Griffith Park Observatory, at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, tops our list of savvy things to do in SoCal (and we said this long before La La Land). Best of all, many events are available to enjoy for free, thanks to the vision and donation of the infamous Griffith J. Griffith.
Famous for its hilltop location and classic architecture, the Griffith Observatory building, science exhibits, and grounds are open to the public for free six days a week year round.
We like to go any time of day or year. But on clear nights the Observatory has a special appeal because the public telescopes are available to use for free. They always have telescope demonstrators there to act as guides and to answer questions. Plus, the Observatory hosts a public star party one Saturday a month. You can view the night sky through the Observatory’s telescopes any evening.
If you have the time, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium shows are great, too (for a small fee). The seats are comfortable, the sound is amazing, and the live presenters are engaging. The Zeiss star projector, digital projection system, state-of-the-art aluminum dome, make it the finest planetarium in the world.
There is quite a story behind how the Observatory came to exist. Mining magnate Colonel Griffith J. Griffith (that’s his real name, but probably not his real rank), who already owned Griffith Park, bequeathed the money in his will to build a the Observatory and the park’s Greek Theatre.
He tried to get this started while he was alive, but his offer was rejected because Griffith had just spent two year in California’s San Quentin State Prison for assault with a deadly weapon. He shot and disfigured his wife while vacationing in Santa Monica. Turns out old GG was a secret drunk subject to paranoid delusions, according to his injured wife’s court testimony.
Griffith’s intentions for Los Angeles were good, however. “If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world,” Griffith said. The city did take his money in the end.
Griffith Observatory has offered public telescope viewing ever since, through the historic Zeiss telescope and also the historic coelostat (solar telescope), and portable telescopes on the lawn, fulfilling Griffith’s vision.
Since opening in 1935, more people have looked through the Zeiss telescope than any telescope in human history, and more people have viewed the filtered Sun on the Observatory coelostat than any solar telescope on Earth, according to the Observatory’s website.
Griffith Park Observatory: Know Before You Go
Griffith Park Observatory Admission
Admission to the Observatory building, grounds, telescopes, and parking is always free. Many of the special events here are free, but not all.
Samuel Oschin Planetarium
Small fee required for Planetarium shows. Tickets are available only at the main box office inside or at automated ticket machines around the building.
Griffith Observatory is open six days a week. Weekdays (Tues – Fri) noon – 10pm; Weekends (Sat/Sun) 10am – 10pm. Closed Mondays and most holidays (open Year’s Day, and Veteran’s Day). But check the current schedule before you head out.
Weekends are the busiest times to visit.
Griffith Park Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027.
Get there via the Vermont or Fern Dell entrances to Griffith Park, although Fern Dell closes each evening at sunset. A northbound lane on Vermont Ave is always open for Observatory traffic to bypass the Greek Theatre traffic. The Greek Theatre season runs from April-October.
You can park free at the Observatory lot when space is available. You can also park along the roads and near the Greek Theatre. Some of these spots have an uphill walk to the Observatory.
The planetarium show is best for kids 5 and older. Children under 5 are only allowed into the first show each day (12:45pm weekdays, 10:45am weekends).
You can grab a chili dog or some nachos and Naked Juice at the Griffith Park Observatory’s “Café at the End of the Universe.”
Savvy Tip: If you’re going early in the day, check out our favorite cafe near Griffith Park, Village Bakery and Cafe. They’re open until 6pm and serve breakfast all day, (like my favorite Brioche French Toast) or grab a BLT with Avocado on house-made sourdough bread. Or grab a fresh baguette to go. (3119 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village – 323-662-8600.)
The Stellar Emporium is the Observatory’s gift and book store featuring astronomy-related and space-themed books, gifts, clothing, toys, and other items, located on the lower level between the Gunther Depths of Space exhibit hall and Gottlieb Transit Corridor.
Website: griffithobservatory.org, Information Line: (213) 473-0800.