There’s something about stargazing that can really put things into perspective. We’re surrounded by billions of sun-like stars that form our galaxy. It can make all of life’s problems seem so insignificant! And after this past year of being mostly stuck inside, I’ll take any excuse to get me and my family out and into nature.
It just so happens that this time of year is the perfect time to go stargazing; nights are warmer, days are longer and with school still out, it’s not as big of a deal if my daughter stays up a little past her bedtime. Did I mention that the Perseid meteor shower, considered the best meteor shower of the year, is set to peak in the middle of this month?! The trick is finding a spot where your views are unobstructed by buildings or light pollution. Fortunately, we’re surrounded by plenty of protected open space in the Bay Area and there are many places to practice some amateur astronomy.
To help with your summer stargazing, we’ve compiled some tips on where to go, what to look and some tips and tools to get the most of your experience. Enjoy!
The coast is the darkest area of the Peninsula, making the area around the historic Pigeon Point Lighthouse a great place to stargaze. You can stay overnight in the picturesque hostel (complete with a hot tub overlooking the Pacific), or just drive out in the evening and take in the views. POST protected the land around this historic lighthouse in 2001, saving it from being developed into a nine-unit motel.
Located just off Skyline Boulevard, this spot provides a relatively easy destination for epic views and stargazing. The parking area overlooks Windy Hill to the south and east, the site of POST’s first-ever land protection. It’s now managed by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space and the parking area is accessible 24/7. Assuming the weather cooperates, you can pull up and get some truly stellar views.
Another more adventurous camping opportunity is the Black Mountain Backpacker’s Camp at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, which POST has helped protect through several acquisitions over the years. The hike is only 1.5 miles, but you quickly arrive in another world. The camp is near an open field, making it the perfect spot to view the Milky Way.
The southernmost bridge crossing the Bay is the Dumbarton Bridge. Unbeknownst to many, there is a pedestrian walkway that is accessible from the Shoreline Trail parking area. It’s located not far from the newly established Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. This scenic area is a great place to get away from the strongest light pollution and see stars reflecting off the bay waters. It can get chilly while walking along the footpath, so bundle up!
There are a ton of apps out there to help you identify stars and learn more about them. SkyView Lite is free and highlights the constellations for you when you point your phone at the sky, even giving a little background for each constellation. If you’re stargazing with kids, Star Walk 2 has an app especially for younger folks complete with educational videos.
If you’re looking to do a little more in-depth reading up, Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan Davis and Discover the Stars by Richard Berry are two excellent guides for beginners. They both focus on objects you can see with the naked eye, binoculars, or a simple telescope and include detailed star charts for the northern hemisphere.
Don’t forget that the moon is also an important factor in stargazing. For the best view of the stars, avoid times when the moon is full (here’s a calendar).
You’ll want a blanket, yoga mat, or reclining chair so you don’t strain your neck standing up. Layered clothing is a must, and be sure to switch off any nearby lights and put your phone on dark mode to keep your eyes adjusted to the dark. Binoculars are a great tool to start with— unless you want to go pro with a telescope.
Now that you know where to go and how to prepare, get out there and get stargazing!
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more