrace meanwhile gives you views over Downtown LA and out towards Long Beach and Santa Monica. The West Terrace is most popular at sunset. The Ahmanson Hall Of The Sky exhibit area explains visually our changing seasons, day and night, our local star, the Sun as well as our satellite, the Moon and its phases. At the end of the hall, the live image of the sun has been viewed by more people here than any other place on Earth.
Downstairs, the new newly excavated area is split into to 2 halls on 2 levels. The upper level, called Edge Of Space turns our traditional view of astronomy on its head. It is here you can touch a meteorite or a piece of the Moon or Mars. Explore our moon or keep up to date with he latest developments in the cosmic area in Cosmic News. Downstairs in the Depths Of Space exhibit area, the planets overhead are correctly proportioned to each other making for a striking entrance and it instantly captures the imagination of children. Interactive exhibits and hands on experiences keep everyones attention. The far wall meanwhile is the largest photo of the universe yet produced called, simply, The Big Picture.
You can view the plan of the exhibits on offer here at the official visitors website.
Griffith Park History
Griffith Park was a gift to the city of Los Angeles from Griffith J Griffith, a Welsh pioneer and property magnet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He felt he owed a debt to the city where he made his fortune. The donation was his way of paying his way but he stipulated that “It must be made a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people”. As well as the observatory there are 70 kilometres of hiking and equestrian trails criss crossing the park from easy (the trail leading down from the Observatory) to challenging (the full day Bush Canyon Trail that leads you above and behind the Hollywood sign).
People can see a show in the Greek Amphitheatre or visit the LA Zoo which is home to more than 1200 animals and 7500 plants. There are 2 18-hole and 2 9-hole golf courses. There are athletic fields and places for tennis and swimming. Other than the Greek Theatre and the Observatory though be aware that you will probably need to drive. The DASH system only operates in a loop to the Observatory while the park spans over 4100 acres. It’s one of the largest municipal parks in the entire United States. If you want to explore more of the park than just the Observatory head on over to the official LA Parks Website which has a lot of information on what else there is to do.
Bringing People Together
Griffith Park, for so many residents of LA, provides all the recreation they need. While many people head to the beach suburbs of Santa Monica and Long Beach, the hills and valleys of Griffith Park offer something for everyone. If you’re only In town a couple of days you’ll find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder with locals as well as people from all corners of the world. Everyone united in admiring one of the best city views in to world from one of the best vantage points.
Whether you want to make a day of it or only have time to pop up here for the sunset, Griffith Park Observatory has something for everyone. Yes the views over Downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills are pretty much unparalleled but there is so much more here to discover than just the breathtaking views.