If you really want to see some real stars when you visit the Hollywood area, this place is it! the Griffith Observatory is one of the most famous Southern California landmarks, and millions of visitors have gotten spaced here out since it opened in 1935. It’s a short drive from Hollywood, and is a fun, yet educational, spot to take in at day or night, especially when a celestial event is taking place. Oh yeah, it’s not a bad place to go for an impromptu make-out session, too.
The land on which Griffith Observatory sits was once a part of a Spanish settlement known as Rancho Los Felis. The land stayed in the Felis family for more than a century and was subdivided through generations, until Griffith J. Griffith (his parents must have had a weird sense of humor), a wealthy mining speculator who was born in Wales, purchased what remained of the rancho in 1882. On December 16, 1896, he donated 3,015 acres of Rancho Los Felis to the City of Los Angeles in order to create a public park in his name. “It must be made a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people.” (Check out my post on the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to read about Griffith’s bizarre defense in an attempted murder trial)
Griffith’s curiosity and interest in astronomy was piqued when he visited the giant telescope at Mt. Wilson. He died in 1919, but the wheels for Griffith Observatory had been set in motion. The dedication and formal opening of Griffith Observatory took place on May 14, 1935. The Griffith Observatory closed its doors in 2002 for its first comprehensive renovation and expansion. It reopened in November 2006.
Tracy and I had come here when it first re-opened after the second renovation in 2012, so I decided to pay a visit to see what’s happening in 2016. I drove up the winding road leading to the observatory, but even though it was 15 minutes before opening, the parking lot was full (turns out there’s lots of hiking in this area, too). The views stretched out to the ocean in one direction to a great view of the famed Hollywood Sign in another.
Numerous films have been shot at the observatory, including Rebel Without a Cause, the classic 1955 film about misunderstood youth, starring James Dean and Natalie Wood.
Admittance to the Griffith Observatory is free, and I recommend if you go on the weekend, you arrivethere when it opens at 10, because it gets really crowded by about noon.
Like most weekend days, there were lots of people milling around the observatory before it opened. Many of those people include the hikers who walk up here on a 3 1/2 mile loop from the Ferndell trail (we like to do that with the Corgis). It’s a beautiful hike. I can tell you that our corgis, even with their short legs are able to navigate the route, although there are some parts that are somewhat steep.
Be sure and bring plenty of water for you…and your pooches. There are views of the observatory from the trail.
The first thing you see upon entering is the Foucault Pendulum, a 240-pound brass sphere suspended by a 40-foot steel wire. It proves that the earth rotates on its axis. Every ten minutes or so the pendulum knocks over a peg, which keeps kids (and adults who act like kids) entertained.
The pendulum is located under the Ballin Ceiling Mural, painted by Hugo Ballin in the 1930s illustrating myths that ancient people believed in order for them to understand what they saw in the sky.
Unless you are a complete astronomy buff, the self-guided tour of the Griffith Observatory should last between one and two hours. Upstairs (on the floor you enter) is the Wilder Hall Of The Eye Exhibits, where you can learn how people observe the sky. Also on that main floor is the Ahmanson Hall Of The Sky Exhibits, which allows you to explore local stars and the Sun. You can also observe what causes day and night, the seasons, and Moon changes.
We then went downstairs to the lower level to take a look at things that fall to earth. Judging by the photo above, you really don’t want to get hit by a meteorite, like this lady (fortunately it bounced first and just grazed her). That’s actually a burn mark, and not a bruise. Below is what one of those wacky meteorites looks like. This one weighed in at nearly 300 pounds.
Then we stopped by various hands-on exhibits explaining the planets and their origins, including the story of poor, old Pluto. It’s just Goofy that it’s not a planet now. By the way, that’s Saturn below (for those who have never visited that planet).
We saw the Zeiss Mark IV Planetarium Projector. According to wikipedia, “Zeiss projectors are designed to sit in the middle of a dark, dome-covered room and project an accurate image of the stars and other astronomical objects on the dome.”
Since it was such a nice day, we climbed the stairs to the roof terrace of the Griffith Observatory for some more views, a chocolate croissant (with very little chocolate) and a cup of cappuccino from a machine (skip that unless you are seriously caffeine deprived).
After our snack and a trip to the gift store to buy a “Glow In The Dark” NASA shirt (I am easily amused), we watched the movie entitled “Centered In The Universe” in the plush reclining seats at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium (the woman who narrated this presentation did a terrific job, which is good because you could fall asleep easily in those comfy seats). Afterward, we headed out through the now massive throngs of people attempting to enter.
There’s also a sundial, which is why people in the old days eschewed iPhones when they needed to find out the time of day.
As we headed back to the winding road where we parked our car, near the edge of the parking lot we saw a tree. But this was not just any tree. This was the George Harrison Tree (whether it “gently weeps,” I do not know). On February 22, 2004, the City of Los Angeles declared George Harrison Day. A plaque was unveiled at the base of the George Harrison Tree in Griffith Park. (Note…in June 2014, the George Harrison tree was declared dead. The irony…it had been destroyed by beetles…can’t make this stuff up)
Near the George Harrison Tree is the Mt. Hollywood Trail. This leads to the Berlin Forest.
The Griffith Observatory certainly is an educational and interesting spot to visit for locals and tourists alike. Go to its website for information regarding special stargazing events where you can look through the giant telescope. If you’re lucky, you might be in town for an eclipse or a meteor shower.
The Griffith Observatory
2800 East Observatory Road • Los Angeles, CA 90027
Weekdays (Wednesday-Friday): Open 12:00 noon – 10:00 p.m.
Weekends (Saturday-Sunday): Open 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Planetarium Movies: $7
Directions: Exit Interstate 5 on Los Feliz Blvd, (W) and go 1.4 miles and make a right on Hillhurst. Follow the signs.