When I first started family biking, the short climb up West Silver Lake Drive next to the reservoir nearly broke me. A few months later, I was biking up that hill twice a day for daycare drop offs and pick ups as we logged fourteen miles of daily child commuting. I won't say that it became effortless, but it definitely started to suck way less. On the weekends, we cautiously tackled longer, more ambitious adventures.
Yet, looming above us, challenging us, mocking us, was The Griffith Observatory. Why did I feel the need to conquer the mountain?
"Because it's there..."
And it's one of my favorite places in L.A. And the parking sucks. And The Griffith Observatory charges no admission.
Because I'm cheap.
THINGS TO DO
The Observatory is hands down one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. Better yet, the Little Dictator LOVES it there. Did I mention that it's FREE? Another plus for parenting is that it has amazing air conditioning when the Santa Ana winds turn L.A. into an Easy-Bake oven (start your bike ride before it gets too hot). Let's face it, sometimes Los Angeles is too damn hot and you don't want to deal with sherpa-ing all your assorted crap to the beach. You also desire something more brain nourishing for your kid than the local mall play area. The pro tip is staying at the observatory AFTER the sun sets on a clear night. Most of the tourists clear out once they've gotten their Hollywood Sign/pink clouds selfie. After it's dark, the observatory staff roll telescopes out on the front lawn.
Through those telescopes we've seen the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's red eye, craters on the moon, IT IS SO EFFING AMAZING I CAN BARELY CONTAIN MYSELF. Absolute top three L.A. activity. Yet, that's not all. If you head up to the roof, they LET YOU LOOK THROUGH THE GIANT ZEISS TELESCOPE. Seeing a distant star through that telescope makes the celestial object you're viewing feel three dimensional in a way that I have never experienced previously. Did I mention that I love this place?
Pro tip number two: There is usually a 45 minute to an hour wait for the big telescope. The lawn telescopes, which are 90% as cool, rarely require more than a five minute wait. 90% as cool for 90% less complaining is not a bad trade-off (not that our perfect angels would ever start melting down around bed time...)
Check out the website for the other million things to see. Besides the telescopes, my faves are the planetarium and the Tesla Coil. Kids under five are only allowed into the first planetarium show of the day. Be forewarned, the cafe food is not an epicurean's dream. The Roosevelt Cafe down the hill has much better reviews, but I haven't tried it yet. The gift shop is cool. The Little Dictator's favorite thing to do is touch the buttons and watch the displays in the Planet Room:
HOW WE DID IT
Starting at the Sunset Triangle Plaza, we had a nice easy ride in the wide, comfortable bike lane on Griffith Park Blvd. Once we crossed Hyperion, the incline started to hurt. The left on Rowena meant more uphill burn prefacing yet more pain. Right on Commonwealth, cross Los Feliz Blvd., and then a quick left on Gainsborough.
We have now made it to the fun part: Grinding up Hillhurst to merge into the even bigger grind up Vermont. Surprisingly, Vermont feels safer than you would expect here. Speed bumps keep traffic slow-ish and there's a ton of room on the right side of the road. But, right before you enter through the park gates, hop onto the sidewalk at the last driveway. If you don't, once you pass the park gates, you'll get stuck in the right lane as it squeezes into a claustrophobic width that can't accommodate a car and a bike. To add to the fun, the speed bumps disappear and the road widens from two to four lanes. Cars use this as a green light to floor it until they get stuck in traffic at the next bend where it goes back to two lanes. Trust me. Hop onto the sidewalk.
Once you've entered the park near the Roosevelt Cafe, there are three choices:
Option #1: Hiking.
If you quit here, um, I mean "choose" to stop biking here, of course, not because you're hypoxic and about to burst a blood vessel in your brain, but only because you want your kid to get the "opportunity" to do some hiking, um, yeah, that's it...Then a good place to stop and lock up your bike is outside the Roosevelt Cafe.
Cross Vermont at the crosswalk next to the DASH bus stop. After you cross Vermont, keep walking west about 40 meters along Vista Del Valle and you'll see this trail on the north side of the street:
With this sign just to the right of the trail:
Like the sign says, it's a .06 mile hike to the observatory. My kid was physically able to hike this trail on his own for the first time sometime between the age of two and a half and three years old. IT TOOK FOREVER. I am not known for my patience (my wife just did a spit take into the computer screen while nodding violently), so it took DEEP Dalai Lama levels of forbearance to not just yank him into my arms and lug his slow, whiny butt up the hill before the polar ice caps melted. Although I seriously strained my patience muscle, it was probably good for him to not be carried around like a maharaja for once, so there's that. My patience has apparently been rewarded by the almost four year old version of the Little Dictator happily walking and racing dad all the way up the hill on the day these photos were taken. He was VERY proud of himself. I was pretty impressed myself.
The meltdown came on the way down...Oh, well someday.
Also, you should be aware that this trail is in FULL sunlight most of the day. You MUST bring water, a hat, and sunblock. If it's too hot, discretion is the better part of valor. Hiking in the heat is not to be trifled with. People die of heat stroke in Griffith Park. Be a smart parent.
We're almost there!
Option 2: Biking the whole way.
If you choose to pedal, the end is genuinely painful as you drag over one hundred pounds of bike, kid, and assorted kid crap up the steepest grades on the mountain. Yet, passing 600 horse power luxury vehicles stuck in gridlock near the top while I'm traveling about four miles an hour is admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine.
Once I pass the aforementioned Roosevelt Cafe, I generally take the sidewalk the rest of the way until it ends near the curve. Once the road narrows to two lanes again at the curve, traffic usually returns to safe speeds. Often the cars are completely immobile. There is a good chance you will be the fastest snail on the hill. Take a left at the road before the tunnel. Only pedestrians, bikes, and DASH buses are allowed on the access road. Following a brutal final approach, you have officially summited the mountain.
You are now a GOD (or a dorky, middle-aged parent gasping like a goldfish that jumped out of its bowl).
I made it! Take the picture before I keel over and die!
Finally, be certain that you have good brakes before attempting this trip because stopping all that weight on the steep descent home requires well-maintained, robust brakes. When in doubt, as always, simply get off and walk the bike until its safe again. On the return home, you can also take a left on Vista Del Valle near the Roosevelt Cafe and take a pleasant car free ride to Commonwealth as an alternate route. Commonwealth will take you past Los Feliz Blvd. to Rowena while riding with a lot less cars (most of Vista Del Valle is closed to cars unless there is a concert at The Greek). The downside to this route is that it requires one more climb in the middle of Vista del Valle. I'm not usually in the mood to do a climb at the end of the day, so I just stay on Vermont and continue coasting downhill.
Option #3: Subway/DASH bus.
Skip the bike ride, but still avoid the awful parking lot. There is a DASH bus that runs from the Sunset/Vermont Red Line Station all the way to the observatory on a loop. Check the schedule. You can also dismount the DASH line next to the Roosevelt Cafe and take the aforementioned hike.
Cash fare is 50 cents. With a TAP card it's only 35 cents. Kids four and under ride free with up to two children per adult. It's a sweet deal.
"Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves."
*Note that Mallory also originated "Because it's there..." when a reporter inquired as to why he was attempting to climb Everest. He died on that attempt.