Escape the Bright Lights for the Best Stargazing in and Around Los Angeles
The Southern California light dome stretches from Orange County to Santa Barbara, but there are still great places to see the stars within easy driving range of LA.
There’s a hacky bit to be done here about the best stargazing in LA, but I can’t quite find it. Maybe something like: Hey, did you hear the Perseid Meteor Shower is this week? Yeah, we haven’t seen this many fallen stars since they canceled Celebrity Rehab.
Or how about something like this: Usually, if you want to see stars drop out like this, you have to cast a high school nepo baby in their first role.
Oh, or maybe: We finally get to see some stars in LA without stalking the SAG picket lines.
Nonsense aside, stargazing in either sense isn’t always easy in LA. Clear as the skies often are, the light pollution stretches in a solid block from South Orange County all the way up to the northernmost reaches of the Valley and over the hill into Oxnard, and it can be hard to escape even in the mountains surrounding the city. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you can still get a great view of the stars from here. There are observatories and parks aplenty, and with a little work and a bit of driving, you can make it out to some truly dark skies.
Here are the best places for stargazing in LA and Southern California. With this guide, you’ll be seeing so many stars that your friends will call you the paparazzi.
Stargazing Spots In Los Angeles
It’s not at any elevation to speak of, but Leo Carrillo still makes a really lovely place to watch the stars. The tidepools and craggy cliffs of the beach provide a gorgeous foreground, and it’s easily accessible from the highway, so you can casually drop by on a clear night to gaze out over the ocean. It’s also extremely conveniently located next to the fried seafood and craft beer at legendary Neptune’s Net so you can make a whole evening out of it.
The other option in Malibu is to head up into the hills, a rare wild and low-light section in the greater LA area. Face out toward the ocean with your back to all of that urban sprawl for the best chance of good stargazing. The park closes at 10 pm, so in the summer, that sort of limits your time, but if you’re open to an overnight expedition, camping is your move—in the middle of the night, you could almost forget you’re only a few miles from civilization.
This is an obvious one, but it really is a good bet. The park in the center of town is easily accessible from most of the city, and the famous observatory is open until 10 pm every day except Monday. There are often amateur groups posted up on the grass out in front so you can chat with fellow astronomers, and their website has a list of reputable local clubs if you want to join up. It’s not exactly dark sky certified, but it makes a fun and convenient place to gaze out across the galaxy.
The observatory itself closes at 5 pm, but on a few nights per month, they open their massive telescopes up to the public for ticketed stargazing events in small groups. The two telescopes are 60 and 100 inches, respectively, and are the two largest telescopes in the world that are dedicated to public viewing—it’s an expensive evening if you can even manage to snag tickets, but it’s a truly special treat for the cosmically inclined. And if you can’t get tickets, the drive up toward Mount Wilson along the Angeles Crest Highway is about as dark as you can get in LA county, with plenty of places to pull over and find a patch of clear sky.
Stargazing Spots Within Driving Distance of Los Angeles
San Diego County
One of the surest ways to see a ton of stars from LA is to drive out into the desert. Just head east or southeast for a few hours, and the sky opens above you. Suddenly, there’s a whole universe that didn’t seem to exist when you left. Anza Borrego is a gorgeous desert landscape, incredible for wildflowers in the spring and stunning for year-round stargazing. The darkness is deep across the desert, so you’ll have a pretty ideal view of the Milky Way and beyond from any campground or turnout you find, and even the small town of Borrego Springs doesn’t give off too much light pollution.
Distance from LA: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Just as you cross the line into Kern County and smack dab in the middle of the grapevine, you’ll pass by one of Southern California’s best stargazing spots. Mt. Pinos, about a half hour west of the small town of Frazier Park, has one of the darkest skies in the region. It’s at good elevation and sees fewer cloudy nights than places further out towards the coast, so it’s a perpetual favorite of casual stargazers and amateur astronomers. There’s a big parking lot at the end of the road where people often gather, but it’s so remote that you can pull over just about anywhere. There are campgrounds if you want to stay, or lots of cabins in Frazier Park back down the hill.
Distance from LA: 1 hour and 45 minutes
The lights present some problems for aspiring stargazers in the immediate vicinity of Palm Springs, but luckily the Rancho Mirage Observatory is just a few short minutes down the road. The stylish design-forward library and observatory gives tours during the day, and they have regular drop-in open houses featuring professional astronomers and volunteer docents every Thursday and Saturday night from 9 to 10:30 pm.
Distance from LA: 2 hours
The mountains are another solid option to escape the light pollution from the LA basin, and Big Bear is a great choice. The fun mountain town has solid food and plenty to do during the day, from watersports to hiking, and then when the sun goes down, it’s about as dark as you can get while staying within easy striking distance of a fine craft ale. Head to the quieter North Shore of the lake and stroll as far as you like up the Woodland Trail or Cougar Crest for your best view.
Distance from LA: 2 hours
Up north along the coast, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is a great stop for some casual stargazing on your weekend getaway to Santa Barbara. The museum’s Palmer Observatory hosts star parties on the second Saturday of every month in partnership with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. There are astronomers roaming the grounds ready to chat, and the museum’s giant 20-inch telescope is open for viewing from dusk until 10 pm. Then head out to one of the city’s many great restaurants for a late dinner—any excuse to head up to Santa Barbara is a good one.