Los Angeles, the city of angels… and stars!
Okay, these aren’t the same “stars” you’re thinking of when you want to go “stargazing” in Los Angeles. While it’s common to spot a celebrity while walking down the street in some parts of the city, it’s a lot harder to see the actual stars. You know: the ones in the sky!
Luckily, there are a few places in and near Los Angeles where you can find dark skies and twinkling stars. Within just a few hours of the city, you can find breathtakingly beautiful opportunities to look up and be amazed.
This post was originally published in November 2017, and was updated in May 2020 to ensure it provides accurate recommendations. In light of the ‘Shelter in Place’ order in L.A. county, please research each location before traveling to ensure they are open and you can comply with social distancing regulations.
The Best Spots to Go Stargazing in Los Angeles
If you’re insistent on beating light pollution and air clarity issues, there are a few places in L.A. where you can actually go stargazing.
Griffith Park Observatory
Most people know Griffith Park Observatory from that scene in La La Land with all the stars, you can see many of those same stars on a clear night from Griffith Park. Admission to the observatory and grounds is free and open until 10 pm every day except Mondays; there’s a small charge to see shows in the planetarium.
2800 E. Observatory Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027, www.griffithobs.org
Topanga State Park
One of the largest open space preserves surrounded by a city, Topanga State Park is part of the Santa Monica mountains. If you’re up for hiking, you can take Highway 27 to Topanga and take one of the hiking trails up out of town. From there, you can get a great view of the dark north sky and a surprising number of stars. The best part? It’s only a 40-minute drive!
20828 Entrada Rd, Topanga, CA 90290, www.parks.ca.gov
Heritage Museum of Orange County
The Orange County Astronomers hold monthly beginner stargazing classes in the parking lots at Heritage Museum. While it’s best to attend one of those events so you’re on the grounds with a group, this is where you can find pretty good dark skies in Orange County.
3101 W Harvard St, Santa Ana, CA 92704, www.ocastronomers.org
Stargazing Spots within One Hour from L.A.
Mount Wilson Observatory
If you’re willing to head an hour north into the San Gabriel Mountains. Mount Wilson Observatory is regularly reported as the best stargazing near Los Angeles. Protected by the mountains and Angeles National Forest, you can see truly dark skies by observing through the 60-inch or 100-inch telescopes – or by just looking up!
466 Foothill Blvd., #327, La Cañada, CA 91011, www.mtwilson.edu
Templin Highway isn’t a single destination; anywhere along the two-lane Ridge Road Route is a good spot to pull over and observe the stars. Just be sure to use one of the pull-outs so you’re safely out of the way as other stargazers drive by looking for the perfect view.
37700 Templin Hwy, Castaic, CA 91384
Malibu Creek State Park
Another 20 minutes beyond Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park is another favorite stargazing spot for L.A. locals. The park has some trees and hills, but these help insulate against light pollution and the open spaces give you plenty of views of the night sky in almost every direction.
1925 Las Virgenes Rd, Calabasas, CA 91302, www.parks.ca.gov
Stargazing Spots within Two Hours from L.A.
Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve
90 minutes north of the city, Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve is away from the lights of L.A., and the mountains that block them. Just into the edge of the Mojave Desert, there are hiking trails for daytime fun – and unhindered dark skies once the sun goes down.
15101 Lancaster Rd, Lancaster, CA 93536, www.parks.ca.gov
Big Bear Solar Observatory
Two hours east in San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Solar Observatory is located out on a spit of land in Big Bear Lake. As the name suggests, this observatory is actually best for observing the sun! Once that fun is over, you can look out over the lake and get relatively dark skies for stargazing too.
40386 North Shore Lane, Big Bear City, CA 92314, www.bbso.njit.edu
Red Rock Canyon State Park
North just beyond the Mojave Desert, Red Rock Canyon State Park is full of beautiful geologic formations. Those formations obstruct some of the night skies, but as there are limited trees you can still see pretty spectacular views.
Cantil, CA, www.parks.ca.gov
Saddleback Butte State Park
On the southern edge of the Mojave, Saddleback Butte State Park gives you a taste of what the desert is like – and how stunningly dark the night sky can be. The park is open sunrise to sunset, but there is a campground where you can set up for the night, and all the stars that come with it.
Lancaster, CA 93535, www.parks.ca.gov
Other Stargazing Spots to Consider
If you’re still looking for a stargazing spot and the ones mentioned so far aren’t far enough from L.A.’s bright lights, here are some that are more than two hours away and offer even darker starry skies:
- Mount Pinos in Los Padres National Forest
- Borrego Springs in San Diego County
- The Salton Sea in the Coachella Valley
- Milpitas Wash, out on the Arizona border
- Midland Ghost Town in Riverside County
Bonus: Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is worth the extra time in the car to get there – but plan a multi-day excursion if you really want to visit. Joshua Tree was named a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, mean it has basically unparalleled dark skies compared to basically anywhere else in the world.
74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277, www.nps.gov/jotr
How Good is the Stargazing in Los Angeles?
Within Los Angeles County, stargazing is admittedly not great. Nearly 4 million people live in Los Angeles, and most nights the sky is a haze of light pollution. Add on Los Angeles’ unfortunate chemical pollution, and you’ll be lucky to see even a few stars from any particular part of the city.
There are a few stargazing spots where you can see a bit more of the sky and our celestial neighbors; we’ve detailed them below. If you’re willing to drive out of the city, Los Angeles is close to some of the darkest skies in the county!
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in L.A.
Known for (and the definition of) “SoCal” weather, Los Angeles is a great destination year-round; even in winter months the temperatures are warm and it’s sunnier than any other type of weather.
The best months are March to May and September to November for clear skies, good weather, and interesting astronomical sights to make stargazing enjoyable in Los Angeles. In April, the Lyrids meteor shower comes toward the end of the month; in October you can watch both the Draconids and Orionids meteor showers; the Taurids in early November is also worth looking for as you gaze skyward.
Can You See the Milky Way from Los Angeles?
It’s virtually impossible to see the Milky Way within the Los Angeles city limits, due to the light pollution. On a clear night in the summer, you might be able to see a faint haze of the Milky Way in the night sky from secluded spots like Griffith Observatory (more information below), but if you really want to see our galaxy, you’ve gotta get out of the city.
April to October are the best months to view the Milky Way in the night sky in Los Angeles, which is a nice long window of opportunity. If you’re visiting one of the stargazing spots outside of Los Angeles listed below, like Joshua Tree National Park or Malibu Creek State Park, on a clear night – you’re pretty much guaranteed a view!
Other Space-Related Experiences in Los Angeles
What L.A. lacks in air quality and darkness, it makes up for with some amazing space museums and facilities. Here are some of the unmissable ones:
- Plan a day at California Science Center, where you can see the Space Shuttle Endeavour up close and personal. There are plenty of other exhibits too, but seriously: Endeavour. (website)
- Once a year, NASA’s JPL Facility hosts an Open House in early October. If you’re visiting L.A. around that time, be sure to plan this into your itinerary. (website)
- Spend a few hours at Columbia Memorial Science Center. Perfect for kids who are interested in science, there are exhibits and hands-on activities for science lovers of all ages. (website)
Do you have other questions about stargazing in L.A.? Ask in the comments.