Star-gazers on a tour with California Overland Desert gaze into the starry sky above Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
A meteor streaks above Anza-Borrego Desert State Park during a previous Perseid meteor shower.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

12 SoCal spots to see the Perseids meteor shower — which will be spectacular this year

When the sun goes down over the next several days, you’ll want to look up. Summer’s celestial blockbuster, the Perseids meteor shower, is back, gracing the night sky through about Sept. 1. Based on the American Meteor Society’s forecast, our planet will see the densest display on Aug. 12 and 13.

During the Perseids peak, you can witness up to 100 meteors per hour. Unlike last year, you won’t have to worry about the Sturgeon supermoon diminishing your view — it rose on Aug. 1. This time around, given the moon will be only 10% full, the display will be particularly luminous.

Named after the constellation from which they radiate, the Perseids are not stars but icy, rocky remnants of the comet Swift-Tuttle. You’ll have the best chance of seeing them under a dark sky, away from light pollution.

Here are my favorite Southern California spots, from deserts to mountains to the coast, to watch the dancing streaks of light. Grab a spot early for a stellar evening escapade or, if you’d prefer to catch the event from the comfort of your sofa, you can also view it virtually.

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Indian Cove campsite, Joshua Tree National Park
(Hannah Schwalbe / NPS)

Indian Cove Campground, Joshua Tree National Park

I know this summer has been a hot one (what’s new?), but if you can handle the heat, it truly is best to get to the high desert to experience the most memorable meteor moments in SoCal. Death Valley and Anza Borrego State Park are both top-notch, but JTree has my favorite desert campground and is a shorter drive from the city. Indian Cove is a great home base for a trip to the park’s legendary trails (which are all undeniably gorgeous at sunset). It has 101 campsites. Try to snag one next to the colossal rock formations for more starry solitude. Numerous scrambling opportunities are a good supplement to the half-mile interpretive trail under the night sky.

How to get there: From the town of Joshua Tree, drive east on Highway 62 to the Joshua Tree National Park visitors center (near the intersection of 62 and Park Boulevard), then continue east another 9.2 miles on Highway 62. Turn right onto Indian Cove Road and continue 2.7 miles to the campground.

Parking: Paved lot. No dogs.
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ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2020: The sun sets in a view west from atop Mt. Disappointment in the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest, Calif., on Feb. 6, 2020. A group of surveyors climbed the peak in 1875 thinking it was the highest in the area, but when they reached the top they realized that the next peak over (now known as San Gabriel Peak) was even higher. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Mt. Disappointment, Angeles National Forest

What’s in a name? Starting at the Eaton Saddle trailhead, just under 3 miles from the Mt. Wilson Observatory, a 3.5-mile out-and-back sunset hike will net you two peaks and countless meteor viewing opportunities. At just under 6,000 feet, the summit of Mt. Disappointment won’t leave you disappointed. Its star-crossed lover, San Gabriel Peak, actually helps block city lights, and the hike to both provides for a stunning adventure under the stars. Nearby Mt. Lowe trail camp has five hike-in campsites.

How to get there: Drive 14 miles on the Angeles Crest Highway (California 2) from the 210 Freeway. Turn right onto Mt. Wilson/Red Box Road and continue 2.3 miles to the Eaton Saddle trailhead.

Parking: Two small dirt lots, free. Dog-friendly.
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The suns sets behind the Santa Monica Mountains along the Backbone Trail in Corral Canyon.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Castro Crest, Santa Monica Mountains

Unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains Mountains
Malibu Creek State Park is an ideal setting for any night-sky viewing. There’s relatively low light pollution even though it’s so accessible via every Angeleno’s favorite coastal thoroughfare, Pacific Coast Highway. (It’s not far from the 101, either.) There’s also incredible hiking; the trek to Castro Crest via Corral Canyon is my favorite. During a workout on the Bulldog loop, the iconic sandstone slabs offer excellent resting spots. Lie down with a blanket (or simply on the geological mattress) to enjoy the sky after a classic coastal sunset over the Pacific Ocean. You can also opt for the Malibu Creek State Park campground, which features 63 sites and an open meadow prime for tree-free Perseids viewing.

How to get there: From Pacific Coast Highway, take Corral Canyon Road for 12 miles north to the Corral Canyon trailhead.

Parking: Dirt lot, free. Dog-friendly.
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Two people watch the sunset.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)


Ojai Mountains
“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” Though singer Arlo Guthrie may have been speaking of the human condition, the picturesque community of Ojai recently implemented legislation that mirrors the thought. The name derives from the Ventureño Chumash word for “moon,” and it’s the closest city to Los Angeles with a dark-sky ordinance.

The law is aimed at reducing light pollution and energy bills and, ultimately, protecting those beautiful night sky views. This makes it the perfect accessible stargazing getaway for those who prefer to spend the early evening drinking local wine (perhaps at The Ojai Vineyard), perusing old novels (Bart’s Books) and exploring the boutique shops. Don’t forget to catch the famous “pink moment” along the Topa Topa bluffs at sunset. If you’re staying in town, grab a picnic table at Libbey Park (until 11 p.m.) or head a few miles east to Dennison Park, host to a charming campground ($20 per site) and darker skies. If you prefer to be more remote, head up the Maricopa Highway for a turnout in the Los Padres, including eight miles to the serene Wheeler Gorge Campground ($25 per night, 59 reserved sites, nine walk-in). Make it a star-cation!

How to get there: From the 101 Freeway, take the California 33 north and 150 east on Ojai Avenue, 3.5 miles from the town center.

Parking: Street park in a dark spot. Dog-friendly.
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Greg Wood 25, of Northridge enters a cave on the beach at Leo Carillo State Park in Malibu which offers camping and beach access.
(Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

Leo Carrillo State Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains Coast
Find the brightest star-studded cast in the dark night sky above Leo Carrillo State Park, perhaps the city’s best local beach with limited light pollution. Due to its semi-secluded location in the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area, the beautiful beach (named after the actor and activist) is an A-list spot to watch the night sky.

Set up before sunset to watch the tangerine blanket drape over the Pacific and have a chance to explore the rocky tide pools and sea caves. There is a campground for overnighters (135 reservable sites, $45 a night) and a backcountry trail (Camp 13 Trail at the eastern edge of campsite) that takes you 600 feet up for panoramic coastal vistas and an additional secluded spot to get starstruck. You can also drive up the campground-adjacent Mulholland Highway, which features a few pullouts for those that prefer a private drive-in star-watching experience.

How to get there: Take Pacific Coast Highway north (about 26 miles from the Santa Monica Pier).

Parking: Paved lot closes at 10 p.m.; $12; and street parking on Pacific Coast Highway. Dogs welcome in the day-use area, campgrounds and north of lifeguard tower 3 but not on trails.
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RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIF. - FEB. 24, 2021. Mist shrouds Catalina Island beyond the Point Vicente Lighthouse on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Windy and cooler weather in the forecast.. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Rancho Palos Verdes Overlook

Rancho Palos Verdes Coast
Make your next star-seeking adventure in Rancho Palos Verdes at an accessible vista point (labeled Scenic Outlook - Vistapoint on Google Maps). It’s just down the street from Robert E. Ryan Community Park, the first incorporated green space in the city.

This small, unassuming pullout serves as a panoramic daytime coastal view over the peninsula and is one of the only public stargazing spots available for late-night Perseids viewing. Rancho Palos Verdes has relatively lower light pollution compared to other coastal L.A. cities. However, the stars must align — and not be blocked by the marine layer that often shrouds the picturesque town. Come early for sunset vistas here and at Del Cerro Park, which often has official stargazing parties but otherwise closes one hour after sunset.

How to get there: The overlook is just west of the intersection of Hawthorne Boulevard and Vallon Drive.

Parking: Small, paved pullout lot, free. Dog-friendly.
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Charles and Julie Fleming sit by a campfire at dusk.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Red Rock Canyon State Park

What better place to watch celestial fiery rocks burn up in our atmosphere than a terrestrial canyon known for its own fiery rocks? Enter Red Rock Canyon State Park, a magical desert landscape situated between the Mojave and Sierra Nevada.

Known for its geological gems and colorful canyons, the 27,000-acre space is home to arguably the darkest skies within two hours of the bright urban jungle of downtown Los Angeles. On a clear day with no moon, visitors may be able to see the Andromeda galaxy with the naked eye.

There’s also a campground ($25 a night, 50 primitive sites, first-come, first-served) at 2,600 feet nestled against the vibrant cliffs, for those who don’t want to head home (and why would you?). In addition to the beautiful buttes, hypnotizing hoodoos and other riveting rock formations, the park has some interesting history too. Once home to Kawaiisu Native Americans, it’s been the setting of a 19th century mining operation and dramatic film backdrops, including the TV show “Lost In Space.” For day hikes, Nightmare Gulch Loop (moderate) and Ricardo Campground South Loop (beginner) trails are recommended. Look for roadrunners in these badlands too.

How to get there: Take the 5 Freeway and California 14 north. Turn left onto Abbott Drive and follow signs for the park.

Parking: Paved lot, $6 a day. Dogs allowed at campgrounds but not on trails.
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A man roasts marshmallows at a campfire while his daughter plays in the background by a tent.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Crystal Lake Recreation Area and Campground, Angeles National Forest

Angeles Crest Mountains
Need a little time to reflect? Head to Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northeast of L.A. Follow signs for parking for the lake and take a short hike down (about a quarter-mile down paved road and stairs) to find the lake, a prime nighttime spot to watch the stars reflect on the water (no swimming) below the granite crags. There are also pull-offs for stargazing along California 39, including the San Gabriel Reservoir that’s 15 miles to the south.

