You’ve seen it in “Rebel Without a Cause” and hundreds of other movies, TV shows, and commercials. (including La La Land) The Griffith Park Observatory is an iconic landmark in Los Angeles and its go-to gateway to the universe. It was recently renovated and expanded, making it even more appealing. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it from the outside because It still looks the same as it did when I was a kid.
The hike from Ferndell Glen
My sister came to visit me in LA so we decided to hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory from the Ferndell trail at the lower end of Western Canyon. The trail to the Observatory is 2 miles roundtrip, which isn’t bad, except that it’s almost 580 feet straight up.
I wasn’t too worried about it because I walk every day for about 3 miles. We took our time, stopped frequently for photo (breathing) opportunities, and enjoyed the scenery.
The trail starts across the street from Trail’s Cafe near the playground. It forks off to the left and right but both directions end up at the Observatory. We went left to get a nice view of the Hollywood Sign. It was overcast that day and wasn’t the best for taking photos but it was still warm and comfortable to walk.
If you veer right there is more shade but not as much of a view of the city and surrounding hills. I brought along my trusty water bottle inside a small shoulder bag.
We saw plenty of little dogs on the trail, so we figured if they could make it, so could we.
Video created with Camtasia
We were glad to get there before buses arrived filled with students.
The History of the Griffith Park Observatory
Griffith J. Griffith funded and opened the Griffith Park Observatory in 1935 on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. One of its main attractions is the Samuel Oschin Planetarium where you can view spectacular light shows. All of the exhibits, except for the Planetarium show, are free to the public.
Because it was built right after the devastating Long Beach earthquake of 1933, the architects made sure to design it to be earthquake-proof. Even after all these years, it’s one of the safest places to be in Los Angeles during a quake. I hope I’m hanging out there when the big one hits.
Artist Hugo Ballin (1879 – 1956) painted the colorful murals and ceiling you see as you enter the original building. Eight panels represent the “advancement of science from remote periods to present times” They depict how science and engineering have changed throughout the course of history and include aeronautics, navigation, civil engineering, metallurgy, electricity, time, geology, biology, mathematics, physics, and astronomy.
The ceiling illustrates the myths of how our ancestors viewed the sky with classical figures and Gods, zodiac signs, the four seasons, Star of Bethlehem, moon, and comets.
Mr. Ballin also painted murals for the Burbank City Hall, County USC Medical Center, and worked in the film industry as an art director.
The Observatory was temporarily closed in 2002 for a massive renovation and reopened in 2006. If you visit the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater on the lower level you can view a 24-minute film that tells the history of the Observatory and its renovation.
Of course, it’s narrated by Mr. Spock himself. I was amazed that the entire original building was hydraulically lifted off its foundation to dig out space to build 2 lower levels that now house exhibits underneath.
The Planetarium was also renovated with a Zeiss star projector, digital projection system, comfortable seats, and state-of-the-art dome, sound system, and lighting. If you get a chance, the show is well worth the price of admission.
This is my sister having a conversation with Al in the Observatory.
Visiting the Observatory
The best time to visit the Griffith Park Observatory is on a weekday if you want to leisurely view the exhibits. It’s also a popular gathering place at night because that’s when its 12” Zeiss telescope is open to look at the stars. Parking is limited so you may want to hike up as we did, catch the Dash bus from Western Ave, or take your chances finding one of the limited parking spaces up at the Observatory and paying a fee.
I did the hike again in 2022 with my daughter and her boyfriend and again lived to tell about it at 68. The visibility was much clearer. Here is a shot of the Hollywood sign from the trail.
What is your favorite way to view the stars? Please leave a comment below.