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September 18, 2014

See the Stars in San Francisco

From their wealth of Michelin-starred restaurants to gazing at luminous celestial bodies at the Morrison Planetarium, this city is full of stars. Below is a list of ways to enjoy stars of all kinds in San Francisco:

Six Decades of Star Gazing

At the California Academy of Sciences, the Morrison Planetarium has been showing audiences the wonders of our skies for over sixty years. Currently the largest all-digital dome in the world, the 75-foot diameter projection screen plays different shows every day including “Dark Universe,” exploring our galaxies, and “Life: A Cosmic Story,” a history of our planet Earth. The planetarium also sometimes screens live NASA feeds as well as the always popular star shows.

Touch Me, Touch Me

At both the California Academy of Sciences and Pier 39’s Aquarium of the Bay, docents are on hand to help guide gentle fingers through manmade tide pools to shake hands with a sea star or tease the tendrils of a sea urchin. The Discovery Tidepool at the Academy is stocked with sea stars, hermit crabs and other residents of California’s rocky shore. The invertebrates Touch Pool offers a rainbow of sea stars, sea cucumbers, urchins, anemones and other creatures common to the California coast tide pools. Aquarium of the Bay also offers a touch pool populated with sharks, bat rays and skates. The best time to visit is in the morning when they are more active before feeding time at 12:30pm.

Michelin Stars

Northern California is home to several dozen Michelin-starred restaurants including two three-Michelin star restaurants:  The Restaurant at Meadowood and The French Laundry. Three Michelin stars is considered the utmost international recognition in the culinary world and is reserved, according to the authors of the Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country 2013, for those restaurants that “serve exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”

Starlight Room

Nobody seems to know the dimensions of the giant star crowning the roof of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Let’s just say it’s very big. Mounted  on top of the 21-story hotel which was originally built in 1928 it is synonymous with Harry Denton’s Starlight Room. Cocktail culture is carefully cultivated here by mixologist Joel Teitelbaum and the plush lounge is also known for its Sunday’s A Drag Brunch.


The Bay Area is home to several observatories where the moon, stars and galaxies get top billing 365 days (and nights) a year. Among them are Chabot Space & Science Center and Lawrence Hall of Science located in the East Bay. From its perch at 10000 Skyline Blvd. in Oakland, Chabot’s observatory deck offers panoramic views 1,500 feet above the bay. One Centennial Dr.  in the Berkeley hills is the home of Lawrence Hall of Science. Stargazers are encouraged to bring their own equipment and enjoy the twinkle of stars and constellations that can be viewed from the plaza, as well as magnificent views of the city lights along San Francisco Bay. Both Chabot and Lawrence offer planetarium shows as well.

Sidewalk Astronomers

San Francisco’s Sidewalk Astronomers was founded in 1968. On the website co-founder John Dobson notes that when asked how he became interested in astronomy, he replied “I was born.” That early fascination has yielded a lasting legacy for Bay Area sky watchers and informs a website filled with tips ranging from setting up your own sidewalk stargazing events and even offering sample fliers to recruit the neighbors.


San Francisco has some noted architects who have left a legacy here. And there’s a modern side to this, too, with the new SFJAZZ Center and the expansion of SFMOMA which will be completed in 2016. SFMOMA has a noted architectural department and some other favorites are the gallery spaces at the American Institute of Architects, the SPUR Urban Center and the Autodesk Gallery at One Market St.

The Place Formerly Known as Stars

Once upon a time the restaurant Stars located at 150 Redwood Alley near San Francisco’s Civic Center was the place to be seen. Considered one of the birthplaces of California cuisine along with Chez Panisse, Stars was opened by chef Jeremiah Tower and was a local institution from 1984-1999. Food and wine expert Narsai David in his guide, The Menu San Francisco Bay Area, described it as “one of the most exciting restaurants in the city” in the 1994 edition. The space is now the home of O3 Bistro & Lounge, 524 Van Ness Ave. Featuring Asian Californian Fusion food, the spot opened in January 2012.

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