Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory, Palomar Mountain: Hours, Address, Palomar Observatory Reviews: 4.5/5

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Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory
Observatories & Planetariums
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Temporarily closedClosed until further notice
Palomar Observatory, located atop Palomar Mountain in north San Diego County, California, is a center of astronomical research owned and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The Observatory is home to three active research telescopes: the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope, the 48-inch (1.2-meter) Samuel Oschin Telescope, and the 60-inch (1.5-meter) telescope. The research is conducted by Caltech faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and students, as well as by researchers at collaborating institutions. Conceived of almost a hundred years ago, Palomar Observatory has been at the forefront of astronomical research since mid-century. Today, the observatory operates every clear night and is an iconic facility for scientific advancement, instrument development, and student training. The Observatory is a popular destination in Southern California and receives tens of thousands of visitors a year from all over the world. Most come to see the famous 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope-for decades the largest effective telescope in operation. Whether you are an astronomy, history, or engineering enthusiast, or simply curious about the Observatory, you will enjoy visiting our museum and taking one of our guided tours of the facility. All are welcome at the Palomar, but we ask that all visitors respect our rules and procedures. Public, guided tours of the 200-inch (5.1-meter) Hale Telescope are available to visitors on the weekends (Saturday and Sunday, start times are 11:00 am and 1:30 pm) spring through fall-typically from the first weekend in April to the last weekend October. The tours are roughly one hour long, and limited-availalbility tickets (sold exclusively on a day-of and first-come, first served basis) are required. Please plan accordingly.
Suggested duration
1-2 hours
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Detailed Reviews: Reviews order informed by descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as cleanliness, atmosphere, general tips and location information.

154 reviews
Very good

bryan c
Apple Valley, MN61 contributions
Jan 2020
January 2020, in Palm Springs for a wedding, chose to make a week vacation with three days on the coast in Carlsbad and Oceanside. Drove hwy 74 up and over and told my wife we had to go up Palomar to see the observatory/scope. Fantastic history, informative visitor center, and a good viewing room of the scope and mount within the observatory. Had we visited on a summer weekend we would have taken the tour. Have now seen what have been the largest radio scope (Arecibo), largest reflector (Hale/Palomar) and yet to see the largest refractor (Yerkes). My wife will be excited when I fill her in on the next travel details.
Written January 17, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

San Diego, CA27 contributions
Jul 2012 • Family
After seeing the PBS special "Journey to Palomar", I had to bring my family for a visit. The road up here was quite an experience with a number of bikers and bicyclist zooming up and down the switchbacks on the "Road to the Stars" (now called South Grade Rd.) Once we made it to the top at 6000 ft elevation, the scenary was quite beautiful with the dense forest and winding roads. We were also greeted by Mother's Kitchen on the top which is a hang out for all the bikers and bicyclist coming up here. At the Observatory itself, there was a nice picnic area near the parking area with plenty of shaded trees. There are basically two tours on weekend as well as special tours for pre-arranged groups. The docents were quite knowledeable about the history of the observatory and general astronomy. They were extremely friendly and love to share stories about the telescope. Most of them are members of the local astronomy club in the San Diego area.

My young children enjoyed seeing the enormous telescope in person having seen it first on PBS. All in all, it was a very enlightenting and educational tour for the family and I hope it will make a positive impression for my children when they study astronomy. A few recommendations I would make to enhance the trip up here. One, watch the PBS special to learn the history of the telescope. Two, don't come with expectations of this being a professionally run tourist sight like Griffith Park Observatory. This facility is operated by Cal Tech on a regular basis so it's a working laboratory without all the frills. It's science first, PR second. Third, bring a picnic lunch or prepare to eat at Mother's Kitchen nearby as it a long trip up here. Fourth, checkout Observatory campground nearby with lots of amatuer astronomer types who have set up their telescopes adjacent to their RVs. And fifth, don't use GPS directions to come up here as it may direct you come on a non-graded truck road. Use Palomar Observatory website for information on this. Enjoy!
Written July 23, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

