Lifestyle

The Best Time to Stargaze in San Francisco Is Now, Here’s Where to Do It

Don't miss out on the Bay Area's stellar stargazing.

Sundry Photography/iStock/Getty Images
Sundry Photography/iStock/Getty Images
Sundry Photography/iStock/Getty Images

When you think of San Francisco, you probably don’t think of stargazing. After all, even on the clearest night, the city has a fair amount of light pollution, and, well, it’s not like this town is exactly known for its endless night skies thanks to our pesky and persistent (but lovable) fog.

Still, don’t let that deter you from seeking out the wonders of the night sky. If anything, our weather is extremely fickle, so it’s not unheard of for the fog and clouds to be there one minute and gone the next. SF also has some amazing urban parks and large amounts of open land near the ocean, which helps with star-sighting.

And, if you’re looking to play amateur astronomer (or UFO spotter), the best time to do so is late August to early October when the fog tends to go on holiday and the skies are clear. When that happens, you can see all of the classics (Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion‚Ķ), plus some you may have never seen, such as¬†the Draconids Meteor Shower.

If you’re curious about what you might see in the sky above the Bay Area on any given night, this website will tell you which planets you may see, and the Academy of Sciences has a seasonal “Skywatcher’s Guide” with moon stages, stars, and more.¬†¬†

Now, for where you’ll want to go to actually wish upon a star or two, we have some recommendations below and a tip: Remember to dress warmly and bring a flashlight or headlamp to help you navigate trails.

Paul Storey/500px/Getty Images
Paul Storey/500px/Getty Images
Paul Storey/500px/Getty Images

Stargazing Spots in San Francisco

Corona Heights Park

Corona Heights
This park that sits at the top of the hill between Buena Vista Park and the Castro is most visited by enthusiastic pups eager to play in the fenced-in dog park, but it also offers some of the most spectacular views of the city if you’re willing to put in a minimal amount of “hiking” effort. A somewhat rocky (so, again, a headlamp or flashlight is needed at night) one-mile dirt path leads up to the summit, which sits 520 feet above sea level and offers 360-degree views of the city. And you know what 360-degree views mean-hopefully, an endless sky full of stars. And the park doesn’t close until midnight, so you’ll have plenty of time for star-spotting even in the summer.

Land’s End/Point Lobos

Seacliff
The Land’s End trail, which winds along rocky cliffs that hover about the Pacific Ocean, is one of SF’s most popular urban hikes for good reason-stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Headlands, and Sutro Baths-and though you’ll only be able to see the former at night, what you’ll get instead, thanks to minimal light interference, are views of the night sky to the west and the north. Go right before sunset for maximum California star counting enjoyment. The area is accessible 24 hours a day, but parking lots close at sunset.

Main Parade Lawn

Presidio
If you want potential starlight with very minimal effort, head to the Main Parade Lawn in the Presidio, which has views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. It might not seem like the most obvious place because the sprawling grass field is surrounded by historic buildings, but it is usually pretty dark at night. Pretty much any of the low-light areas in the Presidio will potentially be good spots for stargazing, including Crissy Field, Tunnel Tops, and Immigrant Point.

San Francisco State University Observatory

Park Merced
If you take your stargazing seriously, head to SF State’s Observatory, which is open to the public and free two or three nights a week during the school year when the skies are clear. There are several telescopes on the roof where you can see different star clusters, phases of the Moon, Saturn’s rings, and Jupiter’s four moons, all depending on the time of year, of course.

Strawberry Hill

Golden Gate Park
It makes perfect sense that the highest point in Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill, which rises 430 feet above sea level, is an excellent spot for stargazing. The hill, which is surrounded by Stow Lake and accessible by two bridges, is wooded, but there are still some pretty spectacular views of the city at the peak, and thanks to the fact that the park has very little artificial light, the chances of seeing stars on a clear night is pretty good. Sadly, the observatory that was built on the summit in 1891 and visited by people in horse-drawn carriages was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. But fortunately, Golden Gate Park is open 24 hours a day, as is the parking lot by the Stow Lake Boat House.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks is the second highest spot in SF (922 feet in elevation) and has amazing 180-degree views of SF and, if you’re willing to hike up to the top of one of the peaks (and deal with the wind), 360-degree views. The potential for stargazing is a little hit or miss because the city lights do twinkle in the distance, but on a clear night, you’ll likely get lucky. Any spot with a view like that is going to attract a decent amount of people at night, but most people don’t leave the parking lot. Just be sure not to leave anything in your car because, unfortunately, it’s renowned for smash-and-grabs.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Hatch © Lick Observatory
Photo courtesy of Laurie Hatch © Lick Observatory
Photo courtesy of Laurie Hatch © Lick Observatory

Stargazing Spots Just Outside San Francisco 

Chabot Space & Science Center

Oakland Hills
Chabot is home to three large telescopes that sit on an observatory 1,500 feet above the Bay, including a 36-inch reflector telescope, a 20-inch telescope that is the largest refractor in the western United States, and an 8-inch Alvan Clark refractor, the original 1883 instrument donated by founder Anthony Chabot. You can look through them every Friday and Saturday night from 7:30 to 10:30 pm, weather permitting.

Lick Observatory

Mount Hamilton
This peak in the South Bay reaches 4,265 feet into the sky and is home to the world’s first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory, which the public can visit three to four nights a month for a four to six-hour tour that includes a visit to the mountain’s largest telescope, the 3-meter Shane Telescope, and the historic 36-inch Great Refractor Telescope. The observatory is about a one-hour drive from San Jose, and although there is growing concern about the amount of light pollution, you can thank your lucky stars that it’s still less light-polluted than many other observatories.

Mount Diablo State Park

Clayton
You’ll have to plan an overnight visit if you want to gaze at the stars from this 4,000-foot tall peak in the East Bay, but it’s a total bucket list camping spot and one of the tallest peaks in the Bay Area, so you’ll be above the lights with a clear view of the sky. On clear days, you can see as far as 200 miles away, including 35 of California’s 58 countries, including, if the weather cooperates and you have a good pair of binoculars, Yosemite’s Half Dome.

Mt. Tamalpais

Mill Valley
Mt. Tam’s elevation of 2,579 feet means daytime views of the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea, the Marin County hills, San Francisco Bay and City, the East Bay, Mount Diablo, and on rare days, the Sierra Nevadas. At night, it sits above the light pollution of the Bay, which means excellent views of the solar system. Like Mount Diablo, if you want to check out the night sky, you’ll need to camp overnight because the park closes at sunset.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†Twitter,¬†Pinterest,¬†YouTube,¬†TikTok, and¬†Snapchat!

Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelancer who definitely visited all of SF’s best stargazing spots in high school, though it likely took copious amounts of Visine for her to truly appreciate the view. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf.

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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