Tuesday 8 November 2011

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Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

I love Los Angeles. It's one of my favorite places to visit, and there's never a shortage of things to do there. It's a 24 hour a day kind of town that has everything you could ask for. You want excitement? They've got plenty. You want adventure? Opportunities abound. You want to get in to trouble? This is your kind of place, but what if you just want to get in some downtime and relax? Or what if you want something fun that will entertain your kids, but you've used up most of your budget visiting talking mice in Anaheim?

This calls for a trip to the Griffith Observatory. Opened in 1935, the Griffith Observatory is the centerpiece of Griffith Park, a 3,017 acre park that was donated to the city of Los Angeles by Col. Griffith J. Griffith in 1896. Col. Griffith donated the land to give something back to the city where he had made so much money in real estate investment (Of course if he thinks he made a lot of money in the past, imagine what 3,017 acres of land wedged between Hollywood and Glendale are worth today.). The land was donated with the requirements that it be made into a "great park" which would be "a place of rest and relaxation for the masses".

So rest and relax we did, to a point. The outside of the observatory may be one of the most serene places in Los Angeles. Perched on top of a hill, the vantage point provides amazing views of the Los Angeles basin, the city of Hollywood, and the famed Hollywood sign. There are lots of hiking trails to the southeast of the observatory which seemed to be well used by those whose idea of relaxation is to climb up and down mountains, and lots of grassy areas out front of the observatory where you could spread out and rest.

In fact the only non-relaxing part about the area, is the parking. There's not much parking available (although the little that's available is free) up at the observatory, and the few spots there are usually fill up very early in the morning. After the lot is full, you have to park on the side of the steep and winding road that takes you up to the observatory. I dropped the family off at the top, then went back to park and had about a half mile walk, which surprisingly didn't kill me, although I'll confess that I wasn't thrilled to find out my family had decided to wait for me up on the roof of the observatory, thus finishing my half mile hike with a couple of flights of stairs.

Before heading inside, we spent some time admiring the views and the grounds of the observatory. The grounds have been featured in many movies, perhaps most famously the final shootout scene from Rebel Without A Cause. The observatory was also the original landing point for Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in The Terminator. This gave me a chance to practice my Arnie accent, and the boy to try out some of his "Rebel Without A Clue" poses.

The observatory itself is loaded with interactive exhibits to keep everyone entertained. My kids favorites were the chance to control the observatory's telescope (it's never a good idea to turn over control of a multi-million dollar telescope to two sisters who aren't exactly known for working well together) and the models of the planets in proportional size (How did we ever find Pluto in the first place?). My favorite part was a set of scales, one per planet, which would display your weight as it would be on that planet. The ones you're looking for are Mercury and Mars. Stay the heck away from Jupiter!

Proportional planets - I'm understanding now why Pluto got downgraded.
The Griffith Observatory is a fantastic place to spend a day in Los Angeles. There's very few places that don't have any cost involved (the planetarium show is around $5 if you choose to go) that will still entertain my kids for more than ten minutes. Combine that with the great views of Los Angeles, the Hollywood sign, and the crazy people walking up and down the mountain, and you've got the perfect place to spend your time, especially if you're tired of spending $100 a day for theme park admittance. If you're looking for relaxation, this is your place. If you're looking for trouble, well they've got the exhibits pretty well bolted down.

Trying to steal the 340 pound meteorite.