Palomar Observatory
Palomar Observatory, home of the famous 200-inch Hale Telescope.
Diana Hannikainen

Note: This tour has been canceled, due to several observatories along the route imposing restrictions because of pandemic-related concerns.

Take an astronomy tour with Sky & Telescope! You’re in for an adventure with Observing Editor Diana Hannikainen as you tour the great observatories, visit Meteor Crater, and even go stargazing at the gorgeous Grand Canyon.

Our journey will take us from the desert of the Southwest to coastal California. You’ll visit the historic Lowell Observatory, where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and enjoy an exclusive observing session with the 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory. You’ll spend a day at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, home of the 200-inch Hale Telescope, and an evening observing with the famous 36-inch refractor at Lick Observatory. Along the way you’ll stop at significant (and breathtaking) sites of scientific significance: Barringer (Meteor ) Crater, the Grand Canyon, and the California Science Center, just to name a few.

Our travel partner for this observing adventure is Collette Travel. Together, we’ll explore the historical architecture of astronomy, learn about current astronomical research, and take in the wonders of the night sky.

Below, you will find:

Detailed itinerary for our 14-day, 13-night tour of Great Observatories of the American West

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Itinerary for Great Observatories of the American West 2021

Sunday, Oct. 3Scottsdale, ArizonaCourtyard by Marriott Scottsdale Old Town
Monday, Oct. 4Scottsdale – Meteor Crater – FlagstaffLittle America Hotel, FlagstaffB/D
Tuesday, Oct. 5Flagstaff – Grand CanyonHoliday Inn Express, Grand CanyonB/D
Wednesday, Oct. 6Grand Canyon – Las VegasParis Hotel, Las VegasB
Thursday, Oct. 7Las Vegas – PasadenaHilton Hotel, PasadenaB/D
Friday, Oct. 8Pasadena – Mount Wilson – PasadenaHilton Hotel, PasadenaB
Saturday, Oct. 9Pasadena – Los Angeles – PasadenaHilton Hotel, PasadenaB
Sunday, Oct. 10Pasadena – Los Angeles – PasadenaHilton Hotel, PasadenaB
Monday, Oct. 11Pasadena – Palomar Mountain – PasadenaHilton Hotel, PasadenaB/D
Tuesday, Oct. 12Pasadena – San Simeon – MontereyHotel Pacific, MontereyB
Wednesday, Oct. 13MontereyHyatt Regency, MontereyB
Thursday, Oct. 14Monterey – San FranciscoSan Francisco Marriott Marquis, San FranciscoB/L
Friday, Oct. 15San Francisco – Lick ObservatorySan Francisco Marriott Marquis, San FranciscoB
Saturday, Oct. 16San Francisco

Day 1, October 3: Arrival – Scottsdale, Arizona

Your tour begins in Scottsdale, set in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Arrive at the Courtyard by Marriott Scottsdale Old Town at your leisure.

Day 2, October 4: Scottsdale – Meteor Crater – Flagstaff

Board the coach in the morning to travel to Meteor Crater National Landmark. The route takes us through the rugged landscape of Tonto National Forest on our way to Barringer Crater. Casual lunch and snacks are available at the monument. Then it’s a quick drive to Flagstaff, where we will enjoy an evening program at Lowell Observatory.

Visit Meteor Crater!
Located 37 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, Barringer (Meteor) Crater formed during an impact some 50,000 years ago. The crater is about 3,900 feet across and 560 feet deep.
S. N. Johnson-Roehr

Day 3, October 5: Flagstaff – Grand Canyon

Sit back and enjoy the short drive from Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Watch as the diverse terrain reveals itself at every turn. No photo can fully capture its beauty. We will have plenty of time to take in the breathtaking views from several different vantage points. Your afternoon is free. In the evening, we will gather for a stargazing session, weather permitting.

Stargaze from the Grand Canyon!
The incomparable Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.
Diana Hannikainen

Day 4, October 6: Grand Canyon – Las Vegas, Nevada

Take some time to gaze at the vast Grand Canyon in the morning light before traveling to Nevada. Welcome to exciting Las Vegas! Behold the famous Vegas Strip and take in its four miles of neon-lit resorts and bustling activity. Go out for a night on the town, or attend an evening astronomy lecture given by a faculty member from the UNLV Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Day 5, October 7: Las Vegas – Pasadena, California

Visit Mojave National Preserve on Sky & Telescope's astronomy tour
Mojave National Preserve
Wikimedia Commons / ogwen

Embark on an amazing journey across the thinly populated desert en route to Los Angeles. Our drive begins along the fringes of the unusual Mojave National Preserve and continues through the mountainous San Bernardino Valley to the Los Angeles area . . . our first stop in the fabulous state of California.

Day 6, October 8: Pasadena – Mount Wilson – Pasadena

Mount Wilson Observatory 60-inch telescope
The 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Heven729

This day is free to explore independently. Perhaps you’ll visit the Gamble House, stop at the Norton Simon Museum, or relax at the Huntington Gardens. Or just relax, as we have scheduled an evening observing session with the historic 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson, weather permitting.

