NFT Maps: 3, 4, 5, 50, 51 & 57
Address: 4730 Crystal Springs Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Hours: 5 am–10:30 pm, daily (bridle trails, hiking paths, and mountain roads close at sunset)
It's one of LA's great tragedies that we Angelenos do not make better or more frequent use of Griffith Park. It's the largest municipal park "with urban wilderness area" in the United States, larger than New York's Central Park, although not as convenient. Sure, it's easily accessible from both the 5 and the 134 freeways, but Griffith Park is still a hike (pun intended) from the Westside, a slow crawl from the West Valley, and might as well be a world away from the South Bay. Most park-goers come to Griffith Park for its museums and attractions (the Zoo, the Greek Theatre, the Autry Museum etc.), but these are just the beginning of the wide variety of activities the park has to offer.
The park's land was originally granted to Spanish soldier José Vicente Feliz (whose niece supposedly laid a curse on the land when Feliz changed his will under dubious circumstances, leaving the land to someone outside of the Feliz family). But what matters is that it eventually ended up in the hands of the uncreatively named Griffith J. Griffith, who donated 3,015 acres of the land to the City of Los Angeles in 1896. (Griffith also partnered with a man named Charles Sketchley to open a 680-acre ostrich farm on the land, but it closed in 1889.)
Despite the lack of ostriches, Griffith Park is a home to wildlife in the city, although you're unlikely to see many of its more dangerous residents--the park is a known home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, and even mountain lions. But save for the coyotes, they mostly keep to themselves.
Located northwest of Downtown LA, Griffith Park is easily reached from either I-5 or the 134. From I-5, get off at Los Feliz Boulevard, Griffith Park (direct entry), or Zoo Drive. From 134 eastbound, take either the Forest Lawn Drive or Victory Boulevard exits. From 134 westbound, take Zoo Drive or Forest Lawn Drive. Speed at your own risk: the 25 mph speed limit on all park roads is strictly enforced.
Located within the park are facilities for golf (Harding, Los Feliz, Roosevelt, and Wilson Municipal golf courses); swimming (the Plunge Pool is open in summer months); hiking; jogging; horseback riding; tennis (Griffith-Riverside Pay, Vermont Pay, and the free Griffith Park Drive Courts); soccer (John Ferraro Athletic Fields at the northeast corner of the park); and and picnicking at one of the five main picnic areas. Bicycles, including tandems, can be rented from Crystal Springs Bike and Skate Rental, located in a shack behind the Crystal Springs Ranger Station.
Several playgrounds are located throughout the park, usually near picnic areas. One of them, Shane's Inspiration, is a "boundless playground" designed to allow children with disabilities to play alongside their able-bodied peers.Young park-goers also enjoy the pony and train rides located near the Los Feliz Boulevard entrance to the park. The Griffith Park Southern Railroad takes riders on a one-mile-plus ride over a meadow, through an old Western town, and past a Native American village. The hours of operation are 10 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays, and the train runs until 5 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $2.75. The pony rides come in three speeds--slow, slower, and barely breathing--but neither the kids nor the horses ever seem to mind. There is also a surprisingly peppy merry-go-round located between the Zoo and the Los Feliz entrance to the park that's always worth a spin. The Fern Dell "hike" is an easy walk for a parent with a stroller or even a more mobile small child. This nature walk is located at the Fern Dell Drive entrance and features waterfalls, tunnels, and a picnic area for snacking.
Griffith Park Museums
2800 E Observatory Rd, 323-664-1181; www.griffithobservatory.org or @GriffithObserv
A gorgeous Art Deco gem perched above Los Feliz, the Griffith Observatory is within spitting distance (well, looking distance) of the Hollywood sign. And although the Hollywood sign might be more well-known, we'd argue that the observatory makes a better Los Angeles landmark (and not just because it was featured in both Rebel Without a Cause
and The Terminator
. Admission is free, both to the observatory's regular exhibits and special events, including talks, film screenings, astronaut meet-and-greets, nighttime parties where visitors can look through telescopes, and more. Parking is limited, but you can also hike or bike to the observatory, or for $10 a person, you can take the Griffith Park Hollywood Sign Shuttle (more info at www.laparks.org/shuttle/shuttle.htm).
The Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Wy, 323-667-2000; theautry.org or @TheAutry
Part museum of history, part art gallery, the Autry is devoted to the stories, the people, the cultures, and the events that have shaped the legacy of the region. Learn about Spanish explorers, discover how the genre of the western evolved through radio, movies, and television, and see paintings by Remington and Russell. Grab a bite at the museum's cafe (open for breakfast and lunch). Hours: Tues-Fri, 10 am–4 pm; Sat-Sun, 11 am-5pm. Admission costs $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $4 for children ages 3–12. The museum is free for kids under 3 and is free for all on the second Tuesday of every month.
2700 N Vermont Canyon Rd, 323-665-5857; www.greektheatrela.com or @GreekTheatreLA
Think of it like a li'l Hollywood Bowl if you like, but Griffith Park's outdoor theater is a formidable competitor to the venue to the west. The 6,100-seat venue has hosted acts ranging from Sir Paul McCartney and Elton John to the Flaming Lips and Russian National Ballet, just to name a few. Tickets to performances can be purchased in person at the box office, or through Ticketmaster.
Los Angeles Zoo
5333 Zoo Dr, 323-644-4200; www.lazoo.org or @LAZoo
Not to be confused with the Old Zoo, which is exactly what it sounds like-a park in Griffith where you can still see cages from the old zoo. The New Zoo (OK, no one actually calls it that) isn't the biggest or best zoo, but gosh darn it, it's ours. The zoo is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm (except on Christmas Day). Note that the zoo puts animals in for the night an hour before closing time. Admission costs $19, $16 for seniors over 62, and $14 for children 2-12. Children under two and parking are both free. Annual memberships are a smart move for families with children. Packages start at $55.
Travel Town Museum
5200 Zoo Dr, 323-662-5874; www.traveltown.org
Travel Town Museum is an outdoor museum that spotlights the railroad heritage of the western US. The collection includes locomotives, freight cars, passenger cars, and a couple of cabooses, as well as a miniature train ride for kids (one of three in the park). Hours: Mon–Fri: 10 am–4 pm; Sat–Sun: 10 am–6 pm. Admission and parking are free, and a ride on the miniature train costs just $2.75.