London, UK757 contributions
Apr 2015 • Family
Palomar is 'above all' a research facility and is privately owned. It is also at about 5,600 feet altitude, so if you are affected by high altitude, be warned. And it is also in the middle of a National Forest, surrounded by wilderness and wild animals. Rattlesnakes in particular are present in this wilderness. Cellphones / mobile phones may not receive service on the mountain. Finally, there are significant challenges to accessibility, and in particular the 200-inch Hale telescope does not accommodate wheelchair bound visitors, who should contact the Gift Shop for tour details. This is home to what was the most powerful telescope in the world for decades, until more modern technology surpassed it. Still, at 200 inches in diameter, it is a significant astronomical research tool. The dome of the telescope has become iconic. Open from 9 am to 3 pm (standard) or 9 am to 4 pm (daylight savings time). Most tour this facility on their own, but there guided tours available on weekends (see below). This facility is temperature controlled to remain - night and day - at a level of 5,600 feet. Dress accordingly, in layers. It is about 100 steps from the parking lot to the Visitor Center/Gift Shop along the access ramp to the telescope dome. It is about 1000 feet further up the paved ramp to the dome itself. You will see signs very close to this ramp warning you to stay on the path! This will keep you away from 'rattlesnake territory'! Once inside the dome, be aware that there is a staircase up to the Visitor Gallery (70 steps). The 1-hour guided tours are on weekends at specific times (11 and 1:30) and available from early April through late October. Tickets are $5 (maximum 6 tickets per buyer), available at the Gift Shop (open at 10:15). Tickets are on a strictly first-come, first served basis. Getting here is not complicated. Take I-15 South or North to California 76 East. Pass through Pala, Pauma Valley and Rincon (around 23 miles) to Oak Knoll Campground, take California Road S-6 - South Grade Road - north, up Palomar Mountain. On the way up this road, there is a hard left turn as you go up, follow the signs. If you make the turn successfully, you will go by Mothers Kitchen Cafe and the Palomar Post Office on your left. If you pass the Palomar Volunteer Fire Department on your left you are going wrong, turn around and correct your direction. Take snacks and drinks, and make a picnic out of your visit. And please, please remember to clean up so as not to encourage wildlife to approach other visitors! Enjoy!
Written September 19, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

San Marcos, CA5,104 contributions
Mar 2019 • Couples
Really cool and educational. Had entire observatory to ourselves. Got there about 10am on a Sunday and basically no one around. Well done and worth the trip.
Written March 18, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Washington DC, DC40 contributions
Jul 2014 • Solo
I am a physics teacher and decided to visit this famous telescope for my own sense of history and get photos for my students. However, the experience was so poorly designed that I really would not even advise my students to visit.

The good parts are that visits are free, they are open every day and there is a small exhibit showing some of the uses and breakthroughs achieved with the telescopes at Palomar.

The bad part is that it is difficult to see the telescope and impossible to take decent photos. The ironic part is that there is a section at the exhibit that explains light pollution and how it affects viewing from the telescope when trying to view a dark object with light in the background. However, that is exactly the way the visitor gallery is set up. The telesope is poorly lit but it is viewed from a well lit visitor gallery with glass in between. In a place where so much care is taken to ensure good observations it is a joke that they show such little care in setting up the visitor experience.
Written August 1, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Manvel, TX308 contributions
This was our first stop during our vacation trip to San Diego and was well worth it. We were going to be in the area for one Saturday. Check the observatory website for the Saturdays when docents offer tours of the telescope. You get to go inside with docents who are passionate about the observatory. Plan to get there early. There are only 25 spots for each of the two tours and they were both sold out before our tour group went in. There's a little museum and gift shop (which is also where you buy your tour tickets) that you can explore while waiting for the tour to go in. You can also walk around the grounds themselves. Inside, the docent shows how the telescope moves using a small model inside. They choose some of the kids in the group to be "junior telescope operators" to help demonstrate. My 7yr old daughter got picked and she loved it.
If you have any interest in space or are looking to expose your kids to science and the universe, you would do well to spend a half day and venture up the mountain to take a tour.
Written May 11, 2009
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