Day 7, October 9: Pasadena – Los Angeles – Pasadena

Today we’ll visit one of the premier science institutions in the Los Angeles area, the California Science Center in Exposition Park. At the Science Center, you’ll have an opportunity to visit the Space Shuttle Endeavour in its new home and catch an IMAX movie. Weather permitting, we’ll head back up to Mount Wilson in the afternoon for a second observing session.

Day 8, October 10: Pasadena – Los Angeles – Pasadena

Explore Griffith Observatory!
Griffith Observatory
S. N. Johnson-Roehr

We’ll start slowly today to give you a chance to sleep off that late night observing! In the afternoon, we’ll head up to Griffith Observatory, one of the first public institutions in the United States dedicated to astronomy. At the observatory, you’ll take a self-guided tour before attending a planetarium show. Don’t forget to take in the fantastic view of the city!

Day 9, October 11: Pasadena – Palomar Observatory – Pasadena

Palomar Observatory Hale Telescope
The business end of the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory
CC BY 4.0 / Sebastian Wallroth

Today we head south to tour Palomar Observatory. Owned and operated by Caltech, the observatory is home to the famous 200-inch Hale Telescope — for decades the largest optical telescope in the world. On the return trip, we’ll stop for a special dinner.

Day 10, October 12: Pasadena – San Simeon – Monterey

Discover dramatic California scenery as you head up the Big Sur coastline. This afternoon, arrive in San Simeon and visit Hearst Castle, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s interest in astronomy is well-documented (he even visited Lowell Observatory in 1907). Phoebe Hearst, William’s mother, provided the funds for the first graduate fellowship at Lick Observatory. She also supported William S. Holden’s 1893 eclipse expedition to Chile.

View the American West Coast!
Big Sur Coastline
Pacific Southwest Region USFWS

Tour the estate that Hearst simply called “the ranch” and explore some of its 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. Can you imagine Albert Einstein holding forth at the dining table? Or astronomer Edwin Hubble relaxing in the library with his wife? Later today, arrive in Monterey, famous for its breathtaking setting.

Day 11, October 13: Monterey

Sleep in this morning! The day is yours to enjoy Monterey. Maybe you’ll visit the lively Cannery Row, filled with unique shops and restaurants. Or perhaps you’ll spend the day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a world leader in ocean science and conservation. In the evening, attend a lecture given by the Sky & Telescope editor.

Day 12, October 14: Monterey – San Francisco

This afternoon we travel to San Francisco, one of the most fascinating cities in the world. In the evening, join your fellow travelers for cocktails and dinner on Pier 39, overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Day 13, October 15: San Francisco – Lick Observatory

After breakfast, the choice is yours. Maybe you’ll take an hour-long cruise on San Francisco Bay featuring an in-depth narration on its history and landmarks including Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Or perhaps you’d prefer to join a local guide for a sightseeing tour of the city, hearing stories of the city’s past and present as you drive past its famous landmarks, including the Twin Peaks, Seal Rocks, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Astronomy Tour of Lick Observatory!
Lick Observatory
Wikimedia Commons / myyorgda 

In the afternoon, we journey to Lick Observatory, the first mountaintop observatory built in the United States. In San Jose, we’ll transfer to small shuttle buses to make our way to the observatory on top of Mount Hamilton. Once at the summit, we’ll visit the 3-meter Shane Reflector and learn about ongoing research at the observatory. Then, weather permitting, we’ll observe through Lick’s 36-inch Great Refractor.

Day 14, October 16: Tour Ends

Our tour ends in the “City by the Bay.” We bid adieu to our tour-mates and return home full of wonderful memories.


  • Transportation during tour via deluxe, air-conditioned motor coach
  • Accommodation in 4- and 3-star hotels
  • English-speaking Tour Director exclusive to Sky & Telescope group
  • Sky & Telescope astronomy director
  • Professional English-speaking guides at all locations
  • All meals indicated on the itinerary
  • Baggage handling
  • Service charges and taxes
  • Entrance fees on itinerary excursions and visits
  • All domestic airport departure taxes
  • Pre-tour planning information and resources


  • Airfare from your home to Phoenix and from San Francisco
  • Airport transfers at the start and end of the tour (can be purchased)
  • Excess-baggage fees
  • Room service and meals not specified in itinerary
  • Alcoholic beverages except as noted
  • Personal items such as laundry, email, and telephone calls
  • Private transfers or other transportation
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Medical expenses incurred during tour
  • Tips for Tour Director, local guides, and drivers (given at participant's discretion)

Pricing & Terms

Pricing (per person)DoubleSingle
Observatories of the American West$6,549$8,549

Reservation & Payment Information

For more information and to book your trip, please call 1-855-436-1147 and refer to booking #947893.