A Visitor’s Guide to Griffith Park, One of LA’s Greatest Assets

An aerial view over Griffith Observatory at sunset with the mountains of Griffith Park and Los Angeles as a backdrop

Griffith Park is one of the greatest assets of Los Angeles – for locals and visitors alike. Massive and rugged, the municipal park’s 4,310 acres cover the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. Major attractions in Griffith Park, which include the LA Zoo, Griffith Observatory and trails to the Hollywood Sign, take up just a fraction of its landscape. The remainder is unspoiled wilderness, an arid landscape of native sages and oak woodlands across deep canyons and steep slopes. This is the habitat of coyotes, mule deer, rattlesnakes and raptors – plus 10 million visitors each year. 

Griffith Park is a versatile destination, too. There are dozens of points of interest in Griffith Park including historic landmarks, family-friendly attractions, cultural institutions and diverse options for outdoor recreation all year around. Discover the best attractions and activities in Griffith Park in our guide to this big, beloved Los Angeles playground.

Visiting Griffith Park

Griffith Park is open daily from 5 am to 10:30 pm. Visit the official Griffith Park website for maps, in-depth information, and to check on closures. Start your visit at the Griffith Park Visitors Center off Crystal Springs Drive in Los Feliz to pick up trail maps and ask any questions. 

Griffith Park is encircled by the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz and Hollywood and the cities of Burbank and Glendale. The Los Angeles River runs along its northern and eastern flanks. There are several paved roads through Griffith Park that connect directly to I-5 and CA-134. For driving directions, input the specific attraction you’re heading to. Parking is available near all major attractions and at trailheads; be aware that availability is limited during busier times. 

Public transit is a great option for visitors to the Greek Theatre, Mount Hollywood hiking trail and Griffith Observatory. The DASH Observatory shuttle runs daily and connects to the Metro Red Line in Los Feliz. The Los Angeles Zoo and Autry are served by LA Metro bus service as well. 

The Hollywood Sign as seen from behind at sunset in Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Hiking trails to the Hollywood Sign are a highlight of Griffith Park (Photo by izayah ramos on Unsplash)

Hollywood Sign Hikes

One of the top things to do in Griffith Park – if you enjoy hiking, Tinseltown iconography and cool photo ops – is visit the Hollywood Sign. Those world-famous, 50-foot letters, originally erected in 1923 to advertise the Hollywoodland real estate development, sit on steep mountainside terrain. The sign and its immediate surroundings are closed to the public (and fenced and guarded), but three different trails will take you as close as legally allowed. 

The 5.3-mile Mount Hollywood Trail is the easiest route, followed by the moderate 6-mile Brush Canyon Trail. The Cahuenga Peak Trail is a shorter 3 miles but strenuous. Hot, dry conditions are typical and there is little shade, so head out early and bring plenty of water and sun protection. Note that all three trails end behind the Hollywood Sign. Enjoy unrivaled Griffith Park sightseeing along the way, including panoramic views across the entire LA basin. 

Griffith Observatory

Another early 20th century icon in the park and must-see attraction is Griffith Observatory. The landmark sits on the south slope of Mount Hollywood, adding amazing views of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Sign to its enticements. 

Inside the beautiful 1935 building are 60 exhibits and a planetarium offering live shows daily. Entrance is free, making a visit to Griffith Observatory one of the best free things to do in Los Angeles. Visit in the evening to participate in sunset walks and use free public telescopes for stargazing. 

Read more about this amazing LA landmark: Places to Play: Griffith Observatory 

Pink flamingos at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden, a tourist attraction in Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Flamingos at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Garden (Photo by Oxana Melis on Unsplash)

Los Angeles Zoo

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens covers 133 acres in Griffith Park. With more than 2,100 animals from 270 species, a visit to the zoo could occupy a full day, but a shorter visit is totally viable as well. 

Some highlights include the Elephants of Asia exhibit with distinct sections dedicated to elephants of Thailand, India and China, and the Red Ape Rain Forest, which replicates the southeast Asian jungle and features Bornean orangutans. See the endangered western lowland gorillas at the Campo Gorilla Reserve, and look out for uncommon species like the okapi, ocelot and Sumatran tiger. 

The AZA-accredited Los Angeles Zoo is respected for its conservation efforts, including its vital role in saving the California condor from extinction. 

Park visitors can also explore a much older zoo site around the Old Zoo picnic area off Griffith Park Drive. Long-disused animal cages remain near the site.

The Autry Museum

Directly opposite the zoo is the Autry Museum of the American West. The museum was co-founded by the music and movie star Gene Autry and opened in 1988. It has since become a leading cultural institution dedicated to the art, history and cultures of the American West with an amplified focus on Native voices. The Autry’s 500,000-item collection of Native American art and artifacts is one of the largest in the nation. 

Stop in to explore interactive exhibits including Art of the West, the Cowboy Gallery and an ethnobotanical garden. The Human Nature exhibit investigates traditional ecological knowledge and its help in caring for the environment. It does this through the framework of four California stories: salmon, fire, desert and plants.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round

The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, located between the Los Angeles Zoo and the Los Feliz park entrance, offers timeless fun for kids and nostalgic appeal for all ages. The historic carousel has been in Griffith Park since 1937. It features 68 ornately decorated horses and band organ ditties to accompany every whirling ride. 

