It’s kind of an understatement, but California is a really incredible place. It’s a huge state – the third largest in the U.S. – and includes an incredible variety of natural wonders, from the Sierra Nevadas in the east through the flat Central Valley to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and deserts in the south to southern Cascade volcanoes in the north. You can easily spend a whole lifetime in California without seeing it all.
The same is true for stargazing in California: there’s no shortage of incredible places for stargazing across the Golden State.
In this post, you’ll discover some – but certainly not all – of the best places for stargazing in California. These locations span the whole state, though there are definitely other great stargazing places near them, in other areas of California, and even near the big cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Whether you’re planning a trip to California or call the Golden State home, these stargazing spots will reveal the wonders of the night sky.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Cahuilla, Chumash, Esselen, Hupa, Kumeyaay, Maidu, Ohlone, Paiute, and Yokuts peoples, among many others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in December 2021, and was updated most recently in August 2023.
Map of Where to Go Stargazing in California
By popular request, I’ve added a map to this post to help make it easier to understand where each of the best spots for stargazing in California can be found. I hope this helps you plan the ultimate stargazing trip!
1. Alabama Hills
Popular among RVers and overland travelers, Alabama Hills raises the bar high when it comes to stargazing in California, with dazzling dots invading the night sky and covering the stunning kaleidoscopic landscape.
Thanks to its secludedness, Alabama Hills provides exceptional stargazing opportunities, with experienced stargazers able to spot the Andromeda and the Triangulum galaxies with the naked eye. There are plenty of options to enjoy the area once the night falls.
If you don’t want to stop, just drive down Movie Road and take in the stargazing show unfolding before your eyes as you go.
2. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a favorite California stargazing destination. The park earned its badge as an International Dark Sky Park in 2018, but it has been welcoming avid stargazers since long before. Its pristine dark skies are partly due to Borrego Springs, California’s first International Dark Sky Community.
The charming town has committed to reducing light pollution and preserving its healthy skies, ensuring the park retains its stargazing opportunities. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the largest in California, so there’s tons of space to set up your telescope or blanket and delve into the starry night.
3. Benton Hot Springs
Benton Hot Springs is in a tiny village far enough from the Bay Area cities and the light pollution prevents you from observing astronomical wonders. While many people go to Benton Hot Springs to profit from the tranquility and dip in the hot mineral water during colder months, the area is also popular among astronomers and photographers.
Miles of sprawling sagebrush surround Benton Hot Springsmeans th ere’s no shortage of spots to stargaze. The area doesn’t have much going on either, with very few amenities except The Inn, a popular B&B with campsites with hot spring tubs. Unsurprisingly, The Inn is popular among stargazers who want to soak in views of the night sky from the comfort of their hot tubs as you don’t need more than your eyes to admire the beauty of the cosmos here.
4. Big Sur
While most of California’s southern coast has enough light pollution to wash out the stars, Big Sur has big promises for those who want to explore the cosmos. Bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the west by the Pacific Ocean, this stretch of coastline grants exceptional views of the dark sky.
Stargazing over the Pacific Ocean is a tempting affair for stargazers; however, fog can sometimes block the stars. Don’t despair, though. The East also offers (and ensures) prime viewing conditions thanks to the Santa Lucia Mountains blocking the skyglow from big cities.
5. Borrego Springs
You can anticipate from what I wrote about Borrego Springs in the Anza-Borrego section that this tight-knit community would be among the prime spots for stargazing in California. Borrego Springs in one of the few International Dark Sky Communities in the world.
Its residents have managed to provide upscale amenities while keeping light pollution at bay. You can join astronomer and sky photographer Dennis Mammana’s star parties in The Springs, with drinks, dinner, and guided stargazing. There’s a lot more to enjoy on your stay in Borrego Springs, too: golf courses, hiking trails, spa days, biking.
6. Calaveras Big Tree State Park
Named after its towering trees, Calaveras Big Tree State Park is one of the best spots to see enormous sequoias since it preserves two groves of giant sequoia trees. Despite its incredible landscape, the state park is not as popular as its other counterparts and doesn’t receive many visitors. However, this can be an enormous advantage for stargazers.
You’ll have a harder time spotting the stars within a sequoia grove, but there’s plenty of other spots around. The park also hosts Astronomy Nights, where astronomers bring two telescopes and astronomical binoculars so everyone can enjoy the moon, planets, and deep-sky objects.
7. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley lives up to its name when you see the skyrocketing temperatures registered in summer (115 degrees aren’t uncommon.) However, there are great rewards for those willing to endure the blazing heat and wait until nightfall. Death Valley National Park not only is America’s largest International Dark Sky Park, but it is also one of only eight that has achieved “Gold Tier” status.
Its beautiful night sky is one of the darkest in the country and becomes ripe with twinkling stars – stargazers can see the Milky Way with an unaided eye. The park has prepared tons of activities for people who want to enjoy the night sky, like The Tonight’s Sky Tour. Badwater Basin, Ubehebe Crater, and Harmony Borax Works are prime stargazing spots for those who want to go solo.
Hackamore isn’t one of the first California stargazing spots that come to mind. Located near Modoc National Forest, Hackamore is a 659-miles drive away from Downtown. It is not the most accessible place to get to, but worth it for the night views. The area’s elevation at 4,705 feet, the dry air, and complete remoteness create perfect conditions for a stargazing extravaganza.
There are other perks of visiting Hackamore besides stargazing. It is only 30 miles away from Lava Beds National Monument and another 30 from Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, both excellent places to enjoy stunning scenery and wildlife.
9. Joshua Tree National Park
Generally speaking, L.A. isn’t in great city for stargazing. However, a two-hour drive away lies Joshua Tree National Park, one of the best places for stargazing in California. An official International Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree National Park enjoys a prime location in the Low Desert, where stars shine as brightly as ever.
The park hosts a Night Sky Festival every year. They have limited capacity and require advanced reservation. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can stop by any time of the year and watch the shimmery sky above the park’s campgrounds, with Cottonwood Campground as the most popular for stargazers.
Apple-pie town Julian goes unnoticed by most stargazers in California. It turns out that yummy slices of apple pie aren’t the only thing galore in this town; stars abound just as much. If not, take a look at the Observer’s Inn, Julian’s bed and breakfast that’s all about astronomy. The venue features three research-grade telescopes where guests can book sky tours with enthusiast stargazers to explore and learn more about the universe. Both rooms and sky tours at the Observer’s Inn pack quickly, so make sure to make a reservation in advance.
11. Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve are an incredible stargazing location. The unspoiled immensity of the landscape shows the desert ecosystem in all its glory. While your main objective is catching stars, I highly recommend you arrive at the dunes before sunset. Seeing the sun hide below the horizon while giving way to the shimmery stars is an indescribable experience.
As much as Kelso Dunes are an ideal spot for stargazing, getting there is a strenuous task. The dunes rise 650 feet above the desert, and the trail is mostly soft sand, which hampers the way to the top even more. If hiking doesn’t fit your plans, the views are equally good from the trailhead.
12. Lake Tahoe
If there were just one answer to the question, where to go stargazing in California?, Lake Tahoe would be among the candidates. It comes as no surprise since the freshwater lake meets all necessary (and more) conditions that guarantee prime stargazing sessions: 6,200 feet high elevation, remoteness, dry air, western on-shore marine airflow, and 300 clear nights per year.
Just a blanket on a comfortable spot will do to enjoy gorgeous views of planets, stars, and nebulae. However, if you’re looking for something different, you can book Clearly Tahoe’s stargazing paddle tours to take in the starry night from the middle of Lake Tahoe.
Mendocino’s beaches and cliffside trails provide excellent stargazing opportunities. Once again, you’ll have the opportunity to gaze at the stars against the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. Unlike other locations in the list, Mendocino is a prime stargazing spot during colder months when the fog doesn’t roll in, blocking most of the sky and its dazzling wonders.
The Little River Inn offers a fantastic Stargazing Family Package, which includes an ocean-view room and a stargazing kit in case you don’t have one, with night-sky binoculars, flashlight, star map, star guide, blanket, and hot cocoa.
