Stargazing in the SF Bay Area
by Sue Rosenthal on September 26, 2011
Nature doesn’t disappear when the sun goes down–there’s a whole universe out there to explore after dark! If you don’t have your own telescope, you can look at stars, planets, and other astronomical objects through big telescopes at observatories and smaller, portable telescopes at star parties or see them in dazzling indoor planetarium shows. People who share their love of astronomy and stargazing with others are friendly by nature. You’ll find lots of collaboration among the various organizations below.
Observatories and Planetariums
Chabot Space and Science Center
10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland
On Friday and Saturday nights, Chabot offers stargazing through its three telescopes as well as planetarium shows. On many nights, members of the East Bay Astronomical Society set up their telescopes at the observatory complex, and they’re happy to share information about what’s on view. Website offers a list of events.
Charles F. Hagar Planetarium
Thornton Hall, Rm. 414, San Francisco State University, San Francisco
Graduate students hold public programs in the planetarium; call for schedule and weather report.
Foothill College Observatory
Foothill College Campus, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills
This observatory is operated by the Peninsula Astronomical Society. It’s open for free public night-sky viewing through the observatory’s telescope every clear Friday evening (9-11 pm) and for safe sun viewing every clear Saturday morning (10 am-12 pm). Website offers an events calendar.
Fremont Peak Observatory
Fremont Peak State Park, San Juan Canyon Road (outside San Juan Bautista)
The observatory is open to the public for scheduled viewing and educational programs from April through October on Saturday evenings that don’t conflict with a full moon. Website offers a schedule of events.
De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino
On most Saturday evenings, the planetarium offers astronomy shows for the general public, often geared towards specific age groups. Check the website for details.
Pepperwood Preserve, 2130 Pepperwood Preserve Rd., Santa Rosa
The Hume Observatory offers occasional free or low-cost stargazing programs. Please note that the California Academy of Sciences’ Pepperwood Preserve, where the Hume Observatory is located, is accessible only with reservations. Website offers an events calendar.
Lawrence Hall of Science Planetarium
1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley
Sky shows geared to different ages happen every Saturday and Sunday and most holidays in this small, friendly, award-winning planetarium. Website offers a schedule of programs.
Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences
Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco
The Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences offers a variety of star shows and tours of the universe for all ages on weekends (12 pm -4 pm) and at selected times during the week. Website offers a list of show times.
Robert Ferguson Observatory
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, 2605 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood
Located in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, the observatory is open to the general public at least once a month for stargazing and safe sun viewing as well as for classes. Website offers an events calendar.
Astronomical Societies and Events
NASA’s Night Sky Network
This searchable website helps you find astronomy events and clubs all over the U.S. For clubs in California.
Astronomical Association of Northern California
The Astronomical Association of Northern California serves as a central location for member astronomy clubs to share information about events and news regarding their organizations. Its website provides links to calendars of astronomy-related events in Northern California.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Founded in 1889 in Northern California, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is the largest general astronomy society in the world. ASP supports astronomy and space-science education and public outreach activities by providing resources for teachers, information about astronomy events for the public, and much more. Through its San Francisco Bay Area Project ASTRO, it matches Bay Area teachers to volunteer astronomers for a two-day summer workshop with astronomy resource materials and strategies for working together in and out of the classroom.
East Bay Astronomical Society
Based in Oakland, the East Bay Astronomical Society offers lectures, workshops, and stargazing events for its members and the public.
Fremont Peak Observatory Association
This group of committed volunteers maintains the Fremont Peak Observatory and offers presentations and night-sky observing sessions open to the public. Its educational outreach includes school field trips to the observatory and astronomy programs in classrooms.
Halls Valley Astronomical Group
The Halls Valley Astronomical Group has been offering monthly astronomical observing programs for over 35 years. Their popular star parties are based at Joseph D. Grant County Park in the hills east of San Jose.
This group of astronomy buffs offers informal star parties once or twice per month (usually from April through November) on Saturday evenings at Hercules’ Foxboro Community Park.
Mount Diablo Astronomical Society
In conjunction with the Mount Diablo Observatory Association, the society offers monthly star parties from March through October with telescopes and binoculars for public use. It also offers monthly meetings in Concord with lectures on topics including space science, astronomy, historical astronomy, telescopes and night sky viewing. Website offers a calendar of events.
Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association
In conjunction with the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers, this organization offers outdoor lectures in April through October at Mount Tamalpais’s Mountain Theater, followed by night-sky viewing with telescopes at the Rock Spring parking area.
Dedicated to night photography, this group offers workshops, exhibits, and resources, including some on night-sky photography.
Peninsula Astronomical Society
This group operates the Foothill College Observatory. It also offers free public lectures and star parties.
SF Amateur Astronomers
This group shares its telescopes at monthly star parties open to the public at two Bay Area locations: from April through October at the Rock Spring parking area on Mount Tamalpais and year-round at Land’s End or the Randall Museum in San Francisco.
SF Sidewalk Astronomers
The SF Sidewalk Astronomers take stargazing to the people–on the sidewalks where they live, work, and play in San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais, and elsewhere. Information about SF Sidewalk Astronomers events is posted on the organization’s Twitter page and is also sent via email to those who sign up through the website.
San Jose Astronomical Association
The San Jose Astronomical Association holds monthly public star parties at various South Bay locations as well as lectures and monthly beginning astronomy classes at Houge Park in San Jose. The beginning classes start with 10-15 minutes for kids.
San Mateo County Astronomical Society
Based at the College of San Mateo, the San Mateo County Astronomical Society offers a range of free events from lectures to star parties to planetarium shows on the college campus.
Santa Cruz Astronomy Club
The Santa Cruz Astronomy Club offers night-sky observing with telescopes for families and the general public through two or three star parties each month as well as a monthly lecture and occasional sidewalk astronomy and school programs.
Sonoma County Astronomical Society
This group of astronomy and science enthusiasts offers monthly meetings open to the public featuring lectures, demonstrations, and visual presentations. The society also provides star parties for school or private groups on request and occasionally sets up telescopes for sidewalk astronomy out in the community.
Serving the area around Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, Fremont, and Tracy, the Tri-Valley Stargazers promote astronomy education through monthly meetings and star parties in area schools and local parks.
Places to Stargaze on Your Own
The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers website offers a ranked list of the best places for regularly scheduled stargazing or for setting up your own telescope:
Check with the location for updates on policies, access, etc.
The Astronomy Connection (TAC) has its own list of best places to take your telescope stargazing in Northern California.
…or On Your Computer
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Each day this website posts a different image or photograph of the universe along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
This award-winning website offers an overview of the history, mythology, and current scientific knowledge of the planets, moons, and other objects in our solar system. Its pages include text, images from NASA, sounds and movies, and references for additional information.