When I recently visited Los Angeles I was happy that I could actually see Orion in the night sky for two reasons: #1 It was winter and I live near Seattle, so seeing stars in winter doesn’t happen that often and #2 LA is a massive sprawl of lights, lights and more lights.
Then I found the Griffith Observatory, perched to the North of town on what surely would be a hillside covered with houses if it were not a LA municipal park. This lack of houses makes it a great site for star gazing. While the city still does its best to block the star light, the observatory itself is worth the visit. But just in case you needed convincing of the wonderful panoramas from the decks of the observatory, this image should suffice:
On a clear night, this is what awaits you. And a walk up the hill to the observatory. And a lot of people because this is a popular site, even in on a Thursday night in January. When I arrived (15 minutes from closing, so I was able to gain an upfront parking spot instead of the parking in the overflow lots lower on the hill) the grounds were buzzing with couple and even a few kids. A few volunteers had set up smaller (but by no means small) telescopes in front of the observatory and were checking out Venus or the moon while allowing visitors to have a look.
The place had a nice, festive atmosphere. And the park closes at 10pm, which is when people will herd you to the exits and down the hill. And the observatory is FREE! Well, except a small fee for some of the programs held in a number of halls on the grounds. Free parking and free entry within the LA city limits? It’s all true. And if you have children who are even remotely interested in what’s above us in the night sky, there are a ton of exhibits explaining how telescopes work and other mysteries of the Universe.
Need some solid info for planning your evening at the observatory?
- Plan to arrive early, even before sunset, to give yourself enough time to explore the grounds and exhibits. It’s a great spot for a picnic dinner.
- Tickets for events and shows are first come, first served.
- Parking will likely be down the hill for you, but you can drive to the top and drop off anyone who doesn’t want the uphill walk.
- The park closes at 10pm.
- The observatory is closed on Mondays and most Tuesdays.
- The official site can be found here.
- You can visit during the day time as the observatory has a solar telescope as well.
- Public star parties are held during new moons each month. More info on the schedule can be found here.
- Need help in finding your way to the observatory? It’s actually quite easy. Here’s info to get you started.
- The observatory really does beg multiple visits at various times as there are outdoor exhibits that explain the path of the sun and moon and planets.
I plan on visiting the observatory again on another visit to LA because there is more to take in. Plus, they close the 12” telescope about 30 minutes before closing and I didn’t get a chance to look at the stars up close.