James Lick Telescope (credit: Randy Yagi)
With the gloomy summer fog arriving early this year, it hasn’t been the best of conditions for stargazing in the Bay Area. But with many students out of classes, the summer months also bring added interest in the science of astronomy. One of the best local places for school aged students and others to learn more about the night sky is located in the Oakland Hills, where fog dissipates much faster than other spots across the bay. While stargazing can be enjoyed at many spots across the Bay Area, particularly at higher elevations, a few stand out because of the quality of the telescopes being used and the helpful and knowledgeable people who operate the equipment. Here are five of the best places near the East Bay to go star and moon gazing near the East Bay.
Chabot Space and Science Center
10000 Skyline Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94619
Located in the Oakland Hills bordering Redwood Regional Park and Joaquin Miller Park, the Chabot Space and Science center features three giant telescopes at its observatories. The educational center hosts daytime, evening and solar viewing along with basic instruction on the use of telescopes on the observatory deck perched 1,500 feet above the San Francisco Bay amid spectacular views. Visitors who pay for a general admission entry are also allowed the opportunity to see the three telescopes, in addition to interactive astronomy exhibits and the Planetarium. Each of the three telescopes, including the historic “Rachel” telescope, are capable of allowing star gazers to see planets within the solar system and points beyond, including extraordinary planetary nebula. Named after the 19th century Bay Area pioneer who help fund the building of the Oakland Observatory at the present day location, the center is also available for family events, corporate gatherings and birthday parties.
Krause Center for Innovation
12345 El Monte Road
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Foothill Observatory houses both a 16-inch computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope and a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. Managed by the Peninsula Astronomical Society, the observatory hosts admission free public programs on a weekly basis, primarily on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, in addition to special viewings for important astronomical events. The public is also welcome to attend the Peninsula Astronomical Society’s monthly meetings, which features a guest speaker or speakers each time. Located on the Foothill College campus just off Highway 280, the observatory can be found near Campus Entrance 4, adjacent to the Krause Center for Innovation and Lot 4B.
Fremont Peak State Park
San Juan Canyon Road
San Juan Bautista, CA 95045
Fremont Peak Observatory is a bit of a drive from the East Bay city of Fremont, but it’s a very popular spot favored by both amateur and professional astronomers. An important factor of the allure to this somewhat remote destination in San Benito County is the relative absence of light pollution emanating from the Bay Area, which affects an astronomer’s ability to view the sky. Fremont Peak Observatory, with its breathtaking views of the California Coast, is operated by the Fremont Peak Observatory Association and boasts a Challenger Newtonian telescope, a reflecting telescope first introduced by Sir Isaac Newton. The Association works with local schools to provide classroom presentations and field trips, in addition to summer science and math internships for students from Hartnell College in Salinas. Named after the famous military hero, fifth territorial Governor of Arizona and former California U.S. Senator, Fremont State Park is the setting for this outstanding observatory, about a 30-minute drive from San Juan Bautista.
7281 Mt. Hamilton Road
Mt. Hamilton, CA 95140
The single most important spot for star and moon gazing in the Bay Area is Lick Observatory. Located at the top of Mount Hamilton, the observatory is the world’s first permanently occupied observatory on a mountaintop and serves as a research center for astronomers from campuses within the University of California system. The property is home to nine telescopes, most notably the James Lick Telescope, a 19th century telescope in the main building and still in use. The Friends of Lick Observatory group hosts a Saturday Stars program for amateur astronomers and others interested in astronomy. First time visitors are advised to drive cautiously along the winding road to and from the observatory and must also be particularly mindful of any cyclists.
Point Lobos near Land’s End
680 Point Lobos Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94121
Point Lobos near Land’s End is just one of the spots for monthly star parties hosted by the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers. Founded in 1952, the membership-driven group promotes interest in astronomy in a variety of ways including monthly lectures from guest speakers, science and astronomy nights for schools and universities and star viewing parties. Other Bay Area locations for the star parties are the Presidio Parade Grounds, Pier 17 and Mount Tamalpais. One other local astronomy group near the East Bay is the San Jose Astronomical Association, with viewing sites at places like Coyote Lake, Lake San Antonio and Rancho Canada del Oro.