The old zoo in Griffith Park is one of the strangest ruins in Los Angeles (putting it in the running for strangest ruins worldwide). When the Los Angeles Zoo opened at its current location in the 1960s, the former zoo, a few miles away was not torn down or destroyed. Instead, the zoo was abandoned and converted into a picnic area. Explore one of LA’s best off-the-beaten-path attractions on a half mile hike through the picnic area past old animal cages and exhibits. This is definitely the most unique place for a picnic in LA.
Picnic tables inside an old zoo exhibit
The picnic area is located in a canyon just north of the merry-go-round on the east side of Griffith Park, about five miles south of the current LA Zoo. There are dozens of shaded picnic tables and BBQ grills to facilitate a great picnic, as well as a large grassy field to run around in. Beyond the outdoor dining necessitates, there is a collection of empty animal cages on display. From the bottom of the picnic area, turn left up the paved trail curving up the side of the canyon to the open field above the trees. The road soon passes a line of stone exhibits. Ron Burgundy fans may recognize this as the movie backdrop for the bear scenes at the San Diego Zoo in Anchorman. In reality you can step right inside the old holding pens. The first exhibit you reach has tables arranged inside. What a place for a picnic!
On the backside of the stone enclosures, the road continues past two more old buildings that are worth checking out. Turn around when you reach a short building on the right with prison bars on the front. Otherwise you will be hiking through the woods toward the merry-go-round.
Further up the canyon above the stone pens there is a row of small metal cages. The Old Griffith Park Zoo opened in 1912 and was shut down 1965. At the time, the animal cages were criticized for being too small for the animals. You can’t knock the quality of the craftsmanship, as the cages have survived since the 1930s in great condition. Walk past the cramped enclosures and measure how the treatment of zoo animals has changed over the ages.
Old cages along the trail
Beyond the upper cages, the road rounds Spring Canyon and returns to the lower end of the picnic area. The grounds offer an enticing view of Bee Rock, a hive-shaped point atop the ridge to the west. To look down on the old zoo and get some extra exercise, consider the short hike up Bee Rock.
Old Zoo Picnic Area is tucked away in a corner of Griffith Park that is off the tourists radar. It is the coolest picnic area around – very strange, and very easy to get to. From the zoo that is downtown LA, it is a five minute drive to the old zoo in Griffith Park. Dogs are welcome. Check it out!
To get to the picnic area: Take the 5 Freeway to the Los Feliz Boulevard exit. Drive west on Los Feliz Boulevard to the first light and turn north on Crystal Springs Road. After 1.5 miles, turn left on Griffith Park Drive. Continue a quarter mile and turn left into a parking area just before the road bends to the right. There is a row of parking spaces by the turnoff and more parking as you drive into the picnic area. If all spaces are full, you may park at the larger lot by the merry-go-round and walk a little further to the picnic area.
Trailhead address: Griffith Park Drive, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Trailhead coordinates: 34.13527, -118.286357 (34° 08′ 06.97″N 118° 17′ 10.88″W)
Use the map below to view the trail and get directions:
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