“It must be made a place of recreation and rest for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people. I consider it may obligation to make Los Angeles, a happier, cleaner and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.” In 1896, with these words Col. Griffith J. Griffith gave the City of Los Angeles 3,015 acres of land which became the park that bears his name.
And the park has a little something for everyone. Do you like animals? There is the zoo the equestrian center and even pony rides for the little ones. Like animals, but don’t want to get up close and personal with the real ones, how about the Merry-Go-Round?
But horses and a Merry-Go Round are not the only means of transportation featured. There are bicycle rentals, the live Steamers and the miniature Griffith Park Southern Railroad. And if that weren’t enough, there is Travel Town itself, a favorite of train buffs everywhere (there is even a model railroad there).
Still not satisfied? What about the Gene Autry National Center with its Museum of the American West, dedicated to the history and culture of the West and the cowboys (both real and cinematic) that gave it such romance? Or the Greek Theatre with its regular parade of summer concerts (think Hot August Nights)? And the Griffith Observatory? It is world famous.
If you cannot find something to interest you at Griffith Park, you just aren’t looking. There are hiking trails and picnic area, a fern grotto and even a bird sanctuary. There are now more than 4000 acres of urban park with a wilderness area. Perhaps the best way to plan a staycation trip to the Park is to check out the park web site: just Google Griffith Park. It is a wonderful gateway to all the attractions.
The park is open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., but the bridal trails, hiking paths and mountain roads close at sunset. Needless to say many attractions are open much later than sunset, but only in the more urban and developed areas. Perhaps the big three are the Zoo, the Gene Autry Center and the Observatory.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
The zoo may not be as famous as it neighbor to the south in San Diego, but the L.A. Zoo is still a “must see” attraction in L.A. The zoo is open daily (except Christmas) from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., but ticket sales stop at 4 P.M. and the staff begins putting animals away for the night at that time.
The City of Los Angeles owns the entire Zoo, its land and facilities, and the animals. Animal care, grounds maintenance, construction, education, public information, and administrative staff are City employees. However, the Zoo does get a great deal of support from the
Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA), a private, nonprofit, fundraising organization to support the Zoo many of whose members volunteer at the zoo.
When you enter you will be given a map of the entire zoo and botanical gardens. On the map are complete listings of the times for the zoo’s bird show and information on the regularly scheduled “Animals and You” program in the children’s zoo. Or you can check at the zoo’s web site for this information in advance.
The zoo has a great audio tour which you can download from your computer or for those of us who refuse to deal with an ipod, you can call the tour on your cell phone. For English, call 866/933-4005. For Spanish, call 866/933-4006. There is more information about this on the map you are given upon arrival.
While the map is a “must” when there, I suggest preplanning your visit by going to the web site. There are even tips on line regarding how best to photograph the animals.
You will not starve at the zoo as there are plenty of eating establishments, but they do tend to lean toward the fast food. You can always pack your own lunch, but avoid the temptation to feed the animals; this is a major no no as they are on well regulated diets.
General Admission Prices: Adults (ages 13 – up) -$13; Seniors (age 62 and up)-$10; Children (ages 2 to 12)-$8: Children (under 2)-Free and Parking is free.
Gene Autry Museum
This is a part of the Gene Autry National Center. It was originally called the Autry Museum of Western Heritage and is now properly referred to as the Museum of the American West, but like the television show, Disneyland (which was never actually called that) everyone just calls it the Gene Autry Museum in honor of the man who was the driving force behind its establishment.
Autry was a “singing cowboy” on the radio and in various B movies and serials during the 1930s through the early 1950s; he then moved on to television. Think: “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Back in the Saddle Again,” “I’ve got Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle,” and his most popular, “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” and you have Gene Autry. Since he was not a great actor, he was wisely cast as Gene Autry, a singing cowboy from the radio who gets into various adventures. Acting may not have been his strong suit, but he was an astute businessman and amassed quite a fortune (he used to own the Angles) and dedicated a part of that fortune to the museum he established.
There are wonderful exhibits of Western Art at the Autry. I especially love the Bierstadt and Moran paintings, but there are also special exhibits which change on a regular basis. Check the museum web site for information on these which currently include “Dreamers in Dream City” (the photos and stories of some of the people who shaped L.A.), “charting the Canyon (an exhibit regarding the Grand Canyon) and “Seasonal Overture” (the oil paintings of Karen Kitchel. But are subject to change in January.
