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How to see L.A. – or even Pluto

Griffith Observatory is worth the trip.

View of L.A. from Griffith Observatory deck.
  • View of L.A. from Griffith Observatory deck.

A couple hours north of San Diego is the Griffith Observatory, a must-see on a weekend getaway in La-la Land.

You might remember the landmark from the film Rebel Without a Cause. That was James Dean’s second film, between that same year (1955)’s East of Eden and his third and last film, Giant, released the following year. The observatory was the location of some lightning dialogue between Dean and Sal Mineo. No one knew then, of course, that both actors would die grisly deaths – Dean in a car crash, Mineo in a stabbing.

The first appearance of the observatory in a film was 22 years earlier, in The Phantom Empire. Rebel was just one of a couple dozen films and 31 TV shows to follow.

The building is located on the south slope of Mount Hollywood in L.A.’s Griffith Park. So it and the park are named after famous Hollywood director, David Wark Griffith, right? Wrong. The land was donated to the city in 1896 by mining magnate Griffith J. Griffith. The generous industrialist also provided in his will enough bucks to build an observatory on it. Alas, between his donation of the land and his death, he spent two years in jail for shooting his wife.

The views of the city from the observatory deck are reason enough for the drive up. But don’t overlook what’s inside: The Big Picture, a 20-foot-high, 152-foot-wide depiction of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies; videos and live shows about the universe; an exhibit on the evolution of telescopes; a camera obscura; a Tesla coil; a Foucault pendulum; scale models of the solar system; in all, enough to make your head explode.

Admission to the building and grounds is free; there is a charge, though, for the planetarium shows, but it’s not astronomical.

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Comments

Parking can be a nightmare, though. After the parking lots fill up fast, you have to use street parking. And that was extremely difficult when I went there. If you're lucky enough to find a place, there's no sidewalk to walk back to the Observatory. It's better to take a bus or taxi.

Last line was the best line of the story . . . "prices . . . not astronomical." Very funny.

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