San Francisco draws people from around the world. A city of opportunity and possibility, it’s one of the most powerful economies in the U.S. – and a tech hub for the world. During the daytime, the Bay Area buzzes with energy and innovation.
Once the sun goes down, there are equally impressive experiences to try and stargaze around ‘The City’ and in nearby cities like Oakland, San Jose, and Berkeley. If you’re in the mood for stargazing, here’s everything you need to know about how to plan a stargazing trip from San Francisco, where to go stargazing in the Bay Area, and the other fun space-related activities you can plan while waiting for the stars to come out.
Traveling with family? The best place for stargazing with little ones will be in the Presidio or Land’s End, especially the Parade Grounds and parking lots that don’t require walking at night to get a chance of dark skies.
The Best Stargazing Spots in San Francisco
San Francisco’s waterfront areas and parks are perfect for stargazing opportunities, when the weather cooperates. Explore the map below and read on to dig deeper into each one and see which ones will fit in your San Francisco itinerary.
Presidio Parade Grounds
What better place to catch an awe-inspiring view than in the Presidio? From the Main Parade Grounds, there’s enough land and trees around to create some darkness and a good chance for a small view of the night sky. But even if the stars aren’t out, it’s an easy walk to go see the Golden Gate Bridge.
Montgomery Street, Main Post, San Francisco, CA 94129, www.presidio.gov
USS San Francisco Memorial, Land’s End, and Point Lobos
From anywhere on Land’s End – near the Presidio, so understandably similar in the quality of darkness – you can see the stars on a clear night, especially after watching the sunset over Sutro Baths. Whether you opt for the parking lot near the USS San Francisco Memorial where the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers host occasional star parties to a nice walk out on Point Lobos, there are few spots comparable.
680 Point Lobos Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, www.nps.gov
Another popular spot for star parties, Pier 17 near The Exploratorium is a pretty good spot to try and catch a view of the stars along the San Francisco waterfront. There is definitely light pollution to contend with, but you can get a good view over the North Bay on a truly clear night.
The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111
San Francisco State University Observatory
SFSU’s observatory is perfect if you want to get up close and personal with stars since they have three telescopes at the facility. On various weeknights, you can peer through their 10″ Optical Craftsman, 12″ Schmidt-Cassegrain, or 16″ Schmidt-Cassegrain; the schedule changes seasonally and is free to the public.
1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132, www.physics.sfsu.edu
Golden Gate Park: Strawberry Hill
Golden Gate Park is arguably one of the best parts of San Francisco – and least known to tourists. The sprawling park is home to a variety of features, and Strawberry Hill is the best by far if you’re seeking stars. Climbing up the island slopes, you’ll enjoy the privacy of the park which helps cut down light pollution, and gives great views to the West.
Twin Peaks is hit or miss for stargazing: you might get lucky and be above enough light pollution for good straight-up views, or Karl the Fog may roll in and obscure everything. Even if it’s not clear enough for stars, you’ll still have amazing views of all of San Francisco.
501 Twin Peaks Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94114, www.sfrecpark.org
Corona Heights Park
You might not imagine there’s any kind of stargazing in The Castro, but tiny Corona Heights Park can give you a view of a few stars. As the name suggests, a short uphill climb gets you away from buildings and lights.
Roosevelt Way & Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94114, www.sfrecpark.org
The Best Stargazing Spots in the East Bay
Redwood Regional Park
Redwood Regional Park has limited sky views because several parts of the park feature its namesake trees – and redwoods are good at obscuring the sky. In a few sections though, you’ll get partial night skies and plenty of darkness due to those same trees and reduced light pollution in the Oakland hills.
7867 Redwood Rd, Oakland, CA 94619, www.ebparks.org
Chabot Space & Science Center
Near Redwood Regional Park, Chabot Space & Science Center is worth visiting even in the daytime. The science and space museum has a variety of exhibits that will entrance space fans young and old. Friday and Saturday nights, they also hold open observatory nights. You can peer through an 8″ Alvan Clark refractor, a 20″ refractor – the largest on the West Coast–, or a 36″ reflector at these free events.
