In a city filled with lights it can be easy to forget San Diego also has some of the best stargazing spots in the entire state of California. From the beach to the desert, there are plenty of opportunities to bust out your telescope and glimpse into the dark night sky. Don’t have your own telescope? That’s not an issue because some of these locations even offer stargazing with equipment and your own private astronomer free of charge. Without further adieu, here is our list of the top 10 best stargazing spots in San Diego.
Our top stargazing spot is a bit of a drive, but well worth the view. The streetlights are dimmer, the desert is barren, and the local airport has even adjusted its aircraft beacon to angle downward. Without a doubt, Borrego Springs, California’s first International Dark Sky Community Anza Borrego, takes stargazing very seriously. They place a restrictions or modifications on lights on public streets, outside of businesses, and even on home front porches to get a better glimpse of the stars. For additional education opportunities check out Dark Sky Week in April or schedule an evening with astronomer Dennis Mammana of Borrego Night Sky Tours.
Julian is known for more than just its delicious apple pies and impressive fall foliage. It also has some of the best stargazing opportunities in all of San Diego county. In fact, each year the small former mining city holds its annual free public StarFest. Here, visitors can view the skies above from a number of telescopes set up in a viewing area and ask experts questions. Additionally, many head to Observer’s Inn to get the true stargazing experience, a retreat nestled in the mountains of Julian far from the city lights.
Palomar Mountain, and more specifically the Palomar Observatory, is a well-known stargazing spots among night sky-watching enthusiasts. One weekend each month, from April through October, amateur astronomers from Southern California flock to the Observatory campground’s north and invite those without telescopes to use their equipment and learn more about the dark sky above. Also present on the mountain is the famous 200-inch Hale telescope (which used to be the largest in the world). Unfortunately, this giant telescope is only open for public tours during the day, so your best bet at seeing the stars is bringing your own or borrowing one during specified weekends.
Tierra Del Sol
You know a stargazing spot is legitimate when the San Diego Astronomy Association maintains a compound in it. In the southeastern end of the county, protected from the city lights by the surrounding mountains, lies the community of Tierra Del Sol. Monthly star parties are held here and allow the public to look through the SDAA’s 22-inch reflecting telescope. Astronomers are also on-hand to offer their expertise. Check out their events page to join in on the fun at the next star party.
For those who wish to keep their stargazing activities more local, Mt. Helix in La Mesa is the place to be. Mt. Helix stands high above the city below a 35-foot-tall Christian Cross crowning this 1,370 foot peak, taking visitors far away from the city lights. Once a year the Mt. Helix Park Foundation and the San Diego Astronomy Association up together to bring stargazers together to view the night sky from telescopes provided by SDAA members. This date is usually scheduled around one or more astrological phenomenon to make the most of the experience.
Ocean Beach is often overlooked for stargazing, but this small beach town has plenty of spots to catch some of the best views of the night sky. Steer clear of the crowded Santa Monica and Newport Avenue and instead find spots near the beach further down such as at the end of Orchard or Pescadero Avenue. On clear nights Sunset Cliffs is also a good spot to set up shop and look up to the stars.
Similar to nearby Borrego Springs, Ocotillo Wells, in all its desolate glory, is a prime location to see the stars shine their brightest. Ocotillo Wells, though a bit of a drive from central San Diego, is such a popular destination for stargazing it even hosts weekly stargazing programs at the OWSVRA Discovery Center. Just outside of the Discovery Center at the Amphitheater, park astronomers proudly allow visitors to view the distant galaxies and planets above through their 11-inch telescope.
One of the most beautiful beaches in San Diego also serves as a good location for watching the stars. While Torrey Pines isn’t the best location for stargazing, it does perhaps have the most spectacular surrounding views. The gentle lapping of waves in the distance, cuddled up on a blanket with a loved one is an idealistic way to spend a night beneath the stars. For best viewing here, go on a clear night with no moon about an hour after sunset.
Balboa Park is a stargazing destination that is easily accessible, safe, and essentially in the middle of the city. Despite its central location, it is still a decent location for checking out the night sky. The best nights to check out the stars here are the first Wednesday of every month when the San Diego Astronomy Association sets up 5 to 10 telescopes for free stargazing. Each telescope is manned by an expert who can help direct you and inform you on various visible celestial bodies.
Drive about an hour from downtown San Diego and you’ll arrive at Mount Laguna, where the air is crisp and the city lights are non-existant. Another big draw to Mount Laguna: ample stargazing opportunities. At 4,000 feet elevation well above the atmosphere stargazing opportunities are endless here on clear nights, which make it the ideal destination for any type of celestial event.
Have any San Diego stargazing spots you’d recommend? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!