Gaze up at the stars from one of these Bay Area vantage points.
*UPDATE July 13, 2020: While most Bay Area parks are now open, some may remain closed due the coronavirus pandemic. Parking lots and facilities may also be closed or limited. Lick Observatory and Chabot Space & Science Center remain closed. Please check official websites for the latest updates before visiting.
Billy Goat Hill
Quasi-newly renovated, Billy Goat Hill is Insta-famous for its elevated swing set and expansive views of San Francisco. Four hundred feet above sea level, this urban green spot also offers an excellent vantage point to a starry night—be it from the steps, a picnic table, or mid-swing. Parking can be tricky, especially along Ladley Street. Opt to hug the curb on Beacon Street. // 2442 Castro St. (Glen Park), sfrecpark.org
- For an extra hit of cardio, Billy Goat Hill offers a great place to stair climb.
- The swing is only meant to hold one person at a time—so don't test your luck.
One of the most serene slices of the city, Hawk Hill is popular among yogis and meditation junkies. Nearly 1,000-feet above the Pacific, it is also among the highest points in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and is accessible via a trying bike ride or calf-straining hike. Also, for all the bird watchers among us, Hawk Hill, as the name would suggest, is the highest lookout point for the largest known flight of diurnal raptors anywhere along the Pacific-clasped states. Bust out the binoculars here—day or night. // 948 Fort Barry, (Sausalito), parkconservancy.org
- Bring a yoga mat to mentally unwind and stretch out the body before straining your neck to look up at the sky.
- Raptors are most active during the early hours of the morning; bird watchers will want to perch here early.
Mt. Hamilton / Lick Observatory
One of the highest publicly accessible summits in all of South Bay, Mt. Hamilton is popular amongst wannabe and well-seasoned astronomers alike. Perched 4,500-plus feet above sea level and about an hour from San Jose, the darkness afforded by the area's non-existent light pollution makes it one of the best vantage points to stargaze south of Bernal Heights. For the extra curious among us, the UC owned-and-operated Lick Observatory is located off Highway 130, just shy of Mt. Hamilton's peak. Feel free to walk the planetary grounds from noon to 5pm Thursday through Sunday to learn even more about the constellations and meteor showers that light up Bay Area skies. // Mt. Hamilton Rd. (San Jose), alltrails.com
- Refilling stations are few and far between here, so fill your canteen to the brim at home.
- Mt. Hamilton is dog friendly, just be sure to keep Spot on a leash.
Skyline Ridge Open Space
Few know that such a secluded, dark space can be found just 15 minutes from Silicon Valley. But sitting on over 2,000 acres of pristine scenery, Skyline Ridge Open Space ebbs and flows with rolling hillsides, most of which are accessible via well maintained trailheads. Whether it's appreciating a star-studded sky from a trail bench or seeing the moonlight refract off either Horseshoe Lake or Alpine Pond, there's little this place can't offer celestial enthusiasts. // Page Mill Rd. and Skyline Blvd. (San Jose), openspace.org
- Trails are easy to moderate in difficulty; no need to bust out the hiking sticks.
- Packing a picnic? Alpine Pond has two tables adjacent to the pond.
- Parking along Page Mill Road is plentiful.
Corona Heights Park
Sandwiched the Castro and Haight-Ashbury, Corona Heights Park is a somewhat enigmatic green space, even to locals. Swaths of checkerbloom, California poppies, and more wildflowers sit between towering evergreens, and when the sun retreats beneath the horizon, the park offers sweeping vistas of a lit-up SF and, weather permitting, a starry Bay Area sky. The base of the hill always sits 300 feet above sea level, but hike the dirt trail up to the peak, which will put you at 520 feet above the tide. // Roosevelt Way and Museum Way, (Buena Vista), sfrecpark.org
- Wear your favorite hiking shoes, the rocky outcrops can be strenuous.
- Embrace your phone's flashlight—the trails are somewhat tricky to navigate at night.
Muir Woods Beach Overlook
There may be no better place to gaze up at the heavens than from the sands of Muir Beach, even if there isn't sunshine. Those who wish to, say, smolder s'mores while stargazing can do so at the designated fire pits. Looking to gawk at the stars from a higher standpoint? Make a beeline to the rocky cliffside Muir Woods Overlook. Cell phone service is notoriously spotty throughout the park, so screenshot things like trail maps and parking prior to heading out. // Muir Beach Overlook, (Muir Beach), nps.gov.com
- Dogs are allowed on leashes, but be mindful that Muir Beach is a popular seal pupping ground.