14. Midland Ghost Town
While some places grow luminous over the years, others experience the inverse process. Midland Ghost Town used to be a thriving town from the 1925s to 1960s when U.S. Gypsum carried out mining activity in the area.
Today, Midland Ghost Town doesn’t appeal to city dwellers, but over the recent years, it has attracted stargazers in search of jet-black skies, including members of the Colorado River Astronomy Club who hold their meetups here. Only 20 miles northwest of Blythe, Midland Ghost Town is accessible and offers nice amenities for stargazers, including campsites and concrete and asphalt pads.
15. Milpitas Wash
Stargazing at Milpitas Wash is an ode to stargazing in its purest sense. There are no campsites, no trails, no buildings, or amenities, just thousands of miles of unspoiled nature where you can pitch your tent or park your RV.
Having said this, stargazing in Milpitas Wash isn’t for the faint of heart, rather for the adventure seeker. You’ll have to bring all your camping gear and essentials with you. Spring is a fantastic time to visit Milpitas Wash when a carpet of wildflowers covers the land and the Palo Verde Mountains spread along the horizon.
16. Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is another excellent place to go stargazing in the Bay Area. Located north of San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore protects over 1,500 animal and plant species and 80 miles of shoreline.
You won’t have to worry about light pollution as Point Reyes is far from developed areas along the Pacific Coast Highway. However, like most oceanfront spots, fog can decrease the visibility of the night sky here. The park is open until midnight and offers boat-in and hike-in campgrounds to see the stars. If you’re up for a walk, you’ll find the best stargazing spots to the west near the lighthouse.
17. Sage Hen
Sage Hen is a remote desert settlement, with mostly sagebrush, pronghorns, and sage grouses calling it home. However, wildlife isn’t precisely what you’ll go there to see. The desolate location sits under a band of pitch-dark night skies and boasts an impressive number of stars once the sun goes down. You can set up your telescope off the highway near the Tule Mountain or head out to Moon Lake to find the best seats in the house.
18. Salton Sea
Salmon Sea, one of the world’s largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth, is a popular outdoor area for daily activities. While not incredibly dark, the skies at its recreational area provide decent conditions for stargazing. It is far enough from Coachella and Imperial Valley’s metropolitan areas.
The main advantage for stargazers at the Salton Sea is that the park’s day-use areas remain open 24 hours. So, you don’t have to spend the night camping to enjoy dark sky views. You’ll find a nice spot along most of the shore, some with concrete pads to set up your telescope safely.
19. Siskiyou County
An unassuming area in the north of California, Siskiyou County is full of natural beauty and includes gorgeous dark skies. All you have to do during the summer is look up and see the Milky Way in full force. The moon and stars shine so brightly in Siskiyou County that residents hardly turn on their porch lights at night.
Plenty of areas within the county offer excellent chances of sporting stars and planets, but Lava Beds National Monument could be your best bet if you don’t want to spend much time looking. The skies boast such a fantastic quality that the International Dark-Sky Association designated Lava Beds National Monument a Dark Sky Place.
20. Somes Bar
You’ll find fun activities throughout the length and breadth of Siskiyou County, but you’ll experience the best combination of stargazing and outdoor adventure in the town of Somes Bar. Pines, mountains, and pristine lakes make up most of the town’s landscape.
Staying at Marble Mountain Ranch will be your gateway to all the fun Somes Bar offers. The diversity of activities they offer in a day are enough to wipe you out like a child: rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, shooting, and the list goes on. When the night falls, grab a drink, sit down on your private cottage’s porch, and prepare to see the stars come out in full force.
21. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is an iconic national park, a premier spot in California to explore the night sky. The park has added stargazing to the rich portfolio of natural attractions it has. It’s not officially a Dark Sky Park yet; however, Yosemite National Park is working with the International Dark-Sky Association to reduce light pollution and preserve its natural light.
There are plenty of open areas where stargazers can explore the night sky. The park also organizes night tours for travelers who don’t bring their telescopes and still want to gaze at the cosmos wonders above.
As you can tell, California is a fantastic stargazing destination, and there are some awesome places for stargazing in California. Have any questions about where to go stargazing in California? Let me know in the comments.