Five times the size of New York’s Central Park, Griffith Park was designated as a historic cultural monument in 2009, protecting it from future development. Angelenos should be thankful to Griffith J. Griffith, a Welsh real estate developer who gifted the land to the city in 1896 as a “place of recreation and rest for the masses.” This may have been somewhat self-serving, since much of the land donated was too mountainous for development; nevertheless, the result for us has been access to hiking trails right smack in the middle of our urban city.
One of Los Angeles' great resources for families and their children, most of us think we know Griffith Park as a place for hiking, picnicking, and birthday parties. We’ve all been to the zoo and Travel Town. Many of us have made it to the Observatory, Autry Western Heritage Museum and Greek Theatre. There’s a Halloween Train in October, Christmas lights in December and al fresco Shakespeare in the summer; but there really is much more to the park’s 4,218 acres.
Next time you are in Los Feliz, pause for a moment, look past the obvious, and be surprised by all that Griffith Park has to offer.
1. Mountain Lion and other Wildlife
Here’s hoping you and the kids don’t run into P22, Griffith Park’s resident mountain lion, but it could be fun looking for signs of him. The P stands for Puma, and though his existence began as myth, there is now photographic evidence. This extraordinary feline somehow made his way from the Santa Monica Mountains all the way across the 405 and 101 freeways to take up residence in the park. Sadly, he is on his own, which means it will be hard to reproduce; but P22 does seem to enjoy the tranquility of his rustic setting (and dining on the deer who also roam the park). While a lion encounter could indeed be frightening, pumas are by nature somewhat anti-social and prefer to keep to themselves. It is unlikely that P-22 will appear where kids and families congregate.
2. Birthplace of Disneyland
Most of us have been to the carousel or at least know it’s there. Built in 1926 with every horse a jumper and the largest band organ on the west coast, this Merry Go Round also happens to be the very spot where Walt Disney dreamed up his theme park. Like so many dads, young Walt would take his daughter to the carousel and watch her ride. While doing so he got the idea of creating a place with rides for adults: Disneyland. The bench where this deep contemplation took place is still going round there and worth a visit.
3. Fine Dining for Hikers
The Trails Café at the bottom of the Observatory has sandwiches, sweet treats, and something called a snake dog which is a hot dog on a stick wrapped in pastry. Located in a rustic, woodsy part of the park, it’s the perfect stop if you forgot to pack a picnic.
4. Bike Rentals
Local cycle shop Spokes ‘n' Stuff has a concession right next to the ranger station on Crystal Springs Drive. Check the web site or call first as hours are variable, and weekday rentals are cash only.
5. All Aboard, All Aboard, All Aboard
Griffith Park has not one, not two, but three (count ‘em) trains to ride. Travel Town is no secret, but the Live Steamers just next door may be. A club for train enthusiasts, Live Steamers invites the public to ride its large scale models on Sundays. Finally, the Griffith Park & Southern Railroad (right next to the ponies) travels through a meadow, old west town, and Native American village.
6. Giddy Up
Again, everybody knows about the pony rides in Griffith Park, but what about the horses? There is an abundance of specially marked trails for riders in the park, and while the park itself does not handle rentals, the Griffith Park Stables on Riverside Drive does offer guided horseback tours into the park.
7. Fly High
If horses and trains are too old school, there is also a flight simulator right by the ponies and trains on Crystal Springs Drive. My son loved doing this with his grandpa.
8. Universal Access Playground
Dedicated to the memory of Shane Williams, who died of spinal muscular atrophy, Shane’s Inspiration in the center of the park near the Merry-Go-Round is a fully accessible disabled children’s playground.
9. Sleepaway Camp
Camp Hollywoodland for girls and Griffith Park Boys camp offer our young urbanites a chance to slumber in nature without leaving the city. The camps have been operating since 1925 and were part of Griffith J. Griffith’s original vision for the land.
Who knew that Griffith Park has more places to play golf, including a club, than trains to ride? That’s right: four golf courses. Two with 18 holes, two with 9 holes.
For a totally unique way to experience Griffith Park, Sunnyday Scoot (recently reviewed by Mommy Poppins) offers a thrilling ride that doesn't let anyone switch off in the back seat.
12. Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da Batcave!
Like so many locations in our city, show biz is an important part of the history of Griffith Park. The Hollywood sign is within its boundaries. Many films and television shows have been shot here: D.W. Griffith (no relation) filmed parts of Birth of a Nation on the grounds, and the climax of Rebel Without a Cause takes place at the Observatory. But the best known location without a doubt is The Bronson Cave which is actually a man-made tunnel carved into the rock wall of a former quarry. It served as the entrance to Batman’s lair and was featured prominently in John Ford’s The Searchers, among many others.
And finally, in the time it took to write this post, one more secret surprise appeared in the park: At sunrise on June 30, 2015, tea was served in a Japanese inspired tea house that had been constructed overnight by a collective of LA based artists. Built of wood salvaged from the park's fire in 2007, the tea house is inspired by Japanese architecture and is perched at the top of a hill, overlooking the LA basin. A spontaneous, creative exercise, the artists involved did not get permits or city approval, so it is anybody's guess how long we will be able to enjoy this whimsical addition to our city's great park.