11.16.2006

Griffith Observatory

We've wanted to go to the Observatory since it's recent unveiling after a $93 million dollar makeover. We tried to go last week, but didn't have the required reservation (Dick didn't read the fine print on the website; imagine that.), so we had a scenic tour of Los Feliz instead. But this week, armed with a free reservation*, we made it.

Griffith Observatory has always been one of our favorite places to visit, especially when they had the laserium show, so we were really curious to see the changes. As you approach, the building and front lawn look the same, except cleaner & all spruced up. The beautiful front doors are still there, as are both domes. The murals on the ceilings have been cleaned but are otherwise unchanged. The views are still spectacular (and smoggy).
And my favorite thing (and probably everyone else's) - the pendulum - is still there. But remember the tiles that got knocked down every hour or so? Gone. I was so disappointed. I remember standing there with the kids, waiting and waiting for the next one to go. You'd think the next swing would take it, but it didn't. Nor the next. But eventually, down it would go, often to the cheers of the crowd. I'll miss that.

I love the Camera Obscura. I don't remember it from the old building, so I think it's new. And magic. It projects a moving image of the outside world onto a table in a dark room, using a pinhole and mirrors.
The Planetarium has been totally rebuilt - gone are the old wooden headrests on the chairs, replaced by super comfy reclined chairs - and the show is great.

The biggest change is the addition of two underground levels. Remember the "unchanged" front lawn? It may look the same, but it was completely torn out and the observatory itself elevated on jacks, to make room for the new exhibits. And a new cafe (Wolfgang Puck. Be sure to have some of the pastries. Yum!), something that had been missing from the old building.

But the best of all?
The 18 minute film in the new Leonard Nemoy Event Horizon Theatre which "explores the history of the Observatory, it renovation and expansion, and all the exciting new features." Wonderful! Definitely a must-see attraction. It's amazing to hear the history of the building, but the absolute best part is seeing how they built the underground sections. Absolutely fascinating.

Our only complaint? The almost complete lack of signage. When we arrived (before opening time), everyone headed for the line at the front door. Turned out, it was only for buying planetarium tickets; the actual entrance was off to the side. Were there signs telling you that? Nope. We stood in line, along with everyone else, for the planetarium show; turned out it was the wrong door, even though it was the only door shown on the map. Any signs? Nope. No signs directing you to the new underground area; no signs by the back stairs telling you where you were headed; no signs downstairs with directions to the cafe or store or exhibits. Nary a one. And the maps they hand out were next to useless. They really need to fix that. And I'm sure they will. Eventually.


* Once you are on the reservation page, click on Limited Free Timed Reservations from Greek Theater Information. If you use the Zoo or Hollywood shuttle link, there is a fee. Free reservations can be made up to 48 hours in advance. You park at the Greek Theatre, hop on an uncrowded bus - all the school kids use the LA Zoo shuttle - for a short drive up the hill, and you're there. For free. Woohoo!