Best Stargazing Sites in Southern California.

Because of the urban sprawl in Southern California, finding a good stargazing site is becoming a hard task – pretty much anywhere you try to go, you will still encounter the glow from the major cities. As such, residents who live below the 35th parallel in California have to make due with what they have.

Some of these sites are personally recommended from experience. Others are well known popular sites that may or may not offer something for the casual inexperienced observer. These are all locations that are a Class 4 on the Bortle Scale or darker. Learn more about this criteria here.

Cottonwood Spring Campground
Joshua Tree National Park, Riverside County

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Bortle Scale: 3
Land: High Desert
Elevation: ~3,000 ft
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: Bathroom Facilities, Picnic Tables, Fire Pits
Cell Service: No

Joshua Tree National Park is a popular destination to check out the stars, but most of the park suffers with light pollution from Palm Springs. However, Cottonwood Campground, located about 30 miles east of Indio, is FAR less light polluted. This sky is the darkest over all the campgrounds in the park, so if you want a remote location with a small amount of light pollution, this is the place to go.

For this reason, plus with the comforts of bathrooms, Orion Bear Astronomy usually organizes public star parties at this location.

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Telescopes set up on the campground, 5/3/2019

It is a popular camping destination that can fill up on weekends. If you want to do any imaging or serious observing from this location, it’s recommended you visit on a weeknight when there is less people . The individual and group sites can be reserved for $20/night ($40 for group), which is necessary if you are visiting over the weekend or during peak camping season.

Amboy Crater
San Bernardino County

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Bortle Scale: 2
Land:  Low Desert
Elevation: ~700 ft.
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: Pit Toilets, Picnic Tables
Cell Service: Yes!

Located near the historic Route 66 town of Amboy, this location has almost no light pollution. The distant city glows are still apparent, but they do not affect your seeing conditions. The sky is wide open, and on good clear nights, the Summer Milky Way can cast faint shadows on white surfaces!

The parking lot is flat and level, with plenty of room to set up. Due to the more remote location, it isn’t as visited as many other landmarks, making it ideal if you want to observe, photograph, and be left alone. 

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While there is almost no light pollution, the outdoor street lights from Amboy (1.5 miles away) sometimes shine a glare which can affect your dark adaptation – just don’t stare at them! Trains also pass by, but there are some spots in the parking lot that are shielded from their lights.

Goat Mountain Astronomical Research Station (GMARS)
Landers, San Bernardino County

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Bortle Scale: 4
Land: High Desert
Elevation: ~ 3,000 ft
Public or Private: Private – open during star parties
Amenities: AC outlets, two houses w/ bathrooms, concrete pads
Cell Service: Varies with service provider

GMARS is a respected popular site that I often get asked about. What the site lacks in a truly dark sky makes up for in amenities, which are free to use during star parties, with some rules of course!

It is the official dark site location for the Riverside Astronomical Society (RAS), who organize monthly star parties around new moon. The site is open to the public when RAS hosts its star parties, which includes a a 22″ Dobsonian on site, and of course, members who bring their own telescope equipment will allow you to look through their telescopes. 

Check out RAS’ GMARS website for more info. You don’t need to be an RAS member to attend their star parties, but when it isn’t open for such events, it’s private land.

Steve Kufeld Astronomical Site (SKAS)
Lockwood Valley, Ventura County

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Bortle Scale: 4
Land: Mountain
Elevation: 4,839 ft.
Public or Private: Private – LAAS members only!
Amenities: AC outlets, pads, bathrooms, heated trailer
Cell Service: Spotty

This is the dark sky observing site for the Los Angeles Astronomical Society (LAAS), located 90 miles NW of the City of L.A., near Mt. Pinos and Frazier Park.

The site is equipped with two large Newtonian reflectors, one a 16″ and the other a 31,” nicknamed the Clyde-O-Scope in honor of Clyde Tombaugh.

While outreach events do happen regularly, this is a private location maintained by LAAS members, and as such is not open to the general public during their dark sky parties. Only LAAS members and up to two guests per member are permitted to observe at the site!

Check out LAAS’ website, and the page about the location for more information!

Hole In the Wall Campground
Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino County

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Bortle Scale: 2
Land: High Desert
Elevation: 4,400 ft.
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: Pit Toilets, Fire Rings, Picnic Tables,
Cell Service: Yes

Unless you travel to places north, Mojave National Preserve is your best chance in Southern California to see a truly dark sky with little to no light domes. It’s located in a wide “corridor of darkness” surrounded by Vegas the north, Barstow and Victorville to the west, Colorado River towns to the east, and Twentynine Palms to the south.

The Hole In the Wall Campground is the most popular campground in the preserve, and this site gets very dark! While it costs $12 to camp here, the place is first come first serve and doesn’t do reservations.

Red Rock Canyon State Park
Kern County

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Bortle Scale: 3
Land: High Desert
Elevation: 2,400 ft.
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: Pit Toilets, Water, fire rings, picnic tables
Cell Service: Spotty

Located just above the 35th parallel along CA-14, this is within 2 hours for most L.A. Metro residents, and has great dark skies compared to locations further south along the route through the desert.

The day use parking lot closes at sunset, but overnight campsites are available for $25/night. It is a popular camping destination which can fill up on weekends during the spring and fall months, but it is first come first serve (no reservation system). But if you’re an L.A. resident who doesn’t want to go far east for a darker sky, Red Rock Canyon is the place to go.

Check out their website for more info. 

Blair Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
San Diego County

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Bortle Scale:34
Land: High Desert
Elevation: 2,500 ft.
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: Pit Toilet
Cell Service: Yes

For San Diego County residents, Blair Valley in Anza-Borrego State Park is the recommended spot to head towards. When the cities along the coast are covered by the marine layer, it actually makes the skies to the east above Blair Valley and the surrounding desert land quite dark! The rest of the time, there’s light domes from almost any direction but the sky above is still nice!

The only downside is that the campground doesn’t have paved roads to access, and may require vehicles with four wheel drive to get there. There is a pit toilet near the mile 22 marker along S2. This is the case for many sites in the park, so only travel to this park if you’re prepared with the amenities you need, especially enough water!

Milpitas Wash
Imperial County

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Bortle Scale: 2 
Land: Los Desert
Elevation: ~ 250 ft.
Public or Private: Public
Amenities: None
Cell Service: Yes

Sure, there’s plenty of decent spots along the Salton Sea shores in Imperial County to set up, but if you’re a serious stargazer, you want to get away from all the villages near the Salton Sea and further south.

Along CA-78, between Brawley and Blythe, is a location called Milpitas Wash. While there’s no campgrounds or roads of any sorts, even a small car can find an accessible spot off the main highway to set up. You’ll need to bring everything you need besides telescope equipment: food, water, etc. and only go to this site if you have a thirst for a little adventure.

The best sites to look at stars are always the most rewarding to those who make the effort.

Aside from some small pockets in the hills above Malibu or near Lancaster/Palmdale, Los Angeles County doesn’t have very many places I would recommend for serious stargazing – it’s way too populated and there’s too much light pollution!

Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Kern Counties on the other hand have much bigger “dark pockets” in the mountains between the coastal and central valley cities, plus the Mojave Desert to the east in Kern County.

I hope this article helps, and feel free to leave a comment if you’re a So Cal resident and can think of a site that should be mentioned here.

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