Exploring abandoned places can be a fun yet dangerous activity, and any major city has their share of interesting sites. Los Angeles is no exception. My personal favorite is the abandoned Griffith Park Zoo.
The zoo first opened in Griffith Park in 1912, and its popularity quickly outgrew its size. By the late 1950’s, Los Angelians realized a new zoo would have to be constructed and broke ground two miles to the north. When the Los Angeles Zoo opened in 1966, the animals moved from their small, stuffy cages to newer, roomier habitats. The Griffith Park Zoo was left abandoned.
Today, the old zoo is a converted picnic area and hiking trail. Many of the cages have been left open for you to explore.
It’s located on the east side of Griffith Park, in a secluded area that tends to stay hidden from tourists and locals alike. To get there, enter Griffith Park from Crystal Springs drive and follow the signs to the Merry-Go-Round. Park in the lot north of the Merry-Go-Round and follow the path west until you come to a staircase leading up to a clearing. Once in the clearing, look to the left and you’ll be presented with your first sight of the old zoo: the man-made caves that were once home to a variety of animal species.
You may recognize these caves; they were used in the 2004 film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy as a backdrop for the “panda watch” scenes.
Beyond the caves, you’ll find a path that leads up and around the back of the caves. You can follow this for a short hike to a few more animal cages and other abandoned zoo maintenance buildings. You may also continue to the right along the paved path where you’ll discover an old bird sanctuary and a whole row of old, rusty cages. Make sure you save plenty of time to explore because there’s a lot to see!
As with all abandoned locations, use extreme caution if you decide to enter any cages or stray from the pathways. A few areas of the old zoo are fenced off and, despite the large holes in the fences, you are not actually allowed to enter these areas. Because abandoned structures do not receive any upkeep, they are at risk to crumble or cave-in without warning. The old zoo appears to be sturdily built, but I’ve noticed bits of rebar poking out from walls and broken glass littering the floors. If you get hurt climbing around in areas you’re technically not supposed to be, it’s nobody’s fault but your own.
Naturally, people explore these closed-off areas of the zoo all the time. There’s a plethora of amazing photography online to prove it. Just know that if a park ranger finds you in a fenced-off area, they will ask you to return to the path. I’ve never been chastised beyond this, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be.
And unlike many abandoned places, there are plenty of areas of the old zoo that you’re actually allowed to explore! The long line of animal cages on the west side are my absolute favorites, especially when the plant life gets overgrown (they trim it back on occasion). Many of these cages are left open for you to enter and look around.
So what are you waiting for? Grab a picnic lunch and head to Griffith Park to explore a fascinating piece of Los Angeles history!
Quick Facts about The Old Zoo:
Open year-round. 6am to 10pm daily.
Best time to go: Virtually any time of day, unless it’s raining.
Nearby activities: Merry-Go-Round (weekends year-round and weekdays during summer months), hiking trails, Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival (summer months only)
What to bring: Hiking shoes, sunscreen, and a picnic lunch.
Getting there: Drive into Griffith Park via Crystal Springs drive. Follow the signs to the Merry-Go-Round and park in the parking area. Walk due west until you reach a staircase leading to a clearing and picnic area. The old zoo will be to the left.