10000 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619, www.chabotspace.org
Sibley Volcanic National Reserve
The site of an ancient volcano, Sibley Volcanic National Reserve is a great spot for stargazing just outside the main areas of light pollution. Just east of the Oakland Hills, this area is free of development and protected from most light by the hills themselves. You can get especially great views of the northern, eastern, and southern skies.
6701 Skyline Blvd, Oakland, CA 94611, www.ebparks.org
Hike – or drive – up Grizzly Peak after dark for the best stargazing in Berkeley. Grizzly Peak is known for its great views of the Bay Area during the day, but at night it’s protected somewhat from light pollution too. Bonus: you can time your trip right to stop at Lawrence Hall of Science which regularly has space-related exhibits.
The Best Stargazing Spots in San Jose/the South Bay
When you ask locals where to go stargazing near San Jose, their answer almost always starts with Lick Observatory. As the worlds first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory and built in the 1880s, Lick Observatory has a compelling history – and great sky views to justify the hype. It takes an hour to get to the Observatory from San Jose, but it’s well worth it especially when they’re hosting one of their famous summer stargazing events.
7281 Mt Hamilton Rd, Mt Hamilton, CA 95140, www.ucolick.org
Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve
Anywhere called an “open space preserve” sounds like a wonderful spot for stargazing, right? After all, that’s part of what the International Dark Sky Association is trying to preserve. Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve proves why, with over 2,000 acres of landscape free of development – including some parts with great sky views.
Los Altos, CA 94022, www.openspace.org
The Best Stargazing Spots in the North Bay/Marin County
“Mt. Tam,” as locals call it, draws visitors year-round during daylight hours for its great hiking and views of Marin County. At night, it’s also a popular spot for stargazing, well above the fog and light pollution you find in of most of the Bay Area. During the summer months, there are even educational sessions each Saturday night for families interested in learning more about astronomy.
Marin County, www.parks.ca.gov
Hawk Hill is closer to San Francisco than Mt. Tam, and you’ll face more light pollution, but it’s worth it to mix stargazing with sightseeing. From Hawk Hill, you can get stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco to the South; turn north and it’s nothing but night sky and stars.
Marin Headlands, www.parkconservancy.gov
Robert Ferguson Observatory at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
The “RFO” is the best spot for stargazing in Sonoma; surrounded by Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, it’s protected from the light from nearby developments, and the proportion of agriculture in the Sonoma Valley helps cut this down even further. Peer through one of three telescopes at the RFO: a 24″ and 14″ reflector or an 8″ refractor. The RFO is unfortunately closed right now, due to the fires in Sonoma County in late 2017, it’s expected to reopen in early 2018.
2605 Adobe Canyon Rd, Kenwood, CA 95452, www.rfo.org
The Best Stargazing Spots Along the Pacific Coast
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes is beautiful weekend or day trip from San Francisco even if you’re not chasing stars; on a clear weekend you can look out over the Pacific Ocean and get a sense for what real darkness feels like. Since there’s little development near the National Seashore land, it’s almost 360° views of the stars.
Inverness, CA 94937, www.nps.gov
Tucked in between two ridges as the mountains meet the sea, Muir Beach is small but offers great star views to the West over the Pacific Ocean. The beach closes at 9 pm, so the best time for stargazing is in autumn and winter when darkness comes earlier.
Muir Beach, CA 94965, www.muirbeach.com
South of San Francisco along the Pacific Coast, Pigeon Point is a fun destination if you want to get away from the bustle of the Bay Area. Book a night at the funky nearby Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel and you’ll be right on site for great stargazing like the photo pictured above.
Pescadero, CA 94060, www.parks.ca.gov
Shark Fin Cove
Shark Fin Cove is picturesque any time of day, with huge sea stack formations and a dynamic rocky beach. When the sun goes down, it’s even more stunning, and the landscape only adds to the dramatic effect of the huge sky of stars.
