25 free things to do in California


Before you even enter Griffith Observatory on its perch in the Hollywood Hills, it lavishes gifts upon you.

Looking west from the lawn, you see the Hollywood sign from a fetching angle (with James Dean’s bust in the foreground). Looking south at sunrise or sunset, you see Los Angeles at its most orderly: a tidy, twinkling grid of city lights, with Western, Normandie and Vermont avenues stretching straight to the horizon (or so it seems).

And on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, when you’re allowed inside — did I mention it’s free? — you can scan distant stars and check your weight on Mars. For snacks on those days, you’ll have the Cafe at the End of the Universe, whose patio tables have commanding city views.

Since 1935, Angelenos have embraced Griffith Observatory as “the hood ornament of Los Angeles,” in the words of observatory director E.C. Krupp. It’s the architectural star of 4,210-acre Griffith Park, with three green copper domes, a startling amount of subterranean space (thanks to a major expansion completed in 2006). And, of course, more than 50 miles of hiking trails, all free.

About parking: The lot fills fast, as does nearby curbside parking (metered at $4 hourly). You might want to catch a DASH bus from the Greek Theatre nearby or the Metro station at Sunset and Vermont. Or hike up from the Greek’s parking lot.

Bonus tip: Hike from the observatory’s Charlie Turner Trailhead to the Tom LaBonge Panorama atop Mt. Hollywood, a roughly 2.6-mile round-trip journey with big views of the Hollywood Hills and the San Fernando Valley. And be sure to read up on the philanthropist-felon who made all this possible, Griffith J. Griffith.

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