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Los Feliz, California, United States

Stargazing in Griffith Park and the Observatory

Plus the L.A. zoo, hiking and rides on historic trains, a carousel and ponies

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    This guide contains photos
 (2 votes, 1 review)
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 20 miles / 33 km
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly
 
Overview: As the largest municipal park with urban wilderness areas in the country, Griffith Park is easily a destination in itself. Much more than a city park, this urban parkland has numerous trails and historic attractions sprawled over 4,210 acres. Elevations range from 384 to 1,625 feet above sea level, and landscape changes from coastal sage brush to oak and walnut woodlands. The lush surroundings smell so good, and barricade noise and traffic so well that it's almost hard to believe you're in the midst of a big city.

Named after its founder Griffith J. Griffith, the park is located west of the Golden State Freeway (I-5) between Los Feliz Boulevard on the south and the Ventura Freeway (SRT 134) on the north.

The park's crowning glory is the Griffith Observatory, literally perched atop a hill with expansive views of Los Angeles. In addition to hiking, biking and riding trails, Griffith Park offers visitors a range of activities from picnic spots, miniature train rides, pony rides and, of course, the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Across from the zoo's parking lot is the Autry National Center, a museum that shares the history of the American West.

With such diverse terrain and attractions, it's no wonder Griffith Park has been the site of hundreds of movies and TV shows. The battle scenes in "Birth of a Nation," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and the first two "Back to the Future" movies were filmed in the park. The park's tunnel served as the Batcave in portions of the TV series "Batman." And you may recognize Griffith Park in Adam Lambert’s music video, "If I Had You."

Dining options throughout the park are casual. Several places (the observatory, zoo and museums) have snack stands or cafes. You can also bring your packed lunch to savor at any one of the numerous picnic spots dotting the Griffith Park hillsides. In addition, there are about half a dozen picnic areas equipped with tables and barbecue grills. For more information about the picnic areas, call the Griffith Park Visitor’s Center at 323-644-2050.
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Hours
Daily 5am–10:30pm
Hiking trails close at sunset
The Griffith Observatory and other attractions have their own hours.


Tips: With so much ground to cover, it's a good idea to map out your visit. If you plan to spend substantial time at each attraction, give yourself a full day to drive throughout Griffith Park and to explore the observatory and zoo.

However, you can easily see most of Griffith Park in about three to four hours. Customize your visit by making short stops at most places or bypassing some altogether. Leave more time for the observatory. This guide takes you on a short-cut tour of Griffith Park.

From Los Feliz, there are two main roads that snake up to the observatory--Vermont Avenue and Ferndell Drive. They connect creating one scenic, loop drive.

It's probably best to save the Autry National Center for another day; www.theautry.org.

Points of Interest

Landmark
map

Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Plan to arrive in the morning so you can see the animals while they are awake and active. Plus, parking lots fill up quickly. Allow two to three hours to explore the zoo and gardens, situated on 133 acres.

The zoo, which opened on Nov. 28, 1966, is home to more than 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles representing more than 250 different species.

Upon entering, turn right if you want to see the nursery's newborn animals before navigating the rest of the zoo. Walking around the zoo is pleasant because of its meandering paths, ponds and lush landscaping. The botanical collection comprises more than 800 different plant species.

Cut down your walk time with the Safari Shuttle, a tram that cirlces the zoo. You can hop on and off at six designated stops and see just the animals you're interested in. Tram rates: $4 adults, $2 ages 2-12.

Exiting the zoo's parking lot, turn left on Zoo Drive for the 1.88-mile drive to Travel Town.
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5333 Zoo Drive
323-644-4200
www.lazoo.org
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Admission:
Adults $14
Seniors 62+ $11
Kids 2-12 $9
Parking Free
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Hours
Daily 10am-5pm
Closed Dec. 25

Landmark
map

Travel Town

You don't have to be a kid or have kids to be impressed by this transportation museum, which focuses on the history of railroad transportation in the western United States from 1880-1930s.

Since its opening in 1954, Travel Town has been a popular Griffith Park destination with both visitors and TV studios. "Adam-12," "Knight Rider," "Columbo" and "Six Feet Under" are among the TV shows shot here.

The first thing you'll see as you enter is the miniature train (which is a one-third scale replica reproduction of classic American 20th century trains) that makes two loops around the nine-acre park. Hop aboard for a tour around the property housing an impressive train collection that includes locomotives, freight cars, cabooses, passenger cars and other period vehicles.

After your ride, allow about 45 minutes to walk around the train yard to see up close the historic steamer trains. You can climb into the cabs of some of the steamer locomotives and walk through designated passenger cars and cabooses. (Birthday parties can be held aboard a couple of the steamer trains.)

Inside the exhibit hall, you'll see horse-drawn wagons, such as a milk delivery van, coal box buggy and the chariot from the 1959 film "Ben Hur." On weekends (from 10am-4pm) a local train club operates its extensive miniature (Brio-sized) trains that traverse a network of tracks.

There's an on-site gift shop that sells engineer's hats, train whistles and Thomas the Tank Engine toys.

Exit left from the parking lot for the short drive to Shane's Inspiration Park. Note that there are many picnic tables under shady trees along the way.
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5200 Zoo Drive
323-662-5874
www.traveltown.com
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Admission Free
Parking Free
Train ride $2.50
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Hours
Monday-Friday 10am-4pm
Weekends 10am-6pm
Closed Dec. 25
map

Shane's Inspiration Park

The playing field is leveled at this park, designed for children with and without disabilities. Located near the carousel, the two-acre park is a universally accessible playground with equipment that includes an airplane with cockpit controls, slides with a bouncy landing pad, a Lucky Star Chaser space shuttle and Ronald's Ship of Dreams, an imaginative play area. Bring a picnic. Tables and restrooms are on-site.

