God only knows when it will reopen for business following the devastating Station Fire, but the little Astronomical Museum atop Mount Wilson is not only an unexpected educational stop-off in the San Gabriel Mountains, but a portal into the way the galaxy looked to astronomers in the 1930s and '40s. Built in 1936, its bare-bones displays mostly consist of photographs of the solar system taken at the time, and as such, it's kind of like thumbing through a very old astronomy textbook – the kind that would dramatically feature a colorized photo of Saturn on the cover. However, since the free-admission museum's 1997 renovation, updated captions accompany the exhibits, which also include bits of machinery used in the transportation and construction of the nearby observatory's 60- and 100-inch telescopes. There's also a small auditorium for lectures. If this all seems like a rather long way to go look at some obsolete astronomy exhibits or to hear a lecture, blame it on the original land-lease agreement, which required the new Mount Wilson Observatory grounds to be open to the public during daylight hours – apparently to satisfy the tourist-hungry requirements of the observatory's landlord, the Mount Wilson Hotel and Toll Road Company. The hotel and its restaurant are long gone, so pack a picnic lunch for the afternoon. There are plenty of tables near the parking lot. Take the Angeles Crest Highway north from La Cañada-Flintridge to Red Box Road, then turn off to reach the observatory. (626) 440-9016, mtwilson.edu. Open daily from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in November from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., weather permitting.

—Steven Mikulan

Location Details

Wilson Observatory
Mount Wilson CA 91023
626-440-9016