Completed in 1935, the Griffith Observatory is almost as iconic as the Hollywood sign. It appeals to anyone who 'loves space, science, the stunning view of LA, and the building’s Art Deco architecture,' says Bonnie Winings, a director of Friends Of The Observatory.
But for film fans, the observatory in Griffith Park may be most recognised recently as the featured spot in 2016’s magical La La Land dance scene in which actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone waltzed through the air under a star-filled ceiling. Prior to the award-winning film, the Observatory served as the signature location for 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean’s new-kid-in-town character tries to impress his classmates inside the planetarium, only to get caught up in a knife fight in the car park.
In an interesting real-life plot twist, Dean commissioned a bust of himself shortly before his death at age 24. That bust is now on prominent display near the front lawn of the Observatory. A lot of fan photos still get taken by that statue, says Winings, 'since the backdrop is also the Hollywood sign'.
While some simply go to the Observatory for the view (arguably the best in LA), there’s much more to see. The Griffith Observatory presents mind-expanding planetarium shows throughout the year, plus films and special events in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theatre, and hosted telescope parties (check the calendar for details). A nice perk: admission to the Observatory is free.
If you’re eager for a snack before or after your visit—say, a slice of quiche, a crumbly scone, or just a good cup of coffee—it’s worth stopping at the nearby Trails Café, a walk-in eatery nestled amongst the trees. There is parking along the road, but intrepid visitors might prefer the 2-mile walk from the Observatory.
As the largest municipal park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park protects 4,511 acres of mountains and canyons at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a remarkable stretch of rough, hilly wilderness in the heart of an enormous urban area—and it’s also home to a wealth of culture.
Want to hike? Choose from more than 50 miles of trails lacing the chaparral-studded slopes, including one to the top of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood, the park’s highest point. Another trail takes you to the site of the Old Zoo, where you can explore animal enclosures that have been abandoned and untouched for over 50 years. Unpaved roads also provide access for mountain bikers and trail rides; guided rides out of Sunset Ranch include great views of the Hollywood sign.
Griffith Park has a more refined side, too. Learn about American western art at the Autry Museum of the American West. Leading musicians love to play at the open-air Greek Theatre. Kids can get close-up looks at koalas and Komodo dragons at the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. And high on a slope overlooking Los Angeles, the landmark Art Deco-era Griffith Observatory gives you a window to the cosmos.
The sprawling public park is now well known for its cameo in 2016’s smash hit La La Land—actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone begin their epic dance scene twirling on one of Griffith Park’s hilltops as city lights twinkle below (more on this later). But the public park has been around for generations. It was an eccentric mining tycoon, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who in 1896 donated over 3,000 acres of his Rancho Los Felis to the City of Los Angeles. It was a Christmas gift to be used as “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses.” Since Griffith’s original contribution, bits and pieces have been added to the park, which now attracts more than 10 million visitors a year.
No time for an African safari or Amazon adventure? Then take a walk on the wild side at this remarkable—and remarkably varied--attraction in L.A.’s Griffith Park. Explore tropical habitats at Rainforest of the Americas, and observe chimps in a natural setting of waterfalls, palm trees, and rock formations in Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains. (World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall praised the chimps’ digs as one of the world’s outstanding zoo habitats.)
The L.A. Zoo is home to more than 1,100 animals, including 29 endangered species. Get close-up (but safe) looks at spectacular Sumatran tigers, deadly Komodo dragons, and bright orange orangutans. The zoo is also a horticultural paradise with more than 7,500 individual plants. And, as you’ll discover in the kid-friendly California Condor Rescue Zone, it has played a key role in bringing the iconic California condor back from the brink of extinction.
Insider’s tip: Go nose-to-nose with a rhino at the zoo’s Indian Rhino Encounter.