Night Sky Aesthetic - California Edition
Looking for a new adventure to experience after sundown? A night sky adventure might be just the ticket. We have compiled a fun guide to inspire you to break up your routine and create your own starry-night memory.
First we list our top 5 nighttime California road trip ideas, then we show off our favorite San Diego beach locations to experience at night, and end with an extra unique list of nighttime delights our landscape photographers managed to capture. To experience those, it will take careful planning, timing and a bit of luck.
Each of our top 5 nighttime road trip destinations in California has an inspiring image to pique your interest. These locations are far enough away from "light pollution" (think Las Vegas) to up the odds of catching sight of a spectacular clear night sky. Trek to a mountain lake by moonlight, wind your way along the California coast to stargaze over the ocean, or venture into the expanse of the desert to experience the magic of the dark skies.
1. Big Sur After Dark
A trip down California's famous Highway 1 never disappoints, but have you ever considered cruising this windy cliffside road at night? Wait for a clear night without a cloud in sight, and here, far away from the artificial light of the city, you may be in for an unforgettable night. Hundreds of people travel this road by day, but after the sun goes down you will be able to immerse yourself in the magic of this remote cliffside spot. Take in the sight of the constellations above, the sound of crashing waves below, feel the sea breeze and smell the salty air.
A word of caution: The remote location and exposure to the elements in this region of Highway 1 is what makes it so special, but use good judgement as the road can be tricky to navigate at night. If unpredictable weather crops up, save the trip for a clear night. Mud slides and road closures are common so be sure to do some preplanning and check Big Sur's highway conditions here.
Photographic Print: Bridge to the Milky Way
Location: Big Sur, California
2. Nighttime in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Northern California is home to some treasured national parks such as Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Park. This stunning starry display captured by one of our photographers showcases how spectacular the Milky Way is above the snowy Lassen Peak - one of many extinct volcanoes in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Photographic Print: Clear Mountain Skies
3. Camping Under the Stars in the Sierra Nevadas
There is no shortage of beautiful camping destinations in the high Sierras to plan a road trip around. King's Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite... you cannot pick wrong. Visit California is a great resource to learn about all the destinations in the high Sierras.
What they each have in common is the ability to see a spectacular starry night sky in the darkness of the wilderness. After the campfire dies down, position your head outside the tent and take in the wondrous sights. You can ponder the mysteries of the galaxy, our planet, find inspiration, or just stare in awe. Here in the forest, surrounded by the natural world, this experience has the potential to become a favorite memory.
This ancient Bristlecone Pine, among the oldest known living trees in the world, has been enjoying the galaxy's nighttime spectacle for thousands of years!
Photographic Print: Praise the Heavens
Location: White Mountains, California
4. In the Sands of Glamis Dunes
As far southeast as you can go in California, you will find Glamis Dunes - a popular destination for dune buggies, dirt bikes, and the like because it is essentially one giant sandbox to play in. It is far from civilization, making for a fantastic wide open space to take in the galaxy's wonders.
Photographic Print: Galaxy over Glamis
Location: Glamis Dunes, California
5. Borrego Springs Night Adventure
Not quite as off-the-beaten-path as Glamis, Borrego Springs is another perfect stargazing desert location. Borrego Springs is a "Designated Night Sky Community", earned by its efforts to protect the area from light pollution by the International Dark Sky Association. Thus, stargazing in Borrego won't disappoint on a clear night anytime of the year. It is also a great wide open location to enjoy an unobstructed view of the moon, like this spectacular capture of a full moon silhouetting a spindly tree.
Photographic Print: Celestial Affair
Location: Borrego Springs, California
Bonus Star Seeking Idea
You don't necessarily need to travel far and wide to experience a memorable night sky aesthetic. Based upon your proximity to city lights, you may not have optimal Milky Way viewing opportunities nearby, but if your mission is to view the moon during an interesting phase, the perfect spot might not be far from your own backyard.
The photographic image below was captured at El Capitan Preserve in Lakeside, CA. This large reservoir in east San Diego is peaceful by day with leisurely hiking trails, small surrounding hills and trees. At night this unassuming location changes shape to become a secret spot to take in the moon, the stars and the quiet of nature. This is an example of the use of a little creativity to make a memorable experience from an everyday location.
Photographic Print: Silvery Night
Nighttime at the Beach
Since we are located in San Diego, many of the photographers we represent spend countless hours capturing our beautiful coastline at sunset, and sometimes stay well past twilight, dusk and into the night.
Here are some of our favorite after sunset San Diego beach photographs and their locations to offer inspiration for your next coastal nighttime adventure. Starting at twilight, a peaceful beach scene with soft clouds that fade away with the last rays of sunlight, then dusk with nebulous purple and blue clouds, followed by nighttime beach scenes that are absent of clouds, allowing the night sky to reveal itself.
Photographic Print: Retiring at Last Light
Location: Pacific Beach, San Diego
Photographic Print: Nightfall at Torrey Pines
Location: Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego
Photographic Print: Sunset Silhouette
Location: Point Loma, San Diego
Photographic Print: Alter Ego
Location: Ocean Beach, San Diego
Photographic Print: Sunset Cliffs
Location: Sunset Cliffs, San Diego
Rare or Unique Nighttime Sights
These spectacular nighttime images captured by our landscape photographers are much more rare but with some careful planning you may be able to witness them yourself.
If you have dreams of witnessing a meteor shower and you live in California (or the southern hemisphere of the U.S.), you are in luck! There are several large meteor showers that occur each year. Plan to trek out a few hours before sunrise to catch this night sky display. Astronomers track and predict details for optimal viewing including dates and times. Check out this 2022 Meteor Guide to plan your quest. Note that each winter through spring, there is a yearly "meteor drought" between January and mid-April.
The first incredible image captures bioluminescence in the dark ocean waters, with misty clouds in the dark sky adding to the eeriness. This amazing sight is framed by the infamous surf shack at Windansea, La Jolla (that has since blown down in a storm). Bioluminescence is an incredible phenomenon in nature that appears as a nebulous bright neon blue color glowing in the ocean emitted by tiny marine creatures like plankton.
Commonly occurring on California's southern coastline in the spring and early summer, you will still need a bit of good timing and luck to witness this amazing sight. Keep an eye on the local San Diego news and check the Scripps Institute of Oceanography's "Pier Cams" for live footage of the shoreline in La Jolla.
Photographic Print: Bioluminescent Windansea
The 2017 launch of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket was a memorable experience for those of us in Southern California. Landscape photographer Evgeny Yorobe was prepared for this light show, set up on a favorite San Diego beach and managed to create this spectacular image of the rocket's light trail illuminating the clouds in a purple sky.
Photographic Print: The Final Frontier
Light Art Installation
This global art installation in Paso Robles is a giant light display landscape, spanning 14 acres with over 50,000 individual flower-like lights powered by solar. This exhibition is a sure bet to experience a unique nighttime adventure. Details can be found here.
Photographic Print: Night at the Field of Light
We hope our collection of nighttime photographs helped you find some inspiration to plan a star filled adventure of your own!