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Let’s Get High

Treat yourself to a bird’s-eye view from these unforgettable perches across America

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

Here’s how to look down on everyone else…in a good way. Just step right up to the best cheap-or-free views in America: 

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles (1,134 feet, free) 

James Dean took in this view in Rebel Without a Cause, and so can you. A short, winding drive from the Los Feliz neighborhood through Griffith Park gets you to the domed planetarium and its colonaded walkway. On a clear day you can see clear to Catalina Island; at night L.A.’s streets stretch out like a neon patchwork quilt.

Philadelphia City Hall (500 feet, $5) 
There was once a gentlemen’s agreement that no Philly tower would top the brim of William Penn’s hat on the statue that crowns this ornate granite layer cake of a building. Spoilsports broke the rule in 1987, but the view from the feet of Penn’s 27-ton statue is still the best in town.

Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower (6,643 feet, Free with admission to Great Smoky Mountains National Park)  
East of the Mississippi, there are only two spots higher than Clingman’s Dome—and neither has a nifty observation tower that reaches above treetop level, offering a 200-mile view on clear days. The half-mile walk from the parking lot is steep, but worth it.

Old Post Office Bell Tower, Washington, DC (315 feet, free)
Back when he was a mere property developer, Donald Trump signed a deal to redevelop this century-old landmark on Pennsuylvanioa Avenue, but he couldn’t touch the bell tower, which is run by the Natonal Parks Service. An elevator whisks visitors to the open-air colonnade up top which, considering the view through those tiny widows atop the nearby Washington Monument, has hands-down the best panorama in the Nation’s Capital. 

Pike’s Peak, Colo (14,110 feet, $35 for a carload)
Only Mount Fuji attracts more summit-seekers than the mountain that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful.” Drive to the top or take the historic cog railway. With the Rockies’ purple mountain majesty to the west and the fruited plain to the east, you’ll be inspired, too.

Bunker Hill Monument, Boston (221 feet, free)
Set atop 65-foot Breed’s Hill (the actual site of the famous 1775 skirmish between Bostonians and Brits) this 1842 obelisk rewards visitors with a one-of-a-kind view from inside the sort-of-cramped chamber atop its 294 steps. Moving from each of the four windows to the next, you’ll see all of Boston and its bay spreading at your feet.  


Published by Bill Newcott

Award-Winning Film Critic, Columnist, TV Host and Creator of AARP's Movies For Grownups, Bill writes for publications including National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, Delaware Beach Life, Alaska Beyond and Northwest Travel.

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