When in Los Angeles…Hike to the Griffith Park Observatory

Whew – we finally made it through a month of rain and chilly weather and today was back into the 70’s. Los Angeles’ version of “winter” may finally be over. We made it, y’all!  So now to get back to life as normal – looking for things to do outside.

Ever since I moved to Los Angeles in 2002, I wanted to visit Griffith Park Observatory, but for some crazy reason it took me until last December to finally do it.  In the beginning it was mostly about seeing the building featured in the Paula Abdul video that I watched a hundred times as a kid. I also had vague memories of visiting a planetarium with my father in Pittsburgh when I was a little girl and wanted to experience that again.  But over the last 14 years I have to admit that I started becoming more interested in the journey rather than the destination.  I really wanted to do the hike in Griffith Park up to the observatory rather than just drive up to the building.

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So I picked a warm December day (yes, to my friends back on the East Coast, warm December days do exist) and drove across town to the East Side to find the trail head.  For those visiting Los Angeles, if you are staying on the West Side of town closer to the beaches, leave yourself about an hour to get to Griffith Park. It may not be that bad outside of rush hour, but always give yourself extra driving time in Los Angeles.

I am not particularly familiar with Griffith Park so I used the All Trails app to find out information about the trail like the length of the hike, its difficulty, and the best place to park my car near the trail head.  Initially you hike in a shady area covered by trees and next to a small stream. It was a bit cool, but before long you find yourself in a large public clearing with picnic areas and places for families to gather.  This was the only tricky part of the trail, as I didn’t see any signs showing which path out of the clearing lead up to the observatory. However, that can be quickly resolved by asking directions from another hiker – there are plenty in the area. I’m also fairly sure that more than one of the paths would have gotten me where I wanted to go as long as I just headed up.

Past the clearing area, there were fewer trees so less shade.  If you’re doing the hike on a sunny day, I would definitely suggest sunscreen.  Even as a novice hiker, I would consider this trail fairly easy. It is about a 2.5 mile hike, it is clearly marked and there are quite a few people around, so it would be difficult to get lost. And although the trail is pretty much straight up hill, there are enough switchbacks and gradual inclines that it wasn’t terribly taxing.  I saw many small children doing the hike with their parents, so definitely something you could do as a family.

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Once at the top of the trail, you will come around the side of the observatory onto a large lawn.  Since for me it was more about the hike than the actual observatory, I did consider just relaxing in the grass before heading back down the trail, but I figured why not take a look around inside for a few minutes. I’m so glad I did. I ended up spending close to 2 hours there.

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Entry to the observatory is free, though if you want to see any of the special shows inside the planetarium, you do have to buy a ticket. There are multiple floors and multiple wings to the observatory so there is plenty to explore even without taking in the special shows.  I am definitely not an astronomy buff, but I found the exhibits engaging.  Descriptions of planets, weather patterns, telescopes and historical phenomenon were put together so well, that you find yourself losing track of time. But should you tire of all they have to offer inside, you can wander onto the observation decks or back to the front lawn to see beautiful views of the park, the downtown skyline and the Hollywood sign.

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If it wasn’t starting to get dark, I would have stuck around even longer. But alas I wanted to give myself enough time to get back down the trail and to my car. For the return trip, you can either take the same trail back down, or you can do the full loop and go down the other side of the canyon. I decided to take in the view from the other side (if you are looking up at the Observatory, its the path on the left side) which was a peaceful sloping walk back down. It may have just been the difference in the time of day, but the trail I took back down was definitely less crowded than the trail I took up.

So after waiting 14 years, was it work the wait? Yes! Definitely!  And I plan to do that trip again now that we have gotten through the “tough winter” month. While the trail was fairly easy, it found it great to spend a little time away from the city streets of Los Angeles. And the reward for making it to the top? Beautiful views and hours worth of free entertainment for everyone.  For more  about what Griffith Park Observatory has to offer, please check out their website. And if you end up visiting the Observatory or if you have any questions, please leave me a comment below.

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