Visiting Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory is open to the public.
Updated Fri 25 Nov 2022 5:16 am PST

Group tour at the base of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. (Palomar/Caltech)

We are introducing new observatory self-guided tour support available using visitor handheld devices (e.g. smartphones and tablets). More information below.

Updated Tue 29 Nov 2022 3:33 pm PST

Palomar Observatory is owned and operated by Caltech, and as such it is private property. 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.



Map of the Observatory showing the location of areas accessible to visitors. (Palomar/Caltech)

    Contents

  1. Visiting hours
  2. Public areas
  3. Plan your visit
    1. Before you drive
    2. Driving directions
    3. On the Observatory grounds
    4. Information for mobility-impaired visitors
    5. Free audioguide
    6. Reviews

Visiting Hours

With some exceptions, Palomar Observatory is open to the public daily. These exceptions are for Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of November), December 24 through January 2, certain maintenance operations, and for possible weather emergencies. The Observatory is open from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm PT. Please be aware that the visitor gates will be closed promptly at the times indicated.

Particularly in the winter months, the Observatory is occasionally closed to the public due to severe weather and/or dangerous conditions. Whenever possible, this web page and our public information recording phone number (760) 742-2119 will be updated to reflect any closures. All visitors are encouraged to check this site and/or the information number before departing to Palomar.

Public Areas

The public areas of the Observatory consist of the A.W. Greenway Jr. Visitor Center and the Visitors Gallery inside the 200-inch Hale Telescope dome. The Visitor Center also features the Palomar Observatory Store (the store, which will be reopening its doors to visitors soon, continues to serve 24/7 via online ordering).

Plan Your Visit

Before You Drive

Snow-covered Hale Telescope dome. (Palomar/Caltech)

  • Visitors should be aware that we may close the Observatory to the public due to weather or other unforeseen conditions without advance notice.
  • The Observatory makes every effort to inform the public of the facility's current status. The environment of Palomar Mountain is, however, both dynamic and uncertain, sometimes resulting in dangerous road conditions. Due to the uncertainties of our mountain environment, road conditions and our complex operations supporting our research mission, we can not guarantee that information presented on our website or phone information system will be accurate at the time when visitors arrive at our facility.
  • Please be aware that regional road and weather information supplied by state and other authorities may not reflect the specific conditions prevailing at the Observatory.
  • Visitors are urged to pay close attention to signs indicating the Observatory's closure to visitors that may be posted at the S6 "summit" location approximately 4.2 miles south of the Observatory. Please see our driving directions page for directions and information on any possible road closures.
  • There are no gas stations on Palomar Mountain. Check your fuel before driving to the Observatory.
  • Visitors who plan on using our free audioguide should bring their own mobile device (e.g., smartphone or tablet) and ear/headphones.

Driving Directions

On the Observatory Grounds

Paved path that leads from the parking lot to the Hale Telescope dome. To the right, the Visitor Center's access ramp. (Palomar/Caