December 2, 2022

25 free things to do in California

Before you even enter the Griffith Observatory on his perch in the Hollywood Hills, he gives you gifts.

Looking west from the lawn, you see the Hollywood sign from an attractive angle (with the bust of James Dean in the foreground). Looking south at sunrise or sunset, you see Los Angeles at its most ordered: a neat, twinkling grid of city lights, with Western, Normandy, and Vermont avenues stretching to the horizon (or so it seems).

And on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when you are allowed inside, did I mention it’s free? – you can scan distant stars and check your weight on Mars. For snacks on these days, you’ll have the Cafe at the End of the Universe, whose terrace tables offer stunning views of the city.

Since 1935, Angelenos have embraced the Griffith Observatory as “the hood ornament of Los Angeles”, in the words of observatory director EC Krupp. It’s the architectural star of 4,210-acre Griffith Park, with three green copper domes, a surprising amount of underground space (thanks to a major expansion completed in 2006). And, of course, more than 80 km of hiking trails, all free.

About parking: The parking lot fills up quickly, as does the nearby curbside parking (metered at $4 per hour). You might want to take a DASH bus from the nearby Greek Theater or the subway station at Sunset and Vermont. Or take a hike from the Greek parking lot.

Bonus tip: Hike from the Charlie Turner Observatory Trail to the Tom LaBonge Lookout at the top of Mount Hollywood, a round trip of about 2.6 miles with stunning views of the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley. And be sure to read about the philanthropist-criminal who made it all possible, Griffith J. Griffith.