Tips on Visiting Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is a very iconic and historic landmark for Los Angeles. If there is a post card that shows popular city sights, then chances are you will see a picture of the Observatory along with the Hollywood Sign.

As such, the place is very popular for locals and tourists alike, and even on the most tame of days, you will always encounter large crowds of people. This post will help you plan ahead on when would be a good day to visit – coming straight from an employee who happens to be the author of the article!

NEVER Plan Your Visit on a Monday, Thanksgiving, or Christmas Day!

If you plan on visiting the place, the building is open from Tuesday to Sunday – but NOT Monday! Every Monday, the building is closed for maintenance and clean up purposes (except for occasional private events).

On that same token, the Observatory is also closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day!

It’s ALWAYS CROWDED!

Visitors frequently remark to me how crowded the place gets, and that’s because the Observatory is a very popular destination. On average, it gets 1.5 million visitors a year, which is still a few thousand visitors each day!

It’s usually most crowded later in the day, on weekends, during spring break, summer vacation, or weeks around major holidays. “Peak Tourist Season” is usually May through August. After Labor Day, I have observed a sharp dip in the crowds. It’s the least crowded during the middle of the week from October through March – those nights can be rather tame.

Parking Can Be A Chore If Too Crowded!

I cannot stress enough how frustrating the parking situation can be, even for staff!

Pretty much every negative Yelp or TripAdvisor review is from someone who gave up trying to visit due to the traffic, and even positive reviews say how much they enjoyed the place but hated the parking. 

Bottom line is, when it gets too crowded, traffic control is told not let vehicles all the way up top except for buses, rideshares/taxis, handicap, and staff members – frustrating all the eager tourists who can’t find a spot.

The Building Is Still Free, But Parking Isn’t.

As per Griffith J. Griffith’s will, the building itself, the exhibits, and viewing through telescopes is still FREE (minus the planetarium shows, cafe, and gift shop)!

But…

Fairly recently, the city installed paid parking meters in the parking lot up top and along W Observatory Road. I’ve seen the rates as low as $4/hour during the “off season” and as high as $12/hour during peak tourist season. This is done to combat the congestion near the top and to keep cars moving.

Don’t Want to Pay For Parking? Use These Alternatives!

The Observatory knows the parking situation is hectic and frustrating. Thankfully there are plenty of other ways to visit, and they can save you lots of money in the process!

  • When The Greek Theater nearby is not in use, their larger parking lot is free, and the DASH picks up passengers by the Greek. Always check and try to visit on a day when there is no concert.
    • If there is a concert, then the parking lots cost money and only accept cash. If you still plan on spending many hours at the observatory, this option can still save you a few bucks versus using the parking meters.
  • Uber, Lyft, Taxi’s, and other Rideshare services will be able take you to the top. They are busy at this location, so finding a ride for your return trip shouldn’t be a problem.
  • The DASH (Downtown Area Short Hop) Bus Service has a special “Observatory Route”  that begins and ends at the Vermont/Sunset Red Line Metro Station, and usually drops people off at the Observatory every 20-30 minutes. One way trips cost $.50 per person – just have exact change or use an LA Metro card.
    • DON’T try parking at the Barnsdall Square Shopping Plaza. Reportedly, they are looking to tow away cars if people leave their lots, and even worse, there are horror stories of shady business owners towing cars even if you’re spending money there!
  • There is free parking near the bottom by Ferndel Dr/ Western Canyon Road – but the lot closes after sunset. Park here if you don’t mind the hike.
Advisory – DON’T Try to Visit During the December Holidays

 You need to realize that almost everyone is on vacation from mid December through New Years, and has the same idea you have! The place gets PACKED, like STUPID PACKED!

Imagine taking almost an hour to go up from Los Feliz Blvd up to the entrance of Griffith Park, only for you to be directed away because every parking lot, including the Greek, is full. The congestion makes it difficult for the DASH and even staff members to get up. You have been warned! 

Advisory – July 4 is NOT Recommended Either!

On this holiday around nightfall, many locals climb up the hill in droves to get a view of  many random Angelenos launching their own fireworks all over the city.

While the sight of the fireworks is impressive, it’s not fun for crowding issues or observing. They install flood lights to assist people walking up and down the hill, and the roof can get closed off, making it difficult for those who actually want to visit the Zeiss Telescope.

DO NOT Bring Your Drones!

Per city ordinance, the observatory, and all of L.A. city parks are “No-Drone Zones.” If a park ranger catches you, you will be cited or possibly arrested! As soon as one is spotted, rangers are contacted over the radio, and an effort will be made to search for the drone operator.

Leave Your Cigarettes or E-Cigs In the Car!

As the entire Griffith Park is a no smoking zone, smoking is strictly prohibited inside and outside the building, on the lawn, and in the parking lots! No, you can’t vape either!

This is especially critical because of the fire danger in Griffith Park during the dry months, and as recent as July 2018, we’ve had some close calls! If a ranger catches you, the fines are steep!

Remember, There’s THREE Floors (And a Roof)!

Many tourists visit the building and go inside the main historic floor, yet don’t bother to  check out the other two floors below – making the bottom two levels seem empty in comparison. There’s also restrooms on each floor, so if the top floor restrooms have long queues, go downstairs! Don’t miss out on the theater, exhibits, cafe, and gift shop down below! 

The roof is also open to the public as long as the stairs are deemed dry enough for safety reasons. While the historic Zeiss refracting telescope dome to the east is open, the coelostat solar telescope dome to the west is not.

The Weather Is Like A Roulette Wheel

It is disappointing when the sky is overcast (thus no telescope viewing), and tourists often ask, “well when is it usually clear?”

Yes, Los Angeles has a “dry season” from late June to October, but we have odd weather patterns. “May Gray/June Gloom” occurs in the spring to early summer and frequently brings foggy skies over L.A. while the “Santa Ana Winds” bring high pressure systems and dry weather during our “wet season.”

Just check your daily weather forecasts! I know it’s heartbreaking when the one day you can visit ends up cloudy or rainy, but we can’t do anything about it!

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Love this shot, the telescope, the sign, and the city in the background.
Yes, You Can Look Through Telescopes (Even The Big One)!

As long as the sky stays clear, all telescopes are free to view and are operated by knowledgeable employees.  Between the hours of 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm, you can get in line for either the historic Zeiss Telescope, or for the portable telescopes set up on the lawn. The line for the Zeiss dome is always going to be longer, but the portable 11″ Schmidt Cassegrains on the lawn are actually capable of the same views as the 12″ Zeiss.

Museum guides on the roof do warn you and encourage people not to set themselves up for heartache, but Once 9:30 pm hits, the doors to the Zeiss dome close, and you will not be allowed in.  Telescope lines on the lawn also close around this time and don’t let more people in. “Oh, but we came all the way from {that far away place}…” Sorry, we’ve heard it all – I could get in trouble if I bend the rules!

All telescopes must be put away by a certain time. The Observatory and Griffith Park has strict rules about closing procedures, as….

Closing Time Means CLOSING TIME!

This is not a place that allows people to stay inside and explore after closing time. PA systems will frequently announce that closing time is approaching, and once 10 pm hits, staff WILL force you to leave. Rangers will be making sure people outside are making their way to their cars or to the bus stop.

The entire park closes at 10 pm, and nobody is allowed to wander the grounds after closing! Please… don’t try to visit or stay after hours!

I hope this helps you figure out a day for you to come visit!

If you want to know what are the most frequent questions I get asked while on the job, check out, “Frequently Asked Questions at Griffith Observatory.” 

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