Visiting the Griffith Observatory Los Angeles

 Christian Hundley / © TripSavvy

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles is first and foremost a science museum with astronomy exhibits and star shows in the planetarium. For that, it's enough to make a space geek go all tingly just thinking about going.

To far more people, going to the Griffith Observatory means visiting a place with spectacular views of downtown LA and the Hollywood Sign.

Views from the Griffith Observatory

If you stop and watch people around the observatory for just a few minutes, you'll realize that many of them never go inside. And who could blame them? It's easy to get distracted by the fantastic views of the surrounding city.

Walk upstairs and go around the outside gallery to see them all.

Things to Do at the Griffith Observatory

Admission is free, and it's worth going inside, even if all you do is try to figure out how the big pendulum in the atrium works.

The exhibits include some fun facts and exciting science. Taking time to stop and understand just one small display (like the cloud chamber) can be enough to make a science nerd's day.

On the main floor, you can get the answers to all those pesky questions: why the moon has phases, what causes an eclipse or how tides form. They even have a piece of moon rock.

Planetarium Show

Admission to the exhibit areas is free, but you have to buy tickets to the planetarium show. They are sold only at the observatory for same-day showings. Buy them at the main box office inside or at automated ticket machines around the building, and to that as early as you can before they sell out. Children age 13 years and older pay adult prices. If your child is younger than that but looks older, take something to prove their age. Or take a student ID to get a reduced price.

The Griffith Observatory planetarium show isn't designed for small children. Kids less than five years old are admitted only to the first show of the day.

Tips for the Griffith Observatory

Observatories may be designed for looking at the sky, but look down as you walk toward the entrance. That's where you'll see the solar system laid in the sidewalk and lawn. It's all scaled down to fit, which makes the sun a half-inch circle. You may be amazed to find out just how out there Pluto is, or how close Jupiter is to Saturn.

Another don't-miss spot for science nerds is the Gottlieb Transit Corridor. Despite having a name that may make you think it's a place to catch the bus, it's actually an outdoor astronomical instrument. It will keep you busy for a while, exploring how the sun, moon, and stars move across the sky.

The best time to go for views is late afternoon when you can stick around to see the sunset and city lights. The museum also stays open late so you won't miss a thing. Take an extra layer of clothing: You'll need it when the temperature plunges as soon as the sun sets.

If you want to take photographs, you can use a tripod outdoors. Stay out of people's way, and don't take other bulky equipment. Read their guidelines.

The Griffith Observatory frequently hosts Star Parties which give you a chance to view the heavens through the observatory's telescopes. They also host events for eclipses and meteor showers.

If you get hungry, head for the Cafe at the End of the Universe.

Griffith Observatory in the Movies

Griffith Observatory has appeared in many films, but perhaps its most memorable roles were in "La La Land" and the knife fight scene of "Rebel Without a Cause." Other Griffith Observatory film credits include "Transformers," the 1984 "Terminator" film, and "Jurassic Park."

What You Need to Know

The Griffith Observatory is at 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA. Admission is free. You can get their current hours and more details about visiting on the Griffith Observatory website.

It's surprising how many people want to get a photo at the observatory for their social media account. They make it hard to get to the Observatory. And when you get there, good luck getting a photo without at least one stranger who accidentally wandered into it. Because of all that, some people say it just isn't worth the time.

If you are interested in science, the exhibits may be worth the downsides.

How to Get There

Traffic trying to get up the hill to the observatory is terrible enough to make you wish you hadn't tried to go. It's worst on weekends and every day of the week during the summer vacation season.

These are your options:

  • The DASH Observatory bus: It runs from the Metro Red Line Vermont/Sunset station along Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz, stopping at the Greek Theatre and the Observatory. If catching the bus from the metro station isn't convenient, you can also drive to the parking lot at the Greek Theatre and ride the bus from there.
  • Drive to the Observatory parking lot: The Observatory website has all the latest information about where to park and how much it costs. Take Vermont Ave and Vermont Canyon Road to get there instead of Fern Dell/Western Canyon (which is the route your GPS may suggest). The Fern Dell entrance closes at dark—after that, use Vermont.
  • Hike: If you're in good shape, it may be easier to get to the observatory by hiking the West Observatory Trail. It's a two-mile hike with a 580-foot elevation gain, on an easy-to-follow fire road. 
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