Best Places to See the Night Sky

If you have a child whose head is in the stars, there are plenty of places to feed that passion.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a wealth of opportunities to learn about the planets, the Milky Way, asteroids and other objects in our vast universe.


Chabot Space and Science Center Billed as the Bay Area’s “go to” destination for visitors of all ages who want to learn about space and earth sciences, the site houses observatories to view the stars and planets. The facility includes a digital planetarium, a discovery lab with preschool activities and chances to experience the thrill of NASA-simulated space missions. Open Wed.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Observatory is open Fri. and Sat. evenings. $14-18. 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland. 510-336-7300. 

Lawrence Hall of ScienceThe programs are live and interactive with audience participation. The planetarium is open weekends and select holidays. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.  The cost for the observatory is $4 plus admission: $12 adults, $10 children ages 3-18, under 3 free. 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley. 510-642-5132.


Space Station Museum This museum, which opened in 2011, showcases the history of space exploration and how discoveries in science and technology allowed the United States to be a leader in space travel. Visitors can touch artifacts that made the long journey into space. Check website for telescope nights and astronaut Skype interviews. Hours are 12-4 p.m. weekends. Admission and parking are free. Pacheco Plaza Center, 464 Ignacio Blvd., Novato. 415-524-3940.


Hiller Aviation Museum Starlab Planetarium The planetarium presents 30-minute star shows for kids 5 and up and adults generally a couple of days each month. Attendees can discover the brightest constellations visible each night and the stars used by pilots, sailors and others to navigate over featureless oceans. $16 adults, $11 youth 5-17, under 5 free for museum admission plus $5 planetarium fee. 601 Skyway Road, San Carlos. 650-654-0200.


California Academy of Sciences The Morrison Planetarium is billed as displaying one of the most accurate digital universes ever created. The 75-foot-diameter screen provides an immersive experience. Museum open: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets to the planetarium are included with admission: $35.95 adults, $30.95 youth 12-17, $25.95 children 4-11, under 4 free. Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Drive. 415-379-8000. 

Exploratorium The Exploratorium covers many aspects of science, including astronomy. Its website includes links to articles and video on a variety of astronomy topics. Open Tue.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thu. evening 6-10 p.m. Tickets are $29.95 for adults, $24.95 youth ages 13-17, teachers, students, seniors and people with disabilities, $19.94 for youth ages 4-12, under 4 free. Pier 15. 415-528-4444.

San Francisco State University Astronomy DepartmentThe university has the Charles F. Hagar Planetarium and an observatory with four telescopes. The planetarium is capable of showing 1,354 stars, suns, moons and planets. Staff and graduate students occasionally present free public shows. 1600 Holloway Ave., Thornton Hall. 415-338-1852.


DeAnza College The Fujitsu Planetarium offers astronomy shows with an admission cost of $7. According to the website, this is the largest school planetarium west of the Rocky Mountains. 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. 408-864-8814.

Lick Observatory Founded in 1888, this eye on the sky has managed to keep up with advances in astronomy and serves as a research facility for the University of California. Visitors can visit 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. 

NASA Ames Research Center Public Visitor Center, Moffett Field This free center showcases models of spacecraft missions, an exhibit about living and working in space, a moon rock, an immersive theater that shows video of a simulated flight through the Milky Way and more. Hours are Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 12-4 p.m. 650-604-6497.

Lisa Renner is a calendar editor at Bay Area Parent.

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