If you want to stay the night, head down the road to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area Campground, home to an impressive 50 first-come, first-served sites ($12 a night) located amid Jeffrey pines and oaks at 5,600 feet. Find the amphitheater for a nice seat during your stargazing visit. During the day, grab a bite at the Crystal Lake Cafe (breakfast burrito or Frito chili pie) and enjoy day treks to Mt. Hawkins and other peaks.

How to get there: Take the 210 Freeway to California 39 and drive north for 24 miles. Turn right onto Crystal Lake Road and follow signs for the lake and campground.

Parking: Paved lot, Adventure Pass required ($5 a day). Dog-friendly.

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A sunrise glows orange above the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Inyo County Desert
Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes: It’s home to the hottest temperatures on Earth and the lowest point in North America. It also has arguably the least light pollution in California. That means it may just be the best spot to pursue the Perseids this year, if you’re up for a four-hour drive from L.A.

The challenge is choosing where to post up within the park’s 3,422,024 acres. I like the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for its proximity to the park’s main road and the incredibly soft sand — perfect for lying on and gazing at the meteoric magic. But you can’t go wrong with whichever spot you choose.

If you’re looking to camp, head to Furnace Creek Campground and consider checking out the Perseids at nearby Harmony Borax Works, another popular stargazing destination in the park.

How to get there: From the town of Ridgecrest (which sits just off Highway 395), take CA-178 east for 14 miles. Continue onto Trona Road and Panamint Valley Road, heading northeast for 52 miles, then make a right onto CA-190. Continue east through the park for 30 miles and find the dunes (and parking lot) on your left just after Stovepipe Wells.

Parking: Paved lot. No dogs.
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A starry desert sky above a partially lit camel statue.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

San Diego County Desert
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is home to some of the most isolated campsites in SoCal and thus, some darn good stargazing too. With 500 miles of dirt roads across nearly 600,000 acres, it’s the largest state park in California and one of the only ones that offers primitive camping throughout. Simply pull off a dirt road and find a flat spot to set up your tent — just make sure you are no more than one car’s length off the road and at least 100 feet away from local water sources.

Light pollution will be limited everywhere, but a great, accessible spot that doesn’t require 4WD to get to is Blair Valley. It’s popular with astronomers, thanks to the surrounding mountains that block out light, and offers better meteor viewing than nearby popular vistas like Font’s Point.

How to get there: From the historic town of Julian, take CA-78 east down the grade for just over 11 miles. Turn right on the S2 (Great Southern Overland Stage Route) and continue southeast for 6 miles. Turn left onto the dirt road, marked by a small sign for Blair Valley, and continue a mile to the campground (or find your own space nearby).

Parking: Dirt lot. No dogs.
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The Milky Way above the Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Palomar Mountain

San Diego County Mountains
For the amateur astronomer, the most inspiring place to view the Perseids might be on Palomar Mountain in the Cleveland National Forest. Here, you’ll find Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, home of the legendary 200-inch Hale telescope. Built in 1948, the reflecting telescope was the largest working telescope in the world until 1993 and remains one of the most impressive. Visitors can explore the grounds on their own or take a guided tour on weekends before viewing the meteor shower. If you want to add a hike to your plans, there’s a 2.5-mile trail (one-way) that climbs 700 feet through woodland to the observatory.

Since the observatory is closed in the evening, opt to stay at the nearby Observatory Campground, which offers 42 sites between dense oaks and pines at an elevation of 4,875 feet. The trees are cleared at the sites so campers can get a clear view of the sky, and many even have concrete slabs for stargazers to set up their telescopes.

How to get there: From I-15, take CA-76 east for just over 20 miles. At the Oak Knoll Campground, look for signs for Palomar Mountain and take a slight left onto S Grade Road, which winds up the mountain for nearly 7 miles. At the four-way junction, continue on S Grade Road and head north for 2.5 miles — the campground wlll be on your right (Adventure Pass required for day use).

Parking: Paved lot. Dog-friendly.
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Stargazers sit beneath the Milky Way at Mt. Pinos in 2010.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Chula Vista Campground, Mt. Pinos

Chula Vista means “pretty view” and visitors to Chula Vista Campground in the Los Padres National Forest will get just that — no matter the hour. The walk-in campground, which sits at 8,300 feet near Mt. Pinos, has 12 first-come, first-served sites that sit adjacent to a serene meadow and towering Jeffrey Pines. A giant paved parking lot just 500 yards from the sites provides the perfect spot for astronomers and astro-photographers to set up their telescopes. This may be the best stargazing locale within two hours of L.A., so expect an enthusiastic group for the Perseids.

You can also hike two miles (one-way) up to the summit of Mt. Pinos, which at 8,847 feet is the highest point in Ventura County and provides panoramic views of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada, providing a perfect pre-Perseids stroll.

How to get there: From Frazier Park (just off the I-5), take Frazier Mountain Road west for 3.5 miles, continuing onto Cuddy Valley Road for another 5 miles. Keep left at the sign welcoming you to the national forest and continue for another 8.6 miles up the mountain — the road terminates at a large parking lot next to the campground.

Parking: Paved lot. Dog-friendly.
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