What I love (and what youngster are thrilled by) are the exhibits dedicated to the history of the cowboys, but real and imaginary. There is even a section where kids can dress up for photos and another where with the assistance of a blue screen, they can “star” in their own western oater. This is a place for grandparents to bring the grandchildren. We can point out such memorabilia as the same Dale Evans Cowgirl outfit we got for Christmas one year or the Roy Rogers lunch box which toted our PB&J sandwiches to elementary school.
The Autry shows us the West and the “West is Billy the Kid, buffalo stampedes, snakeskin boots, cavalry charges, Colt firearms, ‘wanted’ posters, the Oklahoma land rush, wagon trains, ‘wild west shows’, western movies” and more as their web site points out
The museum is open Tue – Sun from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. except on Thursday when it stays open until 8 P.M. It is closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission: $9.00 for Adults, $5.00 for students (13-18) and seniors (60+), $5.00 Adult Students (18 and over with ID), $3.00 for children (3-12). Free for children under 3. Parking is free in the lot it shares with the Zoo. Both can be reached from the 134 Freeway using the Zoo exit.
On the other side of the park is the Griffith Observatory. Located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, it is reached via Los Feliz Blvd. Exit the Southbound 5 Frwy at Los Feliz West and proceed to Hillhurst turning right and following the signs.
Perhaps one of the most popular things about the observatory is that admission to the building and grounds is FREE. There is a nominal charge to see shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. The opening show,”Centered in the Universe,” takes visitors on a journey of cosmic exploration and discovery. The second program is “Water Is Life.” It leads viewers on a search for water, and therefore the possibly of life beyond Earth. Lastly there is “First Light: The Telescope Changed Everything” which explores the night sky and how Galileo’s observations changed our understanding of the universe. There are eight shows each weekday and ten shows each weekend day. The schedule for shows is described on the observatory’s web site. The planetarium is closed on Mondays.
Ticket Prices for shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium are: Adults and Children 13 years and older – $7.00; Seniors (60 years and older) and students with ID – $5.00; Children 5-12 years $3.00. Small children (under 5 years) are FREE (but must sit on the lap of a parent or guardian). The shows at the planetarium are NOT designed for small children and they will ONLY be admitted to the first show each day.
In addition to the planetarium there is the 200-seat Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. Seating for all events here is on a walk-in, first come, first served basis. “The Once and Future Griffith Observatory” is a 24 minute film about the history of the Observatory and an overview of what the observatory has to offer. It is a good starting point and is narrated by…Leonard Nimoy (so who else?). This show is usually shown every hour on the hour.
On the first Friday of each month at 7:30 P.M., the Observatory presents “All Space Considered” in this Theater. It is “an inside look at the most talked-about subjects in astronomy, space science, and space exploration.” The 90-minute presentations are offered free to the public. Check the web site for the current show.
In addition to these multimedia presentations, there are several exhibit halls at the observatory. The Wilder Hall of the Eye examines the history and progress of man’s observation of the skies. The Ahmanson Hall of the Sky focuses on our sun and moon. It has one of the largest solar telescopes in the nation open to the public. The W.M. Keck Foundation Central Rotunda is the original observatory building and features a Foucault pendulum (think of the foyer of the Smithsonian in D.C.)
The Cosmic Connection is a corridor which leads from the old building to the new expansion. It features a time line of the universe. This new addition is the Gunther exhibit gallery with even more static and interactive displays.
And there are more exhibits outside the observatory. There is the Monument to Astronomers, and observation Terraces. The thing I have always found a little strange has always been the Rebel without a Cause Monument. James Dean or Galileo Galilei? This is after all the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo and therefore the International Year of Astronomy. That alone is a great reason to visit the observatory.
Attractions in Griffith Park
•Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Dr. (323) 667-2000
•Bicycle Rental, 4730 Crystal Springs Dr.(Ranger Station Parking Lot) (323) 653-4099
•Greek Theatre, 2700 North Vermont Ave. (323) 665-1927
•Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, Park Center, (323) 665-3051
•Griffith Observatory, 2800 E. Observatory Rd. (323) 664-1191
•Griffith Park Southern Railroad, Corner Los Feliz/Riverside Dr. (323) 664-6788
•L.A. Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Dr., Burbank, CA (323) 840-9063
•L.A. Live Steamers, 5200 Zoo Dr (323) 662-5874
•L.A. Zoo, 5333 Zoo Dr. (323) 666-4650
•Pony Rides, Corner Los Feliz/Riverside Dr. (323) 664-3266
•Travel Town, 5200 Zoo Dr. (323) 662-5874
For more information on these and other attractions, visit lacity.org/rap/dos/parks/griffithpk/griffith.htm or just Google Griffith Park; it’s faster.