Joshua Tree, Ojai and more: California’s best star sightings

Hello, fellow Escapists. This week, we’re diving into the cosmos to celebrate the Perseid meteor shower, which will culminate Friday and Saturday.

In this edition of Escapes, you will find some addresses near you to try for an overview of meteors, the product of particles released by a comet. Fair warning: according to the Griffith Observatory, the light of the near-full moon will “significantly reduce the number of visible meteors”.

Still, who doesn’t want to try to get a glimpse of the annual celestial phenomenon? Additionally, the places mentioned in this newsletter are great spots for general stargazing outside of the Perseid season.

But before I get to the stars, I’d like to switch gears for a moment and address a question I was asked last week by a reader: do you have a recommendation for golf in the redwoods near Mendocino?

I’m not a golfer, but I love the redwoods as much as the next traveler. And I can only imagine how magical it would be to play a round of golf with redwoods towering overhead. After some research, I came across Little River Inn – just five minutes from downtown Mendocino – and its nine-hole golf course among the redwoods.

Do you have a golf course recommendation – or other destination suggestion – for other readers? Have a California travel question you’d like to ask? My inbox is always open; send me a note at any time.

Conveniently enough, the Little River Inn, in addition to other accommodations across the West, offers a stargazing package which includes two nights in an ocean view room, travel blanket, snacks, and access to the hostel’s binoculars, star map, flashlight, and more. Although it’s too late to book the Perseids Peak Package (the hostel needs at least five days’ notice to make arrangements), it seems like a luxurious way to enjoy the stars in a clear night.

Plan a last-minute trip to a nearby stargazing spot

Campers Charles and Julie Fleming enjoy Red Rock Canyon State Park at dusk.

(Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times; illustration by Li Anne Liew/Los Angeles Times)

Two years ago I watched the bright lights of meteors streak across the sky from the comfort of an Airbnb “bubble” in Joshua Tree. But you don’t have to venture far from LA to get a good view of the skies.

Last year, Times contributor Matt Pawlik rounded up 10 stargazing sites near Los Angeles ahead of the annual meteor shower. Here are three of his favorites:

  • Chula Vista Campground: Considered by Pawlik as “the most heavenly stargazing spot within 100 miles of the City of Angels”, this campsite is located in the Los Padres National Forest. Reservations are first come, first served.
  • Ojai: The city’s Dark Sky Ordinance, intended to reduce light pollution, makes it an ideal destination for stargazing. Pawlik recommends hanging a campsite at Dennison Park Where Wheeler Gorge Campground — reservations can be made in advance for both. Pro Tip: Be sure to catch the “pink hour” in addition to the meteors.
  • Red Rock Canyon State Park“The 27,000-acre space is home to arguably the darkest skies within two hours of the bright urban jungle of downtown Los Angeles,” Pawlik writes. “On clear, moonless days, visitors can see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye.” Campsites are first come, first served.

Attend a star-focused festival in a national park

Image of Polaris star trails and northern sky was created using over 100 individual 25-second exposures

(Photo by Raul Roa; animation by Jim Cooke/Los Angeles Times)

Can’t see the Perseid meteor shower? Carefree; there are still opportunities to get a special glimpse of the stars this year.

Some of the best stargazing conditions in California are found in its national parks. Parks such as Sequoia and Joshua Tree even host festivals dedicated to the wonders of the night sky. Here are some upcoming festivals to include in your calendar.

  • The Sequoia Parks Conservancy’s dark sky festival returns September 24. The free festivities — which include a film screening, children’s programming and two “star parties” — will take place at various locations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
  • The Night Sky Festivalorganized in partnership with Joshua Tree National Park, is scheduled for September 23-24. Attend a night sky photography workshop, guided nature hike, astronomy presentations and more at this paying event.
  • The Death Valley Dark Sky Festival took place from February 25 to 27 this year. The park advises those interested in attending the 2023 festival to check back this winter for dates and other information.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park dark sky festival is currently on hold and is expected to return in the summer of 2023.

Travelers can also attend guided night hikes and other stargazing events as part of the regular programming at many national parks. For example, the Yosemite Conservancy offers a naturalist walk titled “Explore the night sky of Yosemite» from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Friday.

Take a Road Trip Through California’s Dark Sky Communities

Sculptures of horses are in silhouette at dusk against a desert backdrop.

Metal sculptures of horses, by artist Ricardo Breceda, under the moonlight in Borrego Springs, California.

(Photo by Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune; animation by Jim Cooke/Los Angeles Times)

Everyone knows that California is home to beaches, mountains, museums, restaurants and so much more. But did you know that it is also home to two international dark sky communities?

To receive this designation from the International Dark-Sky Assn., a community must demonstrate “outstanding dedication to the preservation of the night sky through the implementation and enforcement of an outdoor lighting ordinance in quality, dark sky education and support for dark sky citizens”.

Borrego Springs and Julian, both in San Diego County, made the cut and became dark sky international communities. Travelers can spend a long weekend exploring the two cities, only 30 miles apart, and enjoying their brilliant night skies.

Borrego Springs is surrounded by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a great place for stargazing while visiting the small town. Julian, a 45-minute drive away, is perched over 4,000 feet in the Cuyamaca Mountains.

Dark skies aren’t Julian’s only highlight. Don’t miss his famous apple pie and cider.

🎸 Road Song

Halley’s Cometby Billie Eilish. Play it as you cruise the California 78 from Borrego Springs to Julian.

Comments are closed.