You don’t need a telescope to see the Milky Way. Summer is a great time to seek it out, mostly because it’s warm at night. Stargazing can also be very exciting when your kids get to stay up past bedtimes, and drive a bit to escape (510) light pollution.
Plan ahead(ish) for stargazing in the Bay Area
- My 4 year old was very excited to stay up past bedtime and see the stars. Milky Way or not, staying up late is always the funnest for little kids!
- Obviously stay safe when traveling at night to more remote areas with little kids 🙂
Go out in the right conditions to view the Milky Way
- Check the weather for a clear skies night. I just use the Weather Underground app and look a few days out to plan ahead.
- Check driving routes to places with the least amount of light pollution. Dark Sky Finder recommends “look for a place that is dark to the south with no major cities in that direction.” I’ve had great luck at the fairly-close Robert Ferguson Observatory, which is just over an hour away from East Bay. If your family has the tolerance to drive further, aim closer to the Sierra National Forest.
Best times of year to see the Milky Way (according to the professionals):
- April and May the pre-dawn hours are best.
- June to early August the best time is near midnight, though the Milky Way will be visible almost all night.
- Mid-August through September the best time is soon after the sun has set and the sky has grown dark.
What to bring on your stargazing adventure
- Headlamp (Pro tip: If you don't have a red headlamp, you can hack a red light so your eyes can fully acclimate to darkness)
- Chairs, we used our camp chairs
- Bug spray
- Hot chocolate (why does hot chocolate always taste soooo much better outdoors?)
- Optional: telescope, star charts, binoculars, night photography tools
- Highly encouraged: a sense of adventure, and flexibility as weather can be unpredictable