Where to Stargaze in San Francisco
So, you’ve stopped to smell the proverbial roses on your trip (or the actual ones, if you dropped by the Conservatory of Flowers), and you want one last grand moment of enjoyment to cap off a magical summer night. But what to do next? You might try gazing into the cosmos and enjoying some celestial beauty. Looking at the stars is not the usual sort of thing a person thinks about doing while in a city, but this is San Francisco, and we don’t have to play by anyone else’s rules. Here are a few places in or near the city to soak up views of the stars.
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 60 years. Currently the largest all-digital dome in the world, the 75-foot diameter projection screen plays different shows every day. The planetarium also sometimes screens live NASA feeds as well as the always popular star shows.
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.
San Francisco’s Sidewalk Astronomers was founded in 1968. On the website, the late co-founder John Dobson noted that when asked how he became interested in astronomy, he replied “I was born.” Dobson's fascination yielded a lasting legacy for Bay Area sky watchers and informs a website filled with tips ranging from setting up your own DIY sidewalk stargazing events and even offering sample fliers to recruit the neighbors.
HAWK HILL (MARIN HEADLANDS)
At 923 feet above sea level, Hawk Hill is the perfect place to gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and San Francisco below. But turn your gaze upward to check out the night sky while you’re perched atop the summit. Many come here to check out migratory raptors as they fly south during the fall or to bike up the strenuous hill, but we recommend driving up Conzelman Road at night to park yourself for stargazing.
MT. TAMALPAIS (MARIN COUNTY)
On Saturdays between April and October, you can participate in free astronomy nights at Mt. Tamalpais State Park in the Mountain Theater. The evenings begin with a 45-minute lecture by a professional astronomer, physicist, or space scientist, followed by a Night Sky Tour that highlights prominent constellations, stars, and planets, and then an observing session with telescopes provided by the SF Amateur Astronomers. From November through March, you’ll still find stunning views from the 2,571-foot peak of Mt. Tam and excellent access to the night skies without the informative sessions.
GRIZZLY PEAKS (BERKELEY HILLS)
Drive up Grizzly Peak Boulevard and you’ll find several places to pull over and check out the night sky. Climbing high up the Berkeley Hills, you’ll enjoy a panoramic landscape of Oakland, San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and Berkeley and catch unobstructed views of the stars. Since you’re so high above the city, the street lights won’t distract from constellation viewing—and it’s the perfect place to spend a few hours canoodling with your crush.