Griffith Park has a venerable 110-year history and nothing captures its old-timey charm more than the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. It was built in 1926 by the Spillman Engineering Company and then moved from San Diego to Griffith Park in 1937. The amusement ride features 68 intricately carved horses with jewel-encrusted bridles, leaping to one of 1,500 tunes played by a Stinson 165 military band organ (reportedly the largest on the West coast). The story goes that Walt Disney, who frequented the carousel on weekends with his young daughters, used it as inspiration for what would later become Disneyland.
If the pretend ponies of a merry-go-round are too tame for your tot, head down the road and for just $5, kids can ride the real deal at Griffith Park Pony Ride. The family-owned business has been operating on the former ranchland since 1948 and, with roughly 100 Shetland and Welsh ponies, it has something for any pint-size wrangler-in-training. Got a first-timer? Your safest bet is the Pony Sweep, a merry-go-round-style ride where ponies walk 8 laps around a fixed carousel. Older kids can walk, or trot, along a separate 1/5-mile track on slow, medium, or big ponies. The catch: Riders must be between the ages of 1 and 13 and cannot weigh more than 100 pounds. Opt for a covered wagon ride and grown-ups can get in on the fun, too. Or, take one of the traditional, guided horseback rides out of Sunset Ranch, which include great views of the Hollywood sign.
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.