Davenport, CA 95017, www.santacruzlife.com
How Good is the Stargazing in San Francisco?
As is the case in most large cities of the U.S., the stargazing in San Francisco is not great. Light pollution is the biggest factor affecting dark sky quality in the Bay Area, and the weather comes in a close second.
If you’re serious about stargazing while living in or visiting San Francisco, here’s what to do:
- Keep an eye on the weather patterns for the days when you want to go stargazing. Clouds/fog come in quickly in the Bay Area from both the east and west, so conditions change within an hour too.
- Watch temperatures, as these also contribute to the probability of fog.
- Plan to drive 60-90 minutes out of the city for the best chance of seeing a truly dark sky.
- If you’re in San Francisco and want to see as much of the night sky as possible, try and get to the Pacific Coast, where large parks, beaches, and open land help make this possible.
Best Times of Year to Go Stargazing in San Francisco
While some of the best night sky views for San Francisco should be in the summer months, the weather rarely cooperates. Most of the summer, the upper part of the Bay Area is blanketed in the famous fog; the lower part of the Bay (San Jose) is swelteringly hot.
San Francisco is known for having an ‘Indian summer’ with great weather in September and October. Therefore, the best time of year to go stargazing in San Francisco is late August to early October. If the skies are clear, there are great celestial objects to look for, including the Draconids Meteor Shower. In particular, if you’re seeking a view of the Milky Way, September is the best chance you’ll have. Read on for more info…
Can You See the Milky Way in the Bay Area?
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see the Milky Way in San Francisco. Between the foggy weather and the light pollution from 7 million people, you can imagine that the faint light of our galaxy is lost to view.
Instead, you’ll need to head out of the city:
- Head north from San Francisco into Marin or Sonoma Counties and you may get great views, especially along the Pacific Coast.
- Work south along the Pacific Coast for good views on the west part of The Peninsula.
- Journey south beyond San Jose to get away from the heavy areas of development, and you’ll likely get good views on a clear night.
- If you’re in the East Bay, keep heading east over the Berkeley/Oakland hills – and beyond Walnut Creek if possible – to get dark skies and a chance to see the Milky Way.
Bonus: Did you know there’s a street called ‘Milky Way’ in Pittsburgh, California? It’s a 45-minute drive east of the city!
Other Space-Related Experiences in the Bay Area
Need space activities to do during the daytime in San Francisco and the surrounding cities? Try these:
- Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the best science museum in the Bay Area. In addition to science exhibits, you can also spend time in the Morrison Planetarium. Cal Academy is part of the San Francisco CityPass, which helps make it a more affordable excursion. (website)
- Visit the Lawrence Hall of Science and Planetarium in Berkeley, especially if you’re planning to stargaze from nearby Grizzly Peak. With family-oriented exhibits and planetarium shows, there’s plenty to keep the whole crew interested. Same goes for Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland; it’s the best spot for science in that part of the Bay. (website / website)
- Down on the peninsula, visit the Starlab Planetarium at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos. Perfect for people who love planes as much as rockets! (website)
Where to Stay When Visiting San Francisco
While San Francisco doesn’t have any dedicated space hotels or suites, there are some futuristic and space-inspired spots where you can dream about exploring (or just gazing at) the stars:
- The W San Francisco is by far the most “spacey” hotel in San Francisco, with futuristic design in every aspect of the hotel. Rooms start at $199/night but rise quickly during peak season, since the W is right in the heart of ‘downtown’ San Francisco. Click here to book: TRVL.com or Hotels.com
- Hotel Zephyr is not space themed, but the design is too cool not to mention it. Rooms from $161/night, but being located in popular North Beach, you can expect them to be higher pretty much year-round. Click here to book: TRVL.com or Hotels.com
- Inn at the Presidio is, again, not space themed in any way, but it’s a beautiful option if you want to stay in the Presidio, close to the Golden Gate Bridge, and with good access to some of the good stargazing spots in the Presidio and Land’s End. Rooms from Click here to book: Hotels.com