New York City has Central Park, and Los Angeles has beautiful Griffith Park. The delightfully undeveloped land is in the hills that separate Hollywood from the San Fernando Valley. It’s a welcome break from the endless pavement, concrete, and glass of LA’s urban sprawl. And as a centerpiece, with the best view of the city imaginable, is the Griffith Observatory — a place where people have come for decades to think about the stars that are over the stars.
Griffith Observatory is located in the hills above Hollywood, on the north side of Los Angeles. From US 101, exit on Gower Street, then turn right onto Franklin Avenue, left on Western Avenue, and right on Los Feliz Boulevard. From Los Feliz, turn on either Fern Dell Drive or Vermont Avenue. Signs will point you in the right direction.
I have attempted to visit Griffith Observatory twice, and both times turned out about the same. Even though I had left the city behind, I hadn’t left the traffic behind. The narrow two-lane roads that twist up the hills to the observatory were jammed with cars. Many people chose to park at the side of the road, far from the observatory, and walk the rest of the way. On the first visit, a few years ago, I didn’t even bother getting out of my car. This time, I decided to find a parking spot, no matter how far away, and walk.
When you arrive, you will instantly recognize the Griffith Observatory. Even if you’ve never been here before, you’ve seen it a million times. It’s a favorite filming location for modern-day flicks and movies set in the early 20th century…
…thanks to its art-deco design. Step inside…
… and the first attraction that captures your attention is the swinging pendulum, suspended from the ceiling. As the rotation of the earth slowly modifies the pendulum’s path, it knocks over pegs, lined up along the floor.
There are various other science exhibits spreading out to the left and right. You’ll likely feel like you’re on an elementary school field trip.
Head down to the basement, for an impressive exhibit on the solar system. It helps put the size of our planet in perspective!
The real treat, though, is on the roof. Take the stairs outside…
… where an outdoor patio encircles the building’s domes. Up here…
… the Los Angeles skyline is beautiful… even if it’s somewhat hazy.
You can also peek inside at the observatory’s Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope.
There’s also a grand view of the observatory’s front courtyard, with the Hollywood Sign and Mount Lee in the distance. You can hike there from here, but I’d recommend a different path.
The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that the parking lot at Griffith Observatory is very small, and the road to the observatory will likely be very crowded. Allow some extra time. It’s worth the effort to see this Los Angeles landmark, and the outstanding view of the city.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive through Griffith Park, up to the Observatory: