If your little Galileo has a twinkle in his eye over every light in the night sky, we’ve found where to go to wish upon a star. From planetarium shows and high-powered telescope viewings to a weekend of wonder camping with amateur astronomers, here are the 7 best spots to stargaze as a family.

Photo: Jake Kokot via Unsplash

See Stars in Balboa Park
Tour the incredible solar system with the Fleet’s own astronomer who narrates “The Sky Tonight” show in their beautiful theater before you head outside and stargaze with the experts. The San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) sets up several telescopes for free public viewing. They’ll gladly help little starlings take a peek and see what heavenly bodies they can spot. Look forward to viewing a total solar eclipse this August. Star parties happen the first Wednesday of each month on the Prado by the Fleet Science Center.

Insider’s Tip: The telescope line is shortest during the show (and it’s free). So if your kiddo won’t last the night, skip the show and head straight for the stargazing.

Showtimes: 7 and 8:15 p.m. (first Wednesday of the month; recommended for ages 5 and up)
Cost: Stargazing free; Sky Tonight show $16.95/adults; $14.95/children

Fleet Science Center
1875 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: rhfleet.org

Photo: Palomar College Planetarium

Behold the Night at Palomar College Planetarium
Palomar College welcomes the public every Friday night to enjoy their newly built planetarium. Two planetarium shows inspire wonder and imagination. “The Sky Tonight” is a live narrated tour of the current sky, highlighting the moon, planets and many constellations and their mythology. A second full-dome feature follows (see schedule here) or you may wander outside to search the night sky through large tracking telescopes that are set-up for free public viewing at dusk.

Insider’s Tips: Buy tickets online (shows can sell out). Each show requires a separate ticket. Arrive early because late seating is not allowed! Kids must be 5 to attend the planetarium shows; no exceptions.

Showtimes: The Sky Tonight 7 p.m.; Full Dome Feature film (varies) 8:15 p.m.
Cost: $6/adults; $4/children

Palomar College Planetarium
Comet Circle East
San Marcos, Ca 92069
Online: palomar.edu/planetarium

Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade via Flickr

Star Light, Star Bright: San Diego Astronomy Association
If your family is ready for an outdoor adventure, bundle up and head to one of these free, fun events further from city lights that will allow for a more authentic, clearer view of the sky. Local astronomers from SDAA share their knowledge of the heavens with curious stargazers while using high-powered telescopes. Wear warm clothes and bring your own telescope or binoculars if you’d like. The constellations change with the seasons, so there is always something new to explore. Viewing begins at dusk.

Insider’s Tips: Lasers and flashlights interfere with viewing. Bring a small red flashlight instead if you have one. No food or drinks are allowed in observation areas near telescopes. 

East County
When: Second Friday of each month
Where: Kumeyaay Lake Campground Parking Lot
Two Father Junipero Serra Trail
San Diego, Ca 92119
Online: mtrp.org/campground

North County
When: Third Friday, every other month
Where: Goodan Ranch/Sycamore Canyon Reserve
The site is located at the east end of Poway, offering a pretty dark sky with an amazing panoramic view of the city below.
Online: sdparks.org/content/sdparks/en/park-pages/GoodanSycamore.html

When: Fourth Friday of each month
Where: Mission Trails Regional Park West Sycamore located in Scripps Ranch
Online: mtrp.org/west_sycamore

Photo: Cherie Gough

Camp With Astronomers on Palomar Mountain
Dust off the tent and enjoy an exciting camping weekend exploring the stars with high-powered telescopes provided by local amateur astronomers. The windy drive that climbs the 4800 feet to the camp is an adventure in itself. Held one weekend a month at Palomar Mountain’s Observatory Campground April through October, this family-friendly event includes great interpretive talks on Saturday night to help you understand what you’re seeing up above. During the day, hike the 2 mile trail to the Palomar Observatory where you’ll be in awe of spectacular views. Explore the visitor’s center or take a guided tour, but make sure little scientists are aware that the telescope here is for researchers only.

Insider’s Tips: Many campsites run adjacent to a stream. Bug repellant is a must. Cell phone service is iffy at best.
Online: nanzscience.com/explore/index.html

Photo: Gemelitas via Tripadvisor

Out-of-This-World Night in Julian
Astronomer and owner of Observer’s Inn, Michael Leigh, takes visitors on a journey through the cosmos five nights a week. Using a laser, he clearly points out the visible constellations. Leigh makes the evening tour interesting for all; visitors range from young children to NASA scientists. Kids will gaze in wonder at sample pieces of meteorites and rocks from Mars. Be sure to check out the stars and planets for yourself using his research level telescopes on the observation deck. Observers’ Inn is also a lovely B&B, mostly serving as a romantic getaway. Drive up in the evening or stay at a nearby campground with the kiddos.

Sky tours begin around 8:30 p.m.. Closed Sun. and Th. Call for a reservation.
Cost: $30/person

Observer’s Inn
3535 Highway 79
Julian, Ca 92036
Online: observersinn.com

Where do you go to see stars in San Diego? Tell us in the comments.

— Cherie Gough

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