Stargazing might be one of the most magical activities. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city (and frankly, the pollution), stars a million miles away unveil themselves in all their effervescent glory. While the furthest person from the city has the highest chances of witnessing a starry night, it’s possible to catch a glimmer or two near San Francisco — and the bay’s stunning flora and fauna make the experience all the more magical.
Here’s a rundown of the best stargazing spots in the Bay Area:
1. Lick Observatory (Mount Hamilton)
As the first permanently occupied mountain top lookout station, Lick Observatory was built in 1888. Today, it’s a base for astronomers from all University of California astronomy campuses, and it’s also open to the public. Views from the mount are magnificent, due in large part to its high elevation. Since the observatory is closer to San Jose, it takes a couple hours to get there from SF, so it makes for a fun road trip with friends or family!
2. Chabot Space & Science Center (Oakland)
Chabot was also founded in the 80s as an observatory deck, and it’s now one of the main astronomy centers of the Bay Area, featuring a Planetarium and exhibition galleries. It’s a great place to explore stars, planets and all things space-related through their 3 large telescopes: the 8-inch “Leah”, 20-inch “Rachel” and 36-inch “Nellie”. The Chabot Center is located 1,500 feet above the Bay, so you’re sure to stare in awe at the outstanding views. They even have free telescopic viewings every weekend!
3. Twin Peaks (SF)
Twin Peaks are located in the city, so clear skies are not guaranteed, but you might get lucky and see above the light pollution depending on the weather. Either way, at 922 feet above ground, it’s a gorgeous location for hikes and breathtaking San Francisco views even though it’s super touristy. Plus, if you get there before sunset, you might just get to see the adorable blue butterflies that made Twin Peaks their home!
4. Sibley Volcanic National Reserve (Oakland)
If you’re looking for a stargazing place not too far from the city, the Sibley Volcanic National Reserve in Oakland is a fantastic spot. Because it’s east of the Oakland Hills, the area near the ancient volcano is completely protected from pollution and fog.
But before you plan your trip over to the reserve, note the reserve is part of The East Bay Regional Park District, with Wilcox Station Staging Area and McCosker Loop Trail currently closed for construction through Spring 2023 for creek restoration and public access enhancements. You can still stargaze from anywhere else in the reserve and the surrounding parks though!
5. Mount Tamalpais (Marin)
Located north of the Bay, Mount Tamalpais sits in Marin County State Park as the county’s highest peak (and that screams incredible views!) At 2,500 feet above ground, you can stare in awe at the night sky uninterrupted. It’s also a great hiking spot, so it could easily make for a day’s worth of family-friendly activities. Hikers, bikers, equestrians, runners… lovers of the outdoors are most definitely going to like this one.
6. San Francisco State University Observatory (SF)
Just like the Chabot Space & Science Center, SFSU has three different telescopes at their observatory. That means you can get a good look at all the stars and planets that make up our galaxy using their 10” Optical Craftsman or 12” and 16” Schmidt-Cassegrains. It’s also in the city, which again, means more fog and pollution, but it’s also super easy to access so why not give it a go? With all of the wonderful things to do in SF this month, it could easily be the final destination after a fun day around the city.
7. Mount Diablo (East Bay)
If you’re down for a quick hour drive over to the East Bay, Mount Diablo is a must to visit. Coined as one of the best stargazing spots near the Bay Area, it’s elevated at close to 4,000 feet above ground, which eliminates a lot of the pollution and fog problems that arise when looking for stars. Plus, it’s a go-to location to spot the Milky Way in the summer months! Surrounding the peak is a wide array of open spaces monitored by the Mount Diablo State Park, so you can stop by for a hike or two when the weather’s not ideal for stargazing.
And for more space-related activities, check out the otherworldly ‘Space Explorers: The Infinite’ at the Richmond Waterfront Craneway Pavilion. Doors close on April 9, so hurry to grab those tickets!