When’s the last time you turned your attention skyward? The Bay Area has several public observatories where you can take a break from your earthly qualms and get lost in a galaxy far, far away. Whether you seek to gain some distance from this giant blue marble, or you want to get into a conversation about aliens, these four local observatories have you covered with public telescope viewings and more.
1. Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton
The University of California has operated this famous observatory atop Mount Hamilton since 1888. Their Friday Evening with the Stars events include astronomy talks by scientists, an observatory history talk, and of course public telescope viewing through the 36-inch Great Lick Refractor telescope and 40-inch Nickel Reflector telescope. General admission tickets are $25 per person and sell out quickly, so be sure to book in advance.
During the summer, Lick Observatory hosts Music of the Spheres, which will bring live concerts to the typical telescope viewing experience. There are also public evening tours available, which will take you up close and personal with the enormous 3-meter Shane Telescope.
Location: 7281 Mount Hamilton Rd, Mount Hamilton
2. Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland
This Oakland observatory hosts free telescope viewings every weekend! Visitors may explore the stars through Chabot’s historic telescopes, free of charge. Weather permitting, the viewings happen from 7:30-10:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Join Chabot astronomers on the Observatory Deck, which sits 1,500 feet above the Bay with spectacular views of land, sea, and sky. It holds three different telescopes including an 8-inch Alvan Clark refractor from 1883 and a 20-inch refractor telescope from 1916, which is the largest of its kind regularly available to the public in the western US.
In the space center itself, you’ll find the hands-on NASA Experience, which takes you through real stories of discovery. You can also check out First Fridays for a different themed experience every month.
Location: 10000 Skyline Blvd, Oakland
3. Campbell Hall at UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley has brought back its popular Astro Night series on first Thursdays, which means visitors once again have free access to the astronomy department’s telescopes and rooftop observatory at Campbell Hall.
Astro Night invites members of the public to explore the galaxies via the university’s telescopes, a collection which includes a 17-inch telescope in the observatory. Each event includes a lecture from a university researcher, usually having to do with life elsewhere in the universe and aimed at a high school level. Doors will open 30 minutes before each star party and the events are free but first come, first served.
Location: Campbell Hall, University Drive, UC Berkeley
4. Foothill College Observatory in Los Altos Hills
This small observatory hosts public viewing sessions from 9-11pm on the first and third Friday of every month, plus scheduled viewings for astronomical events. Their observatory has a 16-inch computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector and a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. Be advised that visitors must purchase a $3 parking pass on campus at any of the public lots.
Location: 4100 Perimeter Rd, Los Altos Hills
Featured image: © 2016 Laurie Hatch, courtesy of Lick Observatory