San Diego is known for many things: surf, sun, tacos, craft beer… sounds like a great getaway! But San Diego is also a pretty good spot for stargazing, if you can believe it. Though San Diego, like Los Angeles, is plagued by light pollution and lots of emissions in the atmosphere, there are also some surprisingly great stargazing spots within just a few hours from the city.
Whether you call San Diego home (lucky you!) or are visiting during a cool astronomical event you want to try and see, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve worked to collect the best stargazing spots in San Diego and chatted with locals to confirm they’re really good.
This post was originally published in December 2019, and was updated in March 2022.
Featured photo credit: R.E. Barber Photography via Flickr
Where to Go Stargazing in San Diego
Below, you’ll find a map of stargazing spots in San Diego and the surrounding region:
Now let’s dive into each of these places to learn what makes them good for stargazing and seeing the night sky.
Stargazing Spots Within San Diego
As is often the case, it’s pretty hard to find a great stargazing spot in a city (unless it’s Tucson with their light ordinances!). Within San Diego, there are limited spots for stargazing – and at most you’ll face substantial light pollution. That said, some stars are better than no stars – so if you’re set on stargazing in San Diego, here’s where to go.
While it’s hard to find a good stargazing spot in urban areas, San Diego has one thing going for it: the Pacific coast. Because San Diego is right on the coast, some of the beaches are better stargazing options than elsewhere in town. One such beach is Ocean Beach, the beach area in a neighborhood of the same name. Especially out toward Dog Beach, you can get a decent view of dark skies over the Pacific.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Along the same stretch of coastline as Ocean beach, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is another good spot to look out over the Pacific Ocean to see dark skies above. There’s plenty of light pollution here too, so obviously it won’t be the best stargazing spot in the San Diego – but it’s a good enough option in town if you’re set on urban stargazing.
Ladera St, San Diego, sandiego.gov
During the day, San Diego’s Balboa Park is one of the city’s top attractions. Within the park, you can visit the San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Zoo, San Diego Air & Space Museum, or a dozen other sights and experiences. At night, areas within the park are slightly better protected from light pollution and thus there are small spots where you can enjoy the night sky.
San Diego’s highest point, Cowles Mountain reaches 1,593ft in elevation – and that admittedly small rise helps reduce light pollution enough to make this one of the top stargazing spots in San Diego. You’ll need to hike up the mountain to get to a good panoramic viewpoint, but it’s worth it for the stars you’ll see when you reach the top.
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of San Diego
Want to escape the city lights? Consider heading to one of these spots. These stargazing destinations are outside of the San Diego core area and have less light pollution – though you’ll still be fighting with some of it this close to the city.
Mt. Helix Park
Mt. Helix Park is a small stargazing spot, but it’s regularly cited as a local’s favorite place to see the night sky. It’s also only a 20-25 minute drive from downtown San Diego to Mt. Helix Park, which makes it a good option if you want to try and get away from the city lights.
4905 Mt Helix Dr, La Mesa, mthelixpark.org
30 minutes north of San Diego along the Pacific Coast, Torrey Pines State Reserve is an excellent green area where you can go stargazing out over the Pacific ocean. If you park at Torrey Pines Lodge Parking, you can hike out along the trails toward the coast; Flat Rock is a great spot with cliffs to cut down on light pollution. Just keep an eye on tides so you don’t end up with wet feet.
Torrey Pines Park Rd, La Jolla, sandiego.org
At 61 minutes from San Diego by car, we’re including this in the one-hour section because, let’s be honest, Californians speed all the time anyway! Mount Laguna is a small community in the Laguna Mountains on the eastern side of the Cleveland National Forest. It’s also located at 6,000 feet in elevation. Together these geologic factors help protect it from light pollution on the coast, and provide fantastic dark sky viewing. It’s well worth that extra minute on the road to get to Mount Laguna for stargazing.
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of San Diego
If you’re willing to drive for darker skies, these stargazing spots are all within two hours (one way) from San Diego and well worth the extra planning and overnight expenses it will take it to really enjoy the night sky.
Tierra del Sol
“Why is this small border community on the list of the best stargazing spots near San Diego?,” you ask. Because it’s a spot with wide open skies, very little light pollution, and a place where the San Diego Astronomical Society holds some of their events. It’s a 75-minute drive from downtown San Diego to Tierra del Sol, but worth it if you’re traveling for a special astronomical event (like a meteor shower such as the Perseids or Geminids!).
Located about 100 minutes from San Diego, Palomar Mountain is a great base for a weekend of stargazing during a good astronomical event or clear weekend with a new moon. In fact, Palomar Mountain is home to Caltech’s Palomar Observatory so we know it has to have great quality dark skies! If you plan a trip to Palomar Mountain, consider staying in nearby La Jolla Amigo or booking a spot at the Cedar Grove Group Campground. The latter is just down the mountain from the Observatory!
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
If you’re talking about stargazing spots in southern California, it’s impossible to omit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. As the name suggests, this state park is a desert climate, with clear skies and low humidity – both good signs for stargazing! It’s a 1 hour, 45 minute drive from San Diego to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and many people base themselves in the neighboring town of Borrego Springs during a weekend trip for stargazing in the area.
200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, parks.ca.gov
Planetariums In & Near San Diego
If you can’t make it to one of these stargazing spots, there are other options. Here are a few of the planetariums in San Diego that you could plan to visit:
- Fleet Science Center – San Diego’s science museum, located in Balboa Park, is home to a planetarium with regular shows and talks. (website)
- Palomar College Planetarium – Located north of San Diego in Carlsbad, it’s a 40-minute drive to experience a show in the 50-foot dome here. (website)
Best Time of Year to Go Stargazing in San Diego
If you’re curious about the best time of year for stargazing in San Diego, it’s important to keep in mind air temperature, humidity, and cloud cover.
Considering those factors, the best months for stargazing in San Diego are mid-May to June and October to mid-November. That means San Diego is a great destination to try and see the Draconids, Orionids, and Leonids meteor showers!
Can You See the Milky Way in San Diego?
Unfortunately, like in most cities, it’s pretty much impossible to see the Milky Way while you’re in San Diego. There’s too much light pollution in urban areas like San Diego to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness and see the nuanced details of our galactic neighborhood.
If you have your heart set on seeing the Milky Way, consider heading to one of the stargazing spots within 1-2 hours that we mentioned above. Tierra del Sol, Palomar Mountain, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are all great options!
Have questions about stargazing in San Diego? Let me know in the comments.