Science and Nature Come Together at LA's Classic Landmark
History of the Observatory
The Griffith Observatory is one of LA's most iconic landmarks and attractions. Standing on the slopes of Mount Hollywood with all of Los Angeles laid out below, it has remained a symbol of the city for 75 years.
The Griffith Observatory acts both as an amazing scenic view point as well as a wonderful astronomy exhibit. Plus it's free! I like getting out to Griffith Park and the observatory because its a great way of getting away from the city without having to travel too far. When you're standing on one of the Observatory's terraces looking out over the expanse of LA sprawling out below you, you realize just how astoundingly huge the city really is. Having said that, just wait till you step inside the “Depths of Space” exhibit inside the Observatory, then you'll know what huge is!
Wealthy industrialist and philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith left money in his will to build the observatory for the city of Los Angeles in order to inspire people through science and astronomy. The center opened in 1935 and has become the most visited public observatory in the world. In fact almost 70 million people have entered the building since it's opening making it one of the most enduring attractions in Los Angeles.
Because of it's heavy use it was shut down for renovation in 2002 until 2006. The renovations were extensive and included the introduction of a large underground exhibit as well as a brand new theater, The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. I guess it's suitable that Spock would be guiding us in our exploration of the stars. I'm just glad they didn't alter the building's beautiful Art Deco style that makes it so striking!
When first arriving at the Griffith observatory be sure to check out a couple things out front of the structure. Directly in front of the building on the ground is a “to scale” representation of our solar system embossed in the concrete. It's interesting seeing the varying distances the planets maintain in comparison to each other.
Also to your right, if you are facing the entrance, is a small memorial to James Dean and the movie that he shot here “Rebel Without A Cause”, the classic teen angst film that used the observatory as a major plot point. The bronze bust is somewhat eerie but striking.
Inside the Observatory
After entering the exhibit be sure to immediately look above you. These are the Hugo Ballin murals. This spectacular ceiling is a tribute by the artist to the progress of science. In his words they depict “ the advancement of science from remote times to the present” The whole work is quite beautiful and serves as a perfect backdrop for the entrance to the observatory.
The main level of the Griffith observatory is divided into two main exhibition halls, the “Wilder Hall of the Eye” which focuses on humanity's evolution in observing the sky and how it has affected us over our history. Included is a replica of one of Galileo's telescopes that helped the Italian make his famous discoveries.
Some of Our Favorites
The “Ahmanson Hall of the Sky Exhibits” deals with our relationship to the Sun and the Moon. At the circular end of the hall are in my mind some of the most impressive displays, recent spacecraft video of the Sun and it's various features.
Downstairs you'll find the newly added exhibits that focus on the solar system and deeper space. Here along with profiles of all the planets we are familiar with (Pluto no longer!), the observatory has an amazing exploration of deep space. Take a look at the “big picture”, a giant wall sized picture of the visible universe!
Also don't miss the “cosmic news” section where the observatory keeps you up to date with recent news in astronomy. (Like if a rock the size of Texas is gonna hit Culver City anytime soon. All good last I checked)
There's also a free 24 minute documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy on the history and renovation of the Griffith observatory that runs every hour.
The on site Samuel Oschin planetarium is brand new and is pretty entertaining.
One fun thing to do at the observatory is make use of their free telescopes on clear nights. In fact, every evening from around 7 to 10 pm the large Zeiss telescope on the roof is available to use. Check for clouds though!
Once a month the observatory holds a "Star Party" for you and the family to come out and make use of various telescopes and have amateur astronomers explain the night sky. I'll provide a link to the calendar of events below.
One of my favorite FREE events that the site provides is the "All Space Considered" public program. On the first friday of every month in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theatre the observatory's curatorial staff discuss the latest news in the areas of astronomy, space science and space exploration. No tickets required, just first come first served.
Mt. Hollywood Hiking Trail
The Griffith observatory is only part of the fun while visiting the site. Outside the building, just in front of the parking lot is a great hike called the Mount Hollywood hiking trail. It winds up the mountain all the while offering progressively more and more amazing views of LA. FYI dogs must be leashed though :(
On your way to the trail be sure to catch the former Beatle George Harrison's tree near the start of the path. After his death in 2001, the late rocker was honored with this tree for his contributions as a musician, humanitarian and gardner! It's a nice tribute to Harisson who came to call Los Angeles home for a large part of his life.
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