The Griffith Observatory is competing with some pretty amazing SoCal tourist destinations to earn a place on your itinerary. There are so many great spots to visit with kids in the LA area that we can't say we blame you if stargazing doesn't top the list. But the famous Griffith Park Observatory is one iconic LA landmark you shouldn't overlook.
The most-visited public observatory in the world, Griffith is also a familiar sight from the many films in which it has (ahem) guest starred. If you or anyone in your family loves space exploration, stargazing, science, or even hiking it's a must-go. Here are 10 reasons why you should make time for the Griffith Observatory the next time you visit Los Angeles with kids.
Why you should visit the Griffith Observatory
1. You'll love the amazing views
Some of the most iconic views of Los Angeles are either from or of the Griffith Observatory, located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. Not only can you see clear across the city sprawl, but on the right day, you can also catch a glimpses of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. Turn in the other direction for an incredible vantage point of The Hollywood Sign—always a crowd-pleasing photo op.
2. Admission is free at the Griffith Observatory
Admission to the Observatory and its grounds is free. That can equal a few hours of fun, all gratis. Tickets to one of the excellent shows at the Planetarium will only set you back $7 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $5 for kids aged 5-12. That's a fraction of movie theater prices, with the bonus of being educational.
3. Catch a show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium
Every show is presented by a live storyteller, and visitors get to see the famous Zeiss star projector in action. There are a few shows currently being offered with themes ranging from the Northern Lights to the search for water on other planets. Tickets are required and can only be purchased at the Observatory on the day of viewing. Also worth noting is that children 5 and under are only admitted during the first showings of the day. Check online for the schedule.
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Interactive exhibits at Griffith Observatory share the wonders of the universe. Photo by Passion Leica/CC BY 2.0
4. Kids will love the interactive exhibits
The Observatory has truly fascinating (and beautiful) displays showcasing a wide variety of our astrological progress. There is an excellent display about the sun, with videos of sun flares and an exhibit on how tides, eclipses, and moon phases work. Also check out the Tesla Coil, a cool camera obscura of surrounding Griffith Park, various pieces of planetary asteroids that kids can actually touch, a giant display of our universe, and much more.
5. Take in the artwork and photography
Beautiful murals by artist Hugo Ballin depicting the intersection of science and mythology greet visitors upon entering (and don't forget to look up to see his ceiling mural). Even the Foucault Pendulum in the central rotunda is a stunner. A true, and possibly overlooked, highlight is the collection of astronaut images located to the left of the entrance. The photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon is so visceral you can practically feel the moon dust.
Backside of the Griffith Observatory from surrounding hiking trail, photo by Lindsay Halladay
6. Do some hiking in Griffith Park
Feeling active? Try starting the adventure by hiking up to the facility via the east or west observatory trail originating on Fern Dell—or use the Observatory as a starting point to explore a number of paths throughout LA's largest city park.
7. Attend a star party!
What kid doesn't want to go to a star party? One Saturday per month, Griffith Observatory hosts a free public telescope and star party from 2pm-9:45pm. It's a super fun chance for the whole family to check out the stars and planets through free astronomer-led telescope demonstrations. Check the Griffith Observatory schedule for more info.
8. Expand your mind at astrological events
Come by to view special astrological events such as the summer solstice, meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, the blood moon, and more. Most often, these events are led by seasoned astronomers who can explain what everyone's witnessing.
9. Eat at the Cafe at the End of the Universe
The adorable and tasty cafe, run by Wolfgang Puck with a nod to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is a great place to grab a gourmet snack for the family. The best part may be the gorgeous views from the outside patio. If you'd rather keep it on the cheap, pack a picnic and sprawl out on the front lawn to appreciate the architecture.
The gift shop offers costume ideas for your own budding little astronaut. Photo by Lindsay Halladay
10. Don't miss the gift shop
Gift shops are known for being overpriced ways to sell coffee mugs with logos on them. That may be your thing, and you'll likely find that here. What you will also find are some super-cool astronomy related items sure to please almost anyone. The real winners are the adorable astronaut costumes for wee ones.
Plan your Griffith Observatory Visit
How to get to the Griffith Observatory
There are numerous ways to get to the Griffith Observatory. There is parking on site for $4/hr, but beware, as it is limited and easily gets full on weekends, holidays, and due to school or tour buses. You can also take a DASH bus, taxi/Uber/Lyft, or you can hike up to the Observatory from a few routes.
What to bring to the Griffith Observatory
No snacks are allowed inside the Observatory, but if you plan on hiking up some pre-entry water and food is a must. Bring along some quarters for the viewing telescopes set up along the outdoor facilities. There is no shade in the outdoor areas, so be sure to pack hats and sunscreen.
How long should you plan to be at the Griffith Observatory?
A typical visit takes about 2 hours, so allow yourself plenty of time to soak it all in. If you plan to hike, the hike up to the Observatory takes about twenty minutes for most people.
When is the best time to visit?
We would recommend going on a weekday if you're able, as it can get pretty crowded at the Observatory on weekends. There tend to be fewer people immediately after opening, so we definitely recommend going early if you want to skip the crowds. Early birds will also find it easier to get into the planetarium shows, with shorter wait times earlier in the day. With that said, the sunset views may make the crowds worth it.
Top photo by Woo/CC BY 2.0