People have long been fascinated by space and celestial objects, from priests and farmers in ancient times to the modern-day explorers and scientists working on the International Space Station. On warm Sacramento summer nights, you may gaze skyward, pointing out constellations to friends. But the heavenly view can be challenging, due to the collective light of the city and suburbs. Visit one of the area’s fine observatories for a more enhanced view, or follow the advice of Walt Heiges, president of the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society. “Get out of Sacramento,” he suggests, “go up and away from the sky glow.”

Insider tip — star and moon watching are hobbies requiring patience and a reasonably quiet environment. People with very small children or limited time may want to pursue their interests via phone apps or services like Google’s Sky, Moon or Mars, which offer live views of stars, galaxies and other celestial bodies.


Foresthill Bridge
Foresthill Road
Auburn, CA 95603

Head a bit north to historic Auburn and the sky begins to reveal itself. Spanning from Auburn to Foresthill over the north fork of the American River, the Foresthill Bridge is the highest bridge in the state and in the top five tallest in the country. The bridge allows pedestrian traffic, and below it are numerous hiking/biking trails and spots to relax by the river. The bridge has been a viewing platform for a different breed of stars as well. It was seen in the movie “The Ugly Truth,” in which Katherine Heigl plays a Sacramento TV producer, as well as in an action film with Vin Diesel.

The Community Observatory
Upper Bidwell Park
6699 Campus Drive
Placerville, CA 95667
(530) 622-7130
www.communityobservatory.com

The observatory, located in a remote area near Horseshoe Lake, was a community project open to the public at no cost on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and the observatory is handicap-accessible. The land around the observatory is perfect for laying on a blanket and perusing the stars, and the 40-seat circular structure is said to be among the first open-sky planetariums in the world. Bring binoculars or a scope for great views of the moon; consider heading there on upcoming full moons on July 31 and Aug. 29, 2015. High-tech options in the observatory itself include handheld screens so guests can get an up-close and personal view from two 14-inch telescopes.

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Oroville Dam
460 Glen Drive
Oroville, CA 95966
(530) 534-2306
www.lakeoroville.net

About one-hour’s drive away from the capital city, the areas around Lake Oroville and the Feather River’s Oroville Dam are perfect for budding and accomplished sky-gazers alike. Find a safe spot to pull over and relax as the majestic astral story unfolds above you. Some of the best opportunities are available for campers. Pitch a tent or reserve a space in one of the lake’s campgrounds. Full hookups are available for recreational vehicles, and there are also two-story “floating campsites,” anchored in secluded coves and complete with amenities for up to 15 people and three boats.

Chico Community Observatory
1 Observatory Way
Chico, CA 95973
(530) 487-4071
www.facebook.com

The non-profit Pacific Center for Astronomical Outreach operates this observatory, which is free to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. During the summer, it opens at dusk and the gates shut at 11 p.m. on the dot. Current conditions and other news are updated regularly on the observatory’s Facebook page.

Salmon Falls Bridge
Old Salmon Falls Road
Folsom, CA

Local star and moon buffs suggest pulling over in these areas to check out the sky. To choose the best evenings to go, visit the Accuweather astronomy page, like this one for Sacramento. This will provide daily forecasts including the weather, moon phase, ceiling, sun rise/set times, cloud cover, and visibility.

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Valerie Heimerich is a freelance writer out of Sacramento. She typically covers business, employment, animal rescue, volunteerism and nonprofits. Her work can also be found at Examiner.com.