A historic landmark, architectural masterpiece and cultural institution with the mission to bring astronomy to the people, Griffith Observatory means a lot to the people of Los Angeles. It’s a top tourist attraction too, with visitors from all over the world ascending the south slope of Mount Hollywood to take in unmatched views of the Hollywood Sign. On a clear day, you can see over the whole Los Angeles Basin as far as the ocean from the grassy terraces fronting Griffith Observatory. It’s a captivating, eminently photogenic panorama, but it’s also hard to take your eyes, or lens, off the observatory itself.
Griffith Observatory has been closed since mid-March, but its grounds are still open to the public (masks and social distancing are required). It’s still very much worth a visit to admire the building’s sublime Art Deco architecture as well as those views. Most of the roads, parking lots and hiking trails around the observatory are available too. You can even hike from the observatory grounds to the peak of Mount Hollywood, the highest in Griffith Park.
Griffith Observatory opened in 1935, when it was just the third planetarium in the nation. The funds and instructions for the monument were given to the City of Los Angeles by Griffith J. Griffith. He made clear in his will that the institution was to be for the people of L.A.. As such, admission has always been free (with a small charge for planetarium shows).
The building is instantly recognizable from afar with its trio of copper-paneled domes and white concrete façade. Up close you can appreciate such details as the Greek key motifs and bronze-grated windows. See various sculptures and astronomical installations around the grounds. Among them is a bust of James Dean, whose “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) is probably the most famous of more than 300 movies and TV shows filmed at Griffith Observatory.
Original to the opening date are the observatory’s Foucault pendulum, which demonstrates the rotation of the Earth, and a 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope estimated to be the most-looked-through telescope in the world. A massive restoration project, for which Griffith Observatory closed from 2002-2006, almost doubled the interior exhibit space. Inside attractions include a fantastic astronomy museum, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, a café and gift shop.
Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027