Astronomy in San Diego County


The San Diego Mountains and Desert provide one of the best places in the world to get a clear view of the night sky. Good weather patterns help to limit atmospheric distortion while the remote location and support of nearby communities to keep lights dim provides the darkness needed to create a stargazer’s paradise.

These near-perfect conditions make the San Diego Mountains home for two observatories – Palomar Observatory, which is operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Cornell University, Oxford University, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Mount Laguna Observatory, which is operated by San Diego State University and the University of Illinois.

In 2007, the clearest pictures ever taken of outer space came from Palomar Observatory. The pictures are twice as clear as the ones taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. Those who use the Google Sky feature with Google Earth may be interested in knowing that many of the outer space images seen with that program were taken at the Palomar Observatory.

So, what does this all mean for the amateur astronomer or weekend stargazer? GREAT OPPORTUNITIES to learn from experts and enjoy some of the best stargazing in the country!

If you are a visitor staying along the San Diego Coast, you can make a short evening excursion to enjoy a sky full of twinkling stars, distant planets, the Milky Way and more. It takes just over an hour’s drive to get into the mountains and two hours to reach the desert from pretty much anywhere along the San Diego coastline.

For those who don’t want to drive back so late at night, you can join an astronomy bus tour with the San Diego Science Center, camp out in the Cleveland National Forest or one of our State Parks, or spend a night at a hotel, bed-and-breakfast, or resort in the mountains or desert.

Guided Programs

There are several guided stargazing programs offered by a number of San Diego organizations. Each provides a different approach. For example, you can take an evening bus tour with the San Diego Science Museum up to Palomar Observatory for a behind-the-scenes tour, guest lecture, and stargazing. You can head into the Cleveland National Forest and spend an evening with amateur astronomers who set up their telescopes at a campground on Palomar Mountain or hang out at a ‘Star Party’ at the Laguna Mountain Observatory with graduate students in astronomy. Visitors to the historic mountain town of Julian can also enjoy guided stargazing programs. For those who want to stargaze in the desert, there are programs offered at the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and in Borrego Springs, one of only two communities in the world recognized as an International Dark Sky Community.

Some of these events are free, some have a nominal fee, and others involve multi-night stays with lodging costs. Select one of the previous links and look for the section on stargazing to learn more about these programs.

Do-It-Yourself Advice

In the San Diego County desert community of Borrego Springs, there is a popular astronomer who leads some of the guided tours mentioned above as well as write articles and provide expert commentary for the media outlets throughout the country. His name is Dennis Mammana and you can find plenty of advice for stargazing on his web site, including a sky calendar, information on taking pictures of the night sky, and how to buy a telescope. You can also look to see his upcoming schedule of lectures.

Final Thoughts

Whether you live in Southern California or are planning a visit, take advantage of this unique opportunity to be dazzled by the night sky, enjoy the solitude of a remote location, and dream like a kid again.

Find More Attractions with Similar Themes or Location: Astronomy & Outer Space, Borrego Springs / Northern Desert, Julian, Laguna / Southern Mountains, Palomar / Northern Mountains, Vallecito / Southern Desert |

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