“If every person could look through that telescope,” declared Griffith J Griffith, “it would revolutionize the world.” Nearly nine decades after this iconic building opened, the world remains unrevolutionized, and the smog means that the views probably aren’t as crystal-clear as they were in Griffith’s day. But catching a fuzzy glimpse of Saturn or the moon through that 12-inch Zeiss refracting telescope is simply magic.
The star attraction remains the building itself, both inside and out. Famous for its appearances in movies both acclaimed (Rebel Without a Cause) and disdained (Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace), this icon is simply a must-visit on any trip to L.A.—and arguably the one landmark locals never get tired of. The Art Deco architecture looks attractive from any angle, as do the views of the city below.
You could comfortably spend an hour or two here just taking in the exhibits and the shows. The ground floor holds the Hall of the Sky and Hall of the Eye, a pair of complementary displays that focus on humans’ relationship to the stars; a Foucault pendulum, directly under Hugo Ballin’s famed mural on the central rotunda; and the handsome, high-tech Samuel Oschin Planetarium. And downstairs, accessible via the campy displays of space-slanted jewelry in the Cosmic Connection Corridor, you’ll find a number of other new exhibits.
At the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater, you can see a short film about the history and resurgence of the observatory. Pieces of the Sky documents, brightly and informatively, the impact made on Earth by meteorites and other falling debris. The Gunther Depths of Space contains crisp descriptions of the planets, a bronze of Albert Einstein and a vast, 2.46-gigapixel image of the night sky taken from the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County. And there are above-par snacks in the Café at the End of the Universe.
Parking around the observatory costs $8 an hour, but there’s also a DASH bus that you can catch from Los Feliz for only 50 cents.