Best Places to See the Night Sky
There’s so much light pollution in the cities that it can be easy to forget that the North Star, Orion and the Big Dipper are twinkling above your head.
But if you know where to go, there are a few places in the Bay Area that provide excellent viewing.
Chabot Space and Science Center – This facility has the only research-level telescopes regularly available to the public for weekly free live viewings in the Western United States. You can get a better look at the planets and stars on Fridays and Saturdays 7:30-10 p.m. on their outside observation decks. 1000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7300.
Del Valle Regional Park – Part of the East Bay Regional Park System, this park lakeside resort is a good place to get away from distracting city lights. Del Valle Road off Mines Road, south of Livermore. $6 parking fee. 888-327-2757.
Grizzly Peak Boulevard – Drive up Grizzly Peak Boulevard in the Berkeley Hills until you get high enough above the city to check out your favorite constellations.
Mount Diablo State Park – You can view the moon, planets, stars and galaxies through telescopes provided at public astronomy programs. Summit Road, Walnut Creek. $10. 925-837-2525.
Hawk Hill – Just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is Hawk Hill, a 923-foot peak in the Marin Headlands. During World War II, it was mounted with large guns to defend against air attacks.
Mount Tamalpais State Park – This is always a good place to check out the lights in the night sky. But between April and October, you can attend free astronomy nights with a lecture on Saturdays organized by the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers. The event includes a night sky tour highlighting prominent constellations. You need to print out a free parking pass and put it in your vehicle to attend.
Land’s End Point – Walk about a mile with your flashlight by eucalyptus and cypress trees to get to one of the clearest viewing points within the city. This is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Presidio – Check out the parade grounds and parking lot for great viewing locations. The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers club sometimes brings its telescopes here for public stargazing parties. 415-561-4323.
San Francisco State University Observatory – When skies are clear, docents help the public look through telescopes at craters on the moon, the rings of Saturn, giant star clusters and more on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the school year. FREE. Check website for times. Thornton Hall, 10th floor, Room 1002. 415-338-7707.
Henry Coe State Park – Amateur astronomers love to find spots for stargazing in this 80,000-acre park, the biggest state park in Northern California. 9100 E. Dunne Ave., Morgan Hill. $6-8 entrance fee. 408-779-2728.
Houge Park – The San Jose Astronomical Association sets up telescopes and lets the public view the night skies for free at public star parties about twice a month at the first and third quarter moon. Check the website for details. Twilight Drive and White Oaks Avenue, San Jose.
Lick Observatory – Founded in 1888, this eye on the sky keeps up with advances in astronomy and serves as a research facility for the University of California. Visitors can come during the summer to look through telescopes or participate in a series of lectures and multimedia presentations. Tickets for the summer series usually go on sale in the spring. Located at the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose. 408-274-5066.
Monte Bello Open Space Preserve – If you apply for a free permit two weekdays before your visit, you can use the parking lot after hours for astronomical viewing between dusk and 2 a.m. Page Mill Road, seven miles west of Highway 280 and 1.5 miles east of Skyline Boulevard. 650-691-1200.
Lisa Renner is the San Francisco/Peninsula/Marin calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.