San Diego, CA84 contributions
Sep 2015 • Couples
Having never been there before, and my husband hadn't been there in over 20 years, we decided to add it to our Palomar Mountain getaway weekend. Very interesting place to visit. Once you park in the parking lot - which is free - its not a bad walk to the actual observatory. Stay on the path though and beware of rattle snakes that could be around. Signs state that. However there are lots of steps up into the actual observatory once you reach it. There is a separate entrance area for those needing mobility assistance.

Once you reach the top of the stairs you can view the actual telescope - of a massive size. A 200 inch Hale Telescope! Once the largest in the world. You can tour this 2 different ways. You can do a free self guided tour where you can view the telescope and surrounding area through a glass wall, read the various information signs, view some pictures, etc...or you can pay for a guided tour which actually allows you inside the floor area where the telescope is. A docent gives you the history of the telescope, etc.

Stop in the museum/gift store on the way out. The museum has a replica of the Hale Telescope and various galaxy pictures taken with the 200 Hale Telescope. Those were cool. There is a visitor book you can sign and also restrooms.
Written September 28, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Jacksonville, FL100 contributions
Sep 2015 • Family
Two things make a visit to the Palomar Mountain Observatory neat: 1. The drive up the mountain is stunning, as you ascend from sunny, beachy San Diego to alpine Palomar replete with towering pine trees and spectacular vistas, 2. The observatory is amazing to behold and is mammoth in person. Inside you can see the telescope from behind a glass wall. There is a quaint and informative museum on the grounds. I have been twice and both times there were several other small groups there. It can be significantly colder atop this mointain, so bring a sweat shirt or jacket. Of note, no food in the area, so plan to go well before or arrive after lunch.
Written September 2, 2015
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Melissa B
San Diego, CA17 contributions
Go! First of all, the drive through the mountains is wonderful and the building itself is a work of art-deco beauty. We went on a Friday morning and it was quiet and mysterious, in a way. It's amazing to see such a machine and to realize that it was built in the 1930s and is still so important to the science. The grounds and the building are lovingly cared for - imaculate! My only disappointment was that several of the touch-screens were out of order or outdated. The museum in general needs an overhaul. Palomar is missing out on a great opportunity to educate the public about space exploration and its importance - this seems like a great way for the universities involved with the observatory to partner with the observatory to create a powerful museum and educational experience. But what the museum lacks in "wow-factor" is more than compensated or by the building, the telescopes, the machine itself and the wilderness around it.
Written June 12, 2009
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

San Diego, CA115 contributions
Aug 2018 • Family
We visited on a Saturday morning and arrived right away. I don't believe our 11am tour sold out, but we bought our tickets right away and there were 26 people on our tour. While we were on the tour, the guides got a radio call at 11:55 call telling them the 1:30 tour had sold out. . . . so it sounds like if you want to visit on a weekend, it's best to arrive early.

I agree that you don't NEED the tour, because most of the information is printed on wall displays and admission is completely free and you can wander the museum and the outer area in the observatory. But you really SHOULD do the tour if you can. The docents did a great job explaining the history, explaining the science in digestible terms, and offering a lot of humor and perspective along the way.

The observatory is such a wonder and makes us appreciate the world and the amazing things that were done before our modern age of just throwing electronics at everything to solve problems.

The tour was great for our son (12 years old). I'm glad we went. There is also a nice picnic area nearby where we had a quick lunch, and then we headed over to see the Boucher fire lookout before heading home.

Phone coverage was minimal, and we rarely had a signal up there. . .
Written August 19, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory is open:
  • Sun - Sat 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM

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