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Focus on Griffith Park: The Observatory and the Autry

Updated on July 29, 2017
View of downtown Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory
View of downtown Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory

Griffith Park

On a quick trip to California in late winter, we grabbed our cameras and visited Griffith Park in central Los Angeles. With little interest in hiking the trails, my husband and I narrowed our options to two of the park's more indoor-oriented attractions: The Griffith Observatory and the Autry Museum of the American West.

Griffith Park is a large area in the eastern Santa Monica mountains, consisting of over six square miles of wilderness and developed parkland, overseen by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Los Angeles. The park is surrounded by the neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Glendale, Hollywood Hills, Burbank, Atwater Village, and Silver Lake.

In 1896, Griffith Jenkins Griffith donated a tract of land to the City with the proviso that it be used as a recreational area for the people. Hiking, camping, swimming, and sports are among the many activities the park is used for today.

The observatory was constructed after Griffith's death, according to his wish to promote public knowledge of astronomy.

Other attractions of the park include the Greek Theater and the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. More information can be found at the link below.

View along Observatory Road off Western Canyon Road
View along Observatory Road off Western Canyon Road

The Griffith Observatory

The road up to the observatory on a Friday afternoon in December was surprisingly crowded. This very popular destination offers many exhibits, planetarium shows, theater programs, and special events. The observatory building sits atop Mount Hollywood at the southern end of Griffith Park, allowing for some of the best views in the Los Angeles area.

The roof deck is accessible by exterior stairs and by interior elevator. From here it is possible to see the Hollywood sign across the way on the south face of Mount Lee, the Mount Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains, the downtown area of the city of Los Angeles and beyond, and the Pacific Ocean. Public telescopes are available most evenings.

On the day we visited, we stopped at the Hollywood Sign Terrace near the parking area to take pictures before entering the building. Once inside, we explored the interior hallways and exhibits, then made our way to the Sunset Terrace through the cafe entrance, and later to the roof from one of the outer staircases.

Built in 1935 in the Art Deco style, the observatory was extensively renovated beginning in 2002 and reopened in 2006.

A gift shop and cafe are located in the lower level. Admission to the observatory is free, but tickets are sold there for shows in the Samuel Oschin planetarium.

The address of the observatory is 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles.

The Griffith Observatory
The Griffith Observatory

Focus on the Hollywood Sign

The famous Hollywood sign as seen from the Griffith Observatory
The famous Hollywood sign as seen from the Griffith Observatory

Facts

  • The Hollywood sign was constructed in 1923, originally reading "Hollywoodland," to advertise a new real estate development. The highly visible sign became a local icon and survived economic downturns and neglect throughout the years.
  • In 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce authorized repairs that included removal of the "land" portion of the name.
  • In the late 1970s the sign, which had again fallen into disrepair, was completely reconstructed.
  • Since the 1990s, the sign's upkeep has been managed by the Hollywood Sign Trust.

The Autry Museum of the American West

 "Back in the Saddle Again," statue by David Spellerberg depicting Gene Autry with his horse Champion
"Back in the Saddle Again," statue by David Spellerberg depicting Gene Autry with his horse Champion

The day following our visit to the observatory, we returned to Griffith Park to tour the Autry Museum. Features of the museum include art galleries, installations, and special exhibits all pertaining to the American West.

The facility was opened as the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in 1988. Gene Autry, the well-known cowboy singer, film star, and businessman, did not intend the museum to be about himself or his career, but rather to showcase the influence of the American West on our culture. He was a co-founder of the museum along with his wife, Jackie, and Joanne and Monte Hale. The name was later changed to the Autry National Center of the American West, and finally to the Autry Museum of the American West in 2015.

The Imagination Gallery illustrates the importance of Old West history in American entertainment. The exhibits in this gallery explore the evolution of cowboy heroes (including Gene Autry) and the western genre in film and television, complete with video clips, posters, and other artifacts. Here, to my delight, I found the original costume of The Lone Ranger as portrayed by Clayton Moore on the television series of the same name in the 1950s.

The Autry Store operates during museum hours. The Crossroads Cafe is located on the property and can be accessed without paying museum admission.

Located at 4700 Western Heritage Way, the Autry Museum is situated in the northeast section of Griffith Park across from the Los Angeles Zoo.

The Historic Southwest Museum Mount Washington Campus is also part of the Autry Museum of the American West.

 "Special Delivery" by Douglas Van Howd, statue depicting the Pony Express ride carrying the news of Abraham Lincoln's election
"Special Delivery" by Douglas Van Howd, statue depicting the Pony Express ride carrying the news of Abraham Lincoln's election
show route and directions
A markerGriffith Park, Los Angeles -
Griffith Park, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA
get directions

B markerGriffith Observatory -
Griffith Observatory, 2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA
get directions

C markerThe Autry Museum -
4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA
get directions

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    • KT Dunn profile image
      Author

      KT Dunn 4 weeks ago from United States

      It really is a special place. Thanks for your comment!

    • Deborah Minter profile image

      Deborah Minter 4 weeks ago from U.S, California

      Wonderful article..... I've been to Griffith park many times, but have not visited the observatory. I definitely intend to.

    • KT Dunn profile image
      Author

      KT Dunn 4 weeks ago from United States

      That is good to hear--thanks for your comment!

    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 4 weeks ago

      I regularly went to those places when I lived in LA. At Griffith park there was also Travel Town which had trains and a museum of fire engines. There are so many things to do at Griffith park. When you live in LA you go to these places, then you'll have friends and relative visit you who want to see these places among others. Good article. I enjoyed reading it.