CALIFORNIA OFFERS seemingly endless number of locations to sit down and gaze up at the cosmos. Luckily, travelers don’t have to pick just one spot, and can make a road trip out of it! From SoCal’s literal “stargazer’s paradise” to the Central Coast and Big Sur, to the dark skies of NorCal’s wine country and the Lost Coast — here’s how to plan a road trip to the best stargazing in California.
How to plan a stargazing California road trip
First, pick a method of transportation. Cabana mobile hotels are a great way to road trip across California and catch a more immersive glimpse at the stars. The business even offers a designated “concierge” service that will help plan a trip and customize it to any travel needs.
Travellers Autobarn is another van rental company that offers multiple pickup and drop-off spots across the U.S. — conveniently including San Francisco and Los Angeles. They also offer curated itineraries to help plan and make the most of a road trip experience.
One of the best parts of planning a road trip is the snacks and drinks to bring. In addition to road trip essentials like yummy car snacks and portable chargers, 101 North Wine, which comes in convenient, travel-friendly pouches, are an on-theme must-bring since there’s a good chance California road trippers will at some point be traveling down the “historic 101 freeway.” A section of the 101 between the San Francisco Bay Area up to Los Angeles is designated as “the Royal Road” or “El Camino Real” since the route follows the historic trail that connected California’s 21 missions.
We hope you love the stargazing California tips we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
Best stargazing spots in SoCal
Stargazing in San Diego County
Stargazer’s Paradise up on Palomar Mountain, San Diego, is a Hipcamp glamping site located just ten minutes away from the famous Palomar Observatory. The site is located at 4,600 feet in elevation, with no obstructions or light pollution. Solar-powered, heated jacuzzis on the mountain dot each of the eight glamping sites, where guests can enjoy the views of the stars while soaking in the vast beauty of the night sky.
At Orchard Hill Country Inn in Julian, which was recently designated as a member of the International Dark Sky Network (one of only two towns in California and less than 300 across the United States) during any stay, guests have access to binoculars and planispheres for light stargazing on peaceful grounds perfect for viewing the town’s dark, clear skies.
At Cal-a-Vie Health Spa, guests can explore the night sky in the spa’s very own observatory with expert astronomer Tim Lewis to view seasonal celestial events from the state-of-the-art Takahashi telescope. “The Celestial Experience” at Cal-a-Vie is a one-hour program in which guests learn about specific deep space objects through lectures and telescope viewings including their significance, distance in lightyears, as well as general concepts about space and time.
Deep Creek Hot Springs Campground in Apple Valley is a vast 160-acre glamping site situated 4,500 feet high in Southern California’s Juniper Flats, where the San Bernardino Mountains meet the Mojave Desert. The stars are particularly visible from here, with the bonus of this being the best spot from which to explore Deep Creek Hot Springs.
Stargazing in Riverside County
California’s desert region surrounding Palm Springs might be one of the greatest places to see the dark skies. The Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage offers visitors an exclusive complimentary stargazing experience led by a recreation attendant, paired with a specialty “Constellations & Cocktails” menu. Outside of the Ritz-Carlton, travelers can explore two International Dark Sky Parks (Joshua Tree National Park and Borrego Springs) which are both located within an hour’s drive from Palm Springs and offer unbelievably beautiful views of the night sky.
The La Quinta Resort & Spa hosts a “Camp’d Out Joshua Tree” glamping experience for a luxury stargazing opportunity under the night sky. The three-day package includes two nights at the La Quinta Resort and one night in a glamping set-up for two, s’mores, and overnight butler service. In Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, LaCasa Del Zorro Desert Resort & Spa has its own Stargazing Theater for guests to watch the night sky.
Those who have their own accommodations but still want to explore can book a stargazing tour with Sky Watchers. Guides combine storytelling and constellations for a truly entertaining — and heavenly — experience, starting at $149.
Stargazing in Los Angeles County
Los Angeles might be famous for its smoggy skies, but at Griffith Observatory, there are regularly scheduled events for the public to attend and learn about the stars — even when dealing with the less-than-ideal urban conditions.
