Interested in going out to see the sky, but you don't know a good place to go? We have some suggestions for observing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Within San Francisco
A good site for viewing the western sky, that's within the city, is Land's End, a regular site for the SFAA City Star Parties. It's also the darkest sky location within San Francisco that's accessible to the public, due to a surrounding field of trees which blocks out nearby city lights. The only hazard here is summertime fog.
Our Directions page has directions to get there, as well as the locations for other nearby astronomy events.
Within the Bay Area and Northern California
If you want to truly get out of the city and escape to dark skies, there are additional resources available.
An online group called The Astronomy Connection, or TAC, is an informal network of astronomy hobbyists in the Bay Area. Their website lists all of the locations the locals use for stargazing, including directions and also the policies/rules for each site.
Site Access Policies
Be advised that many of these observing sites are public property, such as state parks, operated by various government entities. Most sites have strict rules about after-hours access, especially so in the security-conscious world we now find ourselves living in. Please take the effort to learn the policies and rules for each site, and do your best to follow them.
If you don't respect the rules of the facility which you are using, the owners are very likely to disallow use of the park for astronomical events. We get use of observing sites only through the good grace of others.
Observing is often a group activity, so don't be surprised if you go to an observing site and find other people with telescopes, ready to share the evening sky with you.
Following these simple rules will make observing more fun for yourself as well as everyone who shares the evening with you.
Use red lights only. Red lights spare everyone's dark adaptation, and allow them to see through their telescope! If you don't have a red flashlight, pick up some red taillight repair tape from the auto supply store, and cover the flashlight lens.
Arrive at the star party before sunset. Turn your headlights off if entering or leaving the observing area after dark. If entering after dark, try to park away from the main area so as not to shine them with light.
Get red plastic covering for laptop displays. Turn screen brightness down to the minimum. If you can, set up your laptop at one end of the observing area.
Turn off the interior lights to your car, and/or cover them with red plastic or tape.
Announce your intentions first if you must do something that will shine a bright light. Give people a chance to cover their eyes or look away.
No Pets. Period. Dogs by nature are uncontrollable, and they pose a threat to people when they get out of control. They also don't realize the equipment they're running around (not yours) can be worth several tens of thousands of dollars. At one star party I have seen dogs from different owners fighting and snarling at each other. This has no business at star parties.
Do not touch other people's equipment without permission. This goes back to the â€œtens of thousands of dollarsâ€ some of this equipment is worth. In some cases, equipment can be irreplaceable if something breaks.
Supervise your children. Kids are welcome at star parties â€“ encouraging science and astronomy among youngsters is important, and kids love it. But please keep an eye on them, and make sure they don't touch equipment unless they have permission. Remember, â€œtens of thousands of dollarsâ€.
If you are a visitor, do not monopolize people's time. It's great to look through other's telescopes and ask questions. But star parties are not ideal for extended conversations on astronomy. The Moon eliminates two weeks of every month for deep-sky observing, because it brightens the skies. Of the remaining two weeks, most people can observe only on Saturday evenings. Figure in occasional clouds and bad weather, and that means many deep-sky observers get at most a dozen evenings per year for observing. They want to make the best use of their time they can. During public events, there are usually several people behind you who want a look, too. Give them a chance.
If you have no telescope, park away from the main area so that people with heavy telescopes will not have to carry them far when unloading.
If you have a telescope, bring your own eyepieces and equipment. People love to loan out their equipment so that you can try new things â€“ but you should not depend on other people for your equipment.
Generally, people frown upon music. If you want to listen to music, ask people first, or use headphones.
Bring your own food and beverages, since catered star parties are very rare.
Clean up all trash after you've eaten your food and beverages. Leave no litter at the site.