Lifestyle

An Out-of-This-World Guide to Stargazing in and Near Washington DC

Look up and reclaim your love of the night sky.

Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park
Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park
Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park

While the bright lights of big cities can be beguiling in their own way, those neons ultimately pale in comparison to the natural bulbs in our skies-the stars. Unfortunately, light pollution-or an excess of artificial lighting commonly found in bustling metropolises-has made it nigh impossible to see the twinkling natural lights above our head from within most cities, our nation’s capital included. After all, the best way to see the stars is to be in a truly dark space, unhindered by electricity and its side effects.

Luckily, thanks in part to height restriction laws that prevent skyscrapers from blocking our view of the stars in DC, our fair city-in addition to some nearby destinations-has its fair share of excellent locations for stargazing. And as the season begins to transition from unbearable warmth to more pleasant evening temps, there are few better ways than to spend an evening than by simply looking up.

We’ve rounded up some of the best places in DC and within the vicinity to go stargazing and reclaim your love of the night sky.

Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum
Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum
Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum

The National Air & Space Museum

It comes as little surprise that the Smithsonian dedicated to our skies has a great option for stargazing. On the first and third Saturday of each month, the National Air & Space Museum offers a free 25-minute live planetarium show that provides a tour of the night sky and its constellatory inhabitants.

The National Mall

On a clear night, you’ll find that you can see not only the moon, but also a few planets like Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and if you’re very lucky, Saturn. While the lights around the Capitol sometimes prevent a challenge, it’s still one of the more unique locales not only in the District, but in the country, to do some stargazing, especially with the monuments as a backdrop. Head toward the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial for some great shots of the Washington Monument alongside the stars.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The 180-long C&O Canal spans from West Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and as a National Park Service-protected trail, has not been encumbered by over-development. As a result, in certain areas of the trail, you can find very little artificial light, and as such, a very good opportunity for stargazing. The area near Harpers Ferry may be one of the best places to do so, though on a clear night in Georgetown, you could likely do the same.

Montgomery College Planetarium

The Montgomery College Planetarium in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus hosts Observatory Guest Nights, during which attendees can use Montgomery College telescopes to view and learn about visible solar system objects, star clusters, and nebulae. You’ll leave the session with a star chart and, hopefully, a newfound ability to identify some celestial objects by yourself. Check out the schedule of events.

Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority
Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority
Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Turner Farm Park Roll-Top Observatory

Just 20 miles outside of the city is the large Fairfax County park, which hosts a roll-top observatory that is open to the public. You can join the Analemma Society every clear Friday night for a stargazing party complete with a range of telescopes. There are also some special events, like poetry under the stars. Check out the full schedule.

C.M. Crockett Park

Just over an hour from DC is C.M. Crockett Park, whose flat, open areas make for ideal stargazing. The largest lakeside park in Fauquier County, C.M. Crockett also offers fishing, boat rentals, and cross-country trails that are open year-round, so you can get your activities in during the day before settling down to look for some constellations at day’s end.

Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park
Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park
Photo courtesy of Sky Meadows State Park

Sky Meadows

Sky Meadows is an International Dark Sky Park, an official designation by the International Dark Sky Association that signifies an area to have minimal light pollution with maximum opportunities to appreciate the stars. It’s the closest such place to Washington DC, and is a stunning 1,860 acre park in which to explore the natural beauty of our planet.

George Mason University Observatory

The George Mason University campus in Fairfax, Virginia is just about 20 miles outside of DC, and is home to an impressive observatory boasting a number of fine telescopes. The university offers a range of programming at its observatory, including “Evening Under the Stars,” which invites the public to explore the night skies with the institution’s special hardware. You can check out the full schedule.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Lulu Chang is a Thrillist contributor.

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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