At Terranea Resort, opt for a stargazing kit to become immersed in the wonders of the night sky. This package comes with its own star dial to help you locate Orion, Pegasus, and the classic Big Dipper — or even a passing planet, depending on when you visit.
Stargazing in Santa Barbara County
El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara is located between the Pacific coastline and 2,500 acres of protected state park hiking trails. The sustainably-minded property hosts “glamping” with safari tents, adventure yurts, and cedar cabins. The adventure yurts have a domed skylight for stargazing in the comfort of a cozy bed. It also offers a weekly stargazing class with a NASA expert.
Best stargazing spots in NorCal
Stargazing in Monterey County
Alila Ventana Big Sur is set on 160 acres of space in the heart of the California Central Coast overlooking the Pacific coastline. Here, become immersed in a star bathing session, in which expert guides teach guests about the local flora and fauna as they slip quietly through the towering redwood forest that surrounds the property.
Stargazing in Alpine County
North of San Francisco near Lake Tahoe, Hope Valley is one of the best places in California for stargazing. Travelers who want to traverse on their own can night-hike the three-mile Indian Head Trail for unobstructed skyline views and take in starry skies with Wylder Hope Valley’s Stargazing Package.
Stargazing in Placer County
North Lake Tahoe offers a mecca of stargazing opportunities through camping, glamping, and luxury hotel stays. Secline Beach in Kings Beach provides a superb view of the entire lake looking to the east and south for prime viewing of the cosmos from all angles. The Historic Stateline Fire Lookout is another favorite for stargazers looking for a safe, high-altitude spot. The trail is dog-friendly.
Stargazing in Sonoma County
Montage Healdsburg is located in a spacious 258-acres in the heart of California’s world-renowned Sonoma wine country, and offers guests an out-of-the-box stargazing package that goes above and beyond expectations. Those who aren’t planning to splurge as significantly can explore with the help of experts from The Robert Ferguson Observatory (RFO) via the property’s concierge service.
Russian River Autocamp in Guerneville is another incredible destination for glamping under the stars in Sonoma County. Spend the night in one of the modern Airstream Suites or spacious canvas Tents for a cozy and memorable evening.
Stargazing in Inyo County
Death Valley National Park is famous for its extreme temps — but also offers extreme starlight views. It’s one of only eight designated “gold tier” International Dark Sky Parks in the United States where stargazers can actually see the Milky Way with the naked eye. It is also designated the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country by the International Dark Sky Association. The Oasis at Death Valley has taken measures to greatly minimize light pollution in the area. Oasis guests can reserve a private stargazing party to create the ultimate night sky experience, or take a signature moonlight tour.
Stargazing in Mariposa County
Yosemite National Park offers magnificently clear, dark skies where the stars shine bright thanks to no light pollution, and hosts a multitude of Stargazing options. Hike the Yosemite Valley to Yosemite Falls beneath the light of the silvery full moon. In winter, strap on the snowshoes for a star-studded walkabout. Try the flat Cook’s Meadow Trail in Yosemite Valley for an amphitheater of moody bliss or get off the beaten path on any of the lower elevation fire roads in the Sierra National Forest or Stanislaus National Forest.
Stargazing in Mendocino County
Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast offers a Stargazing Family Fun Package. In addition to accommodations, the package features a stargazing kit complete with special binoculars, a star map, a star guide, and hot chocolate for the family.
The Inn of the Lost Coast is an idyllic perch for stargazing. From a private balcony, an in-suite spa tub, the outdoor fire pit, or walking hand-in-hand along the bluffs, guests can soak up the incredibly dark celestial views of this remote outpost at the edge of the earth.
Other standout stargazing California hotspots
Hostels provide an affordable alternative to expensive hotels. HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, and HI Point Reyes Hostel are all ideal locations for stargazing in California’s Bay Area. Each property is either overlooking or near the Pacific, offering abundant outdoor spaces with unobstructed views of the stars, and are near national park areas with trails for gazing. Hipcamp is also a fantastic method of adventuring outside in general, with specific spots to keep on the radar for star-studded experiences — including Sagewinds Farm High Desert Camp, Death Valley Stargazing Camp, and Stargazing at Moonrise Ranch.