“No matter where you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzi
From many parts of Los Angeles proper, you can look towards the Santa Monica mountains to the north and pick out the white edifice of the Griffith Observatory gleaming in the sun upon the ridge.
Built in 1935, you have probably seen the building featured in many films, most famously Rebel Without a Cause and more recently Transformers. Besides being a popular movie set, the observatory is a popular tourist attraction and also provides displays science and space as well as a giant telescope and space talks on certain nights of the week.
In addition to the dramatic setting of the building overlooking the city and the displays within, there are 55 miles of trail around in Griffith Park, in which the observatory is situated, many of which I must have walked hundreds of miles in the two and a half years that I lived in Los Angeles. You have the option to drive directly to the observatory, but the parking lot is often clogged with heavy traffic, so parking at the bottom and hiking one of the trails to the top is much preferable in my opinion.
The view from the observatory looks south, but because of the elevated location above the city, the expansive 180 degree views open up in east and west. Of course, the quality of the view depends on the quality of air on that particular day. With little rainfall and being surrounded by mountains, the Los Angeles region is well known for smog, which often makes for a clouded looking view.
On a clear day, usually post-rain, the quality of the view looking south over the Los Angeles Basin is splendid, especially in the early spring when the grass and bushes below are still green. At any time of the year, the famed Hollywood Sign hovers over neighboring Mount Lee, providing a little something extra.
The history of Griffith Park as a public space began in 1896, when the land was donated to the City of Los Angeles by Colonel Griffith. With the aim of providing the city with a legacy, in his will, Griffith donated the land, which would become Griffith Park and set aside funds to build an observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium as well.
Griffith’s objective was to make astronomy accessible by the public, as opposed to the prevailing idea that observatories should be located on remote mountaintops and restricted to scientists. Admission has been free since the opening, in accordance with Griffith’s will.