- Whale watching at Muir Beach is among the best anywhere in the state.
Ahh, Mt. Tam—how we love your rich hiking trails and windswept vistas. But rarely do we stick around to partake in the stargazing opportunities afforded by the summit and surrounding highlands. Friends of Mt. Tam frequently put on astronomy classes, helping all who attend explore the vast universe on the other side of Karl the Fog. // 801 Panoramic Highway (Mill Highway), parks.ca.gov
- The campgrounds around Mt. Tam are among the few places you can have a bonfire in the Bay Area without repercussions.
- No drones can be flown overhead here—leave it at home.
- Tables, drinking fountains and restrooms can be found by East Peak off Verna Dunshee Trail.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Few natural spaces can compare to the awe-inspiring beauty and sublime stillness supplied by Point Reyes' oceanside viewpoints. Limantour beach is one of the better, less popular beaches within the confines of Point Reyes National Seashore, perfect for laying out a blanket and taking in Cassiopeia. // Bear Valley Road and Shoreline Hwy (Point Reyes Station), nps.gov
- Check out AccuWeather to see if the night's appropriate for stargazing.
- Pick up fire and camping permits at Bear Valley Visitor Center.
- Bring your coat—temps along the shore are often several degrees cooler than what you see on Weather.com.
(Courtesy of SF Citizen)
Strawberry Hill, Golden Gate Park
Smack in the middle of Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill is an isolated island where greenery and scenery merge into jaw-dropping views. Space is tight at the overlook so don't bother lugging up your telescope: A good pair of binoculars will do the trick. Wear your hiking boots! // 50 Stow Lake Dr. (Golden Gate Park), goldengatepark.org
- Pack some snacks and bottles of water for the trek up.
- Check local forecasts to ensure they'll be minimal cloud coverage.
- Check for park closures before heading out.
(Photo courtesy of SFAA)
Land's End and Point Lobos
In the northwestern corner of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area sits two geological gems: the higher elevations at Point Lobos and the ocean vistas at Land's End, each perfect for stargazing. San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers occasionally host an amateur's star watching night at both locations, but its BYO binoculars and telescope. // 80 Point Lobos Ave. (Sea Cliff), nps.org
- Check local forecasts to assure clear skies for the evening.
- Bring flashlights for trail navigation; wear hiking shoes.
With soft mulch and ample parking spaces, the low-light areas within the Presidio offer quality, easily accessible stargazing opportunities within the confines of the city. Plus, SFAA often hosts lectures inside the grounds, sharing insights on what exactly you're straining your neck toward. // Veterans Blvd and Hwy-101 (Presidio), presidio.gov
- Crissy Field and Southern Wilds are known for being two of the calmer, quieter parts of the grounds.
- No need for hiking shoes here.
(Photo courtesy of Berkeley Side)
Sip a chocolate shake, munch on a burger, and ponder your special place in the big ol' thing we call the universe. An East Bay favorite, Grizzly Peaks is thought of as the Twin Peaks of the East Bay, offering up Instagram-worthy landscapes. Just fill up your tank and go—and maybe stop at your favorite drive-thru on the way. // Old Fish Ranch Rd. (Berkeley), yelp.com
- Parking can be tight here, so try to get there before 9pm.
- Bring a pair of binoculars, if you wish.
Sibley Volcanic National Reserve
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more enchanting, light-pollution-free area in the Bay Area than Sibley Volcanic National Reserve. Now, this one's a hike, so be sure to lace up your boots, fill your water bottles, and enjoy the acres upon acres of open space. Stop by the quarry pit labyrinth on your way back to the car. // 6701 Skyline Blvd. (Berkeley), ebparks.org
- The clearings are adequate for the use of both binoculars and telescopes.
- Bring your four-legged best friend on a leash.
Redwood Regional Park + Chabot Space and Science Center
Every Friday and Saturday evening, weather and light permitting, the Chabot Space and Science Center's observatory is open to the public, free of charge. Just park, follow the signs to the back of the center, and be amazed by the cosmos. If you're yearning for more, head back toward the entrance and grab a general admission pass to explore the entire center. // 10000 Skyline Blvd. (Oakland), chabotspace.org
- Nighttime viewing starts at 7:30pm and ends at 10:30pm.
- Notice that access to the observatory is free, not access to the entire center. Make sure to enter in the back gate for access to the observatory.