Disney fans may be charmed by the carousel’s connection to Disneyland. Walt Disney cited the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round as the spark of inspiration for his theme park. Walt thought up the idea for Disneyland while watching his young daughters ride this very carousel. 

The Greek Theatre

The Greek Theatre is one of the earliest landmarks of Griffith Park, built from 1928-1930. A Greek amphitheater was specifically requested by Griffith J. Griffith, the man who donated the land that is now Griffith Park to the city. The 5,900-seat outdoor venue is in a scenic canyon, adding the ambiance of nature to its top-notch acoustics. Check out the season’s schedule and consider getting tickets to a show at the Greek. It regularly hosts big-name, world-class performers across all musical genres.

Black and white photo of a vintage steam locomotive at Travel Town in Griffith Park, Los Angeles
A vintage locomotive on display at Travel Town in Griffith Park

Griffith Park’s Three Railroad-Themed Attractions

Griffith Park is a major hub for train enthusiasts in Los Angeles, boasting three distinct railroad attractions. All three are fun destinations for families as well. 

Travel Town Museum

Travel Town Museum features more than 40 full-scale steam locomotives, engines, cabooses, cars and other rolling stock. Wander around Travel Town to see and explore these behemoth relics of a bygone era – specifically the railroad heritage of the American West from 1880 to the 1930s. There is also a large barn converted into an exhibit space full of artifacts such as vintage motorcars. Admission is free.

Los Angeles Live Steamers

Adjacent to Travel Town is the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, a local nonprofit run by live steam railroad enthusiasts. The club offers rides on scale-model live steam, electric and diesel locomotives, which run along a 1.5-mile track. The railroad features three miniature towns with scale gardens, tunnels, bridges and fully functional signals and switches, all engineered and constructed by club members. Public rides are available most Sundays.

Along with rides, the museum offers railroad exhibits and some full-size cabooses and passenger cars. Also on-site is Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn. Walt Disney was a member of Los Angeles Live Steamers and he built and designed scale railroads in the barn. The barn was moved from Disney’s Holmby Hills home to Griffith Park, where it has been transformed into a museum. It’s open to the public on the third Sunday of each month. 

Southern Railroad

The Griffith Park and Southern Railroad is another miniature train ride available in Griffith Park. It has carried passengers in Griffith Park since 1949. The mile-long track passes through a meadow and an old western town. 

Griffith Park’s Multi-Use Trails

More than 50 miles of trails crisscross Griffith Park’s canyons, slopes and mountain peaks, offering 30-plus routes for hikers. These trails, fire roads and bridle paths offer access to the park’s more vast, undeveloped expanses. Griffith Park is one of LA’s most popular hiking destinations, so you can expect to share the trails with others. Go early in the morning for smaller crowds and cooler temperatures.

Some of the most popular hikes in Griffith Park start at Griffith Observatory or the Greek Theatre. Consider the 1.5-mile hike from the observatory to Dante’s Garden at the top of Mount Hollywood. At 1,625 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the park and promises expansive views across Los Angeles. 

A view of downtown Los Angeles and Griffith Observatory taken from a hiking trail in Griffith Park
Views of downtown Los Angeles from a Griffith Park hiking trail (Photo by Muzammil Soorma on Unsplash)

For a tough hike rewarding you with 350-degree views over the LA Basin and San Fernando Valley, trek up the Cahuenga Trail to the top of Cahuenga Peak. The Skyline Trail, which follows a ridgeline in the northern area of the park, offers views of the San Gabriel and Verdugo mountain ranges. 

Biking is allowed in Griffith Park, but not on the trails. Consult the park’s bikeway map for routes and other information.

Griffith Park also features marked equestrian trails. Horse rentals with guides can be arranged through private businesses near the park, including LA Horse Rentals in Glendale and Sunset Ranch Hollywood. (Note: The pony ride concession in Griffith Park has permanently closed.)

Griffith Park’s Golf Courses

Want to play 18 holes on a historic golf course in the heart of Los Angeles? Griffith Park hosts two municipal golf courses where you are welcome to book a tee time. Harding Golf Course, which opened in 1923, and Wilson Golf Course, which opened in 1927, were both designed by George C. Thomas and co-hosted the LA Open in the 1930s. The mature and challenging courses share a restaurant, golf shop, lighted driving range and practice facilities. Club rentals are available. 

Even More Griffith Park Attractions

Naturally, the biggest park in Los Angeles is dotted with sites associated with film and TV history. One of the most popular with visitors is Bronson Canyon, where cave-like openings and tunnels – the remains of a turn-of-the-century rock quarry – claim countless screen credits. These include hundreds of westerns and a role as the Bat Cave entrance from the 1960s “Batman” TV show. The site is a short, easy walk from Canyon Drive. 

Fern Dell and Trails Cafe are at the southwestern corner of Griffith Park. The cafe is open daily and accessed via a winding trail lined with many species of ferns. The ferns and other tropical foliage create a thick, cool canopy distinct from all other terrain in the park. 

Near the Mineral Wells Picnic Area in the northeast area of Griffith Park is Amir’s Garden. The volunteer garden is a serene and picturesque space filled with flowers.  

The newest major landmark in Griffith Park, La Kretz Bridge, aka North Atwater Bridge, was completed in early 2020. Notable for its elegant design, the pedestrian, bicycle and equestrian bridge crosses the LA River and connects Griffith Park to Atwater Village. 

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