From the parking lot, turn left to see the merry-go-round right around the corner.
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4730 Crystal Springs Drive
323-913-4688
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Hours
Daily 6am-10pm
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Cost: Free

Landmark
map

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round

Make a pit stop here for a spin on the carousel or for a picnic. Built in 1926 and operating in Griffith Park since 1937, this classic carousel features 68 carved horses, which are designed with jewel-encrusted bridles and draped blankets. The Stinson 165 Military Band Organ plays more than 1,500 selections of waltzes and marches.
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4730 Crystal Springs Drive
323-665-3051
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Cost
$2
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Hours
Monday-Friday (summers only) 11am-5pm
Weekends (year-round) 11am-5pm
Landmark
map

Griffith Park & Southern RR Train Rides

Driving along Crystal Springs Drive, the train and pony rides will be on your left side. They share a parking lot.

This Griffith Park staple has been attracting visitors since the 1940s. The miniature trains, which easily seat two people per bench, chug along an approximately one- mile track past an arena housing ponies, an old Western Town and a Native American Village. The trains are one-third scale reproductions of classic American trains from the 20th century.

During the holidays, the area is transformed into a winter wonderland with (fake) snow and a ride to Santa Claus. Go early in the holiday season for this popular attraction.
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4400 Crystal Springs Drive
323-664-6903
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Cost
$2.50
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Hours
Winter, Monday-Friday 10am-4:15pm
Winter, weekends 10am-4:30pm
Summer, Monday-Friday 10am-4:30pm
Summer, weekends 10am-5pm

Landmark
map

Griffith Park Pony Rides

Since 1948, parents have been bringing their kids here for pony rides. It's an L.A. family tradition. The stables are on the same property as the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad. So after parking in the lot, you can ride the train and then the ponies (doesn't matter in which order). Children up to age 13 (and less than 100 pounds) are welcome to walk or trot ponies and horses.

From the parking lot, turn left onto Crystal Springs Drive. Turn right on Los Feliz Boulevard. Notice the statue of Griffth J. Griffith on the left corner.
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4400 Crystal Springs Drive
323-664-6903
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Cost
$3 per rider
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Hours
Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm

Landmark
map

Griffith Observatory Los Angeles

From Los Feliz, turn right onto Vermont Avenue. You'll pass the Greek Theatre (on your left), a popular venue for summer night concerts. Drive through the tunnel and veer left to park in the observatory's lot.

There's no better place for stunning views of Los Angeles or the twinkling night sky. Located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, the observatory is a Los Angeles icon.

Light years ahead of his time, Wales native Griffith J. Griffith donated land to the city of Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 1896, for the purpose of building a large urban park. He later gave the city $100,000 to build an observatory. His vision was to enlighten the public about the universe (and squelch superstitious myths) through exhibits and programs. But it was well after his death that the Griffith Observatory's grand opening took place on May 14, 1935.

In 2002, the observatory closed for a comprehensive, $93 million renovation. As can be expected, L.A.'s shining star reopened to much fanfare in 2006. You don't have to be a budding astronomer to appreciate the exhibits, models, artifacts and telescopes that provide a peek into the universe. Look through the 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope for views of the moon, planets and bright objects. Solar telescopes bring real-time views of sunspots and solar flares.

For a nominal fee, see one of the daily planetarium shows that take an in-depth look into the solar system. Drop by for free, monthly public star parties. Knowledgeable amateur astronomers set up a variety of telescopes on the observatory's sidewalks and terraces and share fun facts about the moon, sun and other objects above the world so high.

Grab a bite to eat at the Café at the End of the Universe, operated by Wolfgang Puck. In addition to a full menu of sandwiches, wraps and salads, there's a grab-n-go section with prepackaged items.

Allow about two hours to explore the nooks and crannies of this fabulous observatory, a popular filming location for movies and TV shows. "Rebel without a Cause," "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and "The Terminator" are among the many movies filmed here. TV shows include "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Melrose Place."

Back in your car, exit the lot and veer left to continue the scenic, loop drive to Ferndell Park. The road becomes Ferndell Drive on this side of the observatory.
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2800 E. Observatory Rd.
213-473-0800
www.griffithobs.org
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Admission Free
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Hours
Wednesday-Friday Noon-10pm
Weekends 10am-10pm

Viewpoint
map

Ferndell Park

After stargazing and taking in the views of L.A., come back to terra firma at this lovely park-within-a-park just past the observatory. You can park your car anywhere you find a spot.

It's worth a stop to enjoy some hiking, a picnic, and/or dedicated play areas for children. Pack a snack and enjoy a stroll under a canopy of sycamore trees and along lush ferns. Named for its 50-plus fern species, the trail follows a seasonal stream.
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Hours
Daily 6am-10pm
Pictures in this guide taken by: anzu, jpanim8r, Mimi Slawoff, fabianbatista, jfrisk
Reviews
writemimi
Driving around Griffith Park, it's almost hard to believe you're in the middle of a big city. The area is so green and offers so much to do. The observatory is just awesome for both day and nighttime visits.
Griffith Park offers something for everyone - singles, couples and families. Beautiful - and historic - area. Train rides, pony rides, picnic areas, the L.A. Zoo. No visit to L.A. is complete without spending a few hours here.

Visited on Jun 20, 2011

by writemimi on Jul 04, 2011

Stargazing in Griffith Park and the Observatory Trail Map


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About the Author

writemimi
writemimi
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Freelance writer/photographer and mom of three who loves travel and outdoor adventure. Favorite activities...

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