Lifestyle

The Best Spots to Stargaze Into Arizona’s Night Sky

Peer into the Perseid Meteor Shower and more galactic views.

Geoffrey Hunt/Getty Images
Geoffrey Hunt/Getty Images
Geoffrey Hunt/Getty Images

John Denver, for his hit song “Rocky Mountain High,” sang “I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky / The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby” after watching the Perseid meteor shower. This weekend-in the mountains, valleys, and parks of Arizona-you, too, can gain your own inspiration watching the annual Perseid meteor shower over Arizona scatter as many as one-hundred or more “shooting stars” per hour at its peak.

Astronomy geeks (like myself) curious about the cause of the Perseid meteor shower can check with NASA to find that the meteors are actually small rocks, debris thrown off by the comet Swift-Tuttle that orbits the sun every 133 years. Earth passes through this debris cloud every August, with the burning rocks lighting up the sky in front of the constellation Perseus, hence the name.

“This is kind of one of the go-to meteor showers to see,” says Kevin Schindler, historian at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory. And it’s easy to watch. “Just grab a recliner, lie down, and look up,” laughs Schindler, “it really is pretty simple.”

The meteor shower is currently ongoing, lasting until August 24, peaking just after midnight on Saturday, August 12, with prime viewing time 1 to 2 am Arizona time until dawn on August 13. This year’s display should be even more vivid because the moon will be a small waning crescent this weekend, keeping the skies dark.

No binoculars, telescope or star maps are necessary to enjoy the show. You will, however, want to find a dark place away from ambient city lights to best see the meteors. Fortunately, Arizona, even around the Phoenix area, has plenty of “dark sky” locations from which to gain a great perspective.

Stargazing Spots Around Phoenix, Arizona

Grand Canyon

The Phoenix Astronomical Society publishes a list of Arizona Dark Sky Observing Sites that have the least amount of ground-based light to obscure star (and meteor shower) viewing. Though true enthusiasts venture north the Grand Canyon to find the ultimate dark sky viewing spot, but it pretty much goes without saying but we will anyway: It’s one of the most popular (cough, crowded) stargazing spots.
Distance: 145 miles, 2- to 3-hour drive

Apache Wash Trailhead

Just north of Phoenix, the Apache Wash Trailhead is a great jumping off point for star-watching. It branches to several different trails, some of which that lead uphill to some nice viewing vantage points. Others lead out into the open, dark desert.
Distance: 30 miles, 37-minute drive

Lake Pleasant

The Space Tourism Guide highlights 16 top stargazing locations around the Phoenix area like Lake Pleasant and Tempe Town Lake that provide good views within convenient commuting distance. There’s also a campsite if you wanted to make a whole night or weekend of it.
Distance: 43 miles, 50-minute drive

Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake is another Space Tourism recommendation. It’s popular for starry-eyed newbies who are just getting into the pastime.
Distance: 10 miles, 15-minute drive

Lowell Observatory

The dark skies around Flagstaff and Lowell Observatory offer many great viewing spots that are worth the trip. In the hills above Flagstaff, the venerable¬†Lowell Observatory¬†is the cornerstone of the city’s celestial past, present, and future. Founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell, the observatory is the place from which Pluto was discovered in 1930, and where the first measures of the expanding universe occurred in the 1910s.

Arizona State Parks’ Star Parties

If the meteor shower inspires you to do some continued stargazing, check out one of Arizona State Parks’ Star Parties across the state this fall. Rangers and astronomers will provide telescopes and guiding viewing sessions for visitors on select nights. For further stargazing and education you can also visit Astronomy Nights at the planetarium at Mesa Community College, and regular astronomy shows at the Dorrance Planetarium at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix.

So whether you’re looking for inspiration to write your own hit song, interested in getting into stargazing, or just want a free show late this Saturday night, get out, lie down and look up to watch the wonders of the Perseid meteor shower.

Lifestyle

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
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
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

Montrose
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

Westchester
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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