Paying for parking almost everywhere I go is one of the...joys...I've had to get used to in this city. There are a lot of free museums, galleries, events, etc. taking place BUT parking is often a hefty fee. Street parking is "always" available, provided that you can find any and risk getting a ticket for some sign you overlooked. However, if you do a little research (aka googling) you can find activities that are free WITH free parking--hooray!
The Griffith Observatory is free WITH free parking. And amazing. And has breathtaking views of the city, ocean, mountains, and Hollywood sign. The views are most famously seen in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause" starring James Dean. We parked on the road about 1/4-1/2 mile down from the observatory and walked up the hill, taking in the incredible views and commenting on how "Californian" it is to have snowy peaks on our left, the downtown skyline in front of us, and the glinting ocean to our right. Oh, and we weren't wearing coats of any kind. In January. Even the first ten minutes of our trip were exciting, and we hadn't even gotten up to the building!
The ball at the end of the pendulum knocks over a peg every seven minutes or so. The simple explanation of this setup is that the pendulum stays in a fixed swing and the earth rotates around it. We witnessed an exciting moment when the ball nudged a peg almost over, but then grew impatient waiting for it to knock it completely down and moved on.
I loved that the observatory was separated into two wings. The Hall of the Sky (lunar movement, stellar life)...
...and The Hall of the Eye. This wing explored the history of telescopes and observation of the cosmos.
The lower level focuses on our solar system and our perspective of the galaxy.
Visitors are welcome to explore the roof of the building and its telescopes (not so much during daylight, unfortunately) and great views (excellent during daylight, fortunately).
I can't wait to come back--the plan is to visit in the morning to hike in Griffith Park, pack a picnic lunch, then visit the observatory again and stay for a live show at the planetarium!