All quiet and peaceful at Griffith Observatory

Despite re-opening in late 2006 after nearly five years of renovations and additions, Griffith Observatory remains one of LA’s relatively off-the-radar attractions, even though parking and admission is free. (The planetarium shows charge admission but they aren’t essential for an enjoyable visit.) I ride my bike up Vermont Canyon a few times a week (as part of my perpetual “health kick,” as the bf calls it) and the sparse crowds there always surprise me, especially on weekends.

Built in the early 1930s as a gift from silver mine magnate Griffith J. Griffith, the facility opened in 1935. The surrounding park was also given to the city of Los Angeles by Griffith. He was clear about it being a gift to the public, saying, “I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happy, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.” Good words to ponder in this age of corporate jets and million-dollar office renovations by the banking sector. 

Tesla coil in action.
Tesla Coil in action.

Inside, the place still looks gleaming new. I venture in occasionally in hopes that I’ll catch a demonstration of the Tesla Coil, recently outfitted with a multi-colored neon sign that jumps to life as the lightening bolts jump out from the contraption’s head to the metal grid surrounding it.

Wolfgang Puck Cafe at Griffith Observatory.
Wolfgang Puck Cafe at Griffith Observatory.

The Wolfgang Puck Cafe, cantilevered out over the edge of the hillside, caused some community grumbling recently when it applied for a liquor license (It was denied.) I’ve heard some complaints about the cafe being too expensive, or “wrong” for the Observatory– maybe some lower priced options would make it more family friendly. (My feeling is, if you can afford a $4 latte, why carp about a $7 sandwich?) And design-wise, inside anyway, it’s a bit institutional cafeteria for my taste, but the food is decent and the views you can take in from the outdoor tables while eating and mulling over the cosmos exhibits you just saw are spectacular.

Gunther Depths of Space exhibit gallery
Gunther Depths of Space exhibit hall

The camera obscura exhibit is humbling to see in the digital age. Also, time-lapse videos of the sun’s surface are a favorite, along with the amateur videos of meteors, fireballs and such that are playing on a loop in the new Gunther Depths of Space hall added during the renovation. One clip shows the Peekskill Meteor hurtling over various eastern U.S. cities, in particular, Pittsburgh, my hometown. Indeed, a small world.

Yesterday's clear skies made for a view from Griffith Observatory all the way to the shining ocean.
Yesterday's clear skies made for a view from Griffith Observatory all the way to the shining ocean.

Photos by CP.

6 Replies to “All quiet and peaceful at Griffith Observatory”

  1. Wow, I can’t believe you found the place so empty. The last time we attempted to the place was so crowded we turned around and went home.

    I really missed that place while it was closed for the remake, but it was totally worth it when done. I really like the interactive rooms, though those stellar views of the city from the various walks are a very close secnd.

  2. Ah yes, one of my favorite places in all of L.A. I wouldn’t carp over a $7 sandwich, because I wouldn’t buy one. My last couple times up there have just been bike-bys but if I were going for an extended visit, I’d pack my own grub. And booze.

  3. Griffith Observatory is one of my favorite places (James Dean!), but every time I have gone there it’s been utterly mobbed. Also, I have not kept up with the parking situation, but, for a while, non-hikers had to park remotely and take a very expensive ($8?) bus ride to get there, and for a couple of years at least, there was no parking at the top.

    His parents named him Griffith Griffith? That’s downright abusive!

  4. Thanks for sharing this! Like Matt Mason I’m a big James Dean fan. The first time I visted LA I made it a point to visit the observatory.

    I’ve since moved to San Diego so pass by the Observatory quite frequently on my trips up to LA. Haven’t made a point of stopping there again though . . . although this post has motivated me to make plans to visit!

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