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.

Flickr/Bureau of Land Management
Flickr/Bureau of Land Management
Flickr/Bureau of Land Management

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.

Flickr/Will Fisher
Flickr/Will Fisher
Flickr/Will Fisher

Stargazing Spots In Los Angeles

Leo Carrillo State Beach

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.

Malibu Creek State Park

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.

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Park
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.

Mount Wilson Observatory

Angeles Crest
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.

Flickr/Bureau of Land Management
Flickr/Bureau of Land Management
Flickr/Bureau of Land Management

Stargazing Spots Within Driving Distance of Los Angeles

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

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

Mt. Pinos

Frazier Park
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

Rancho Mirage Library & Observatory

Rancho Mirage
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

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear
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

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara
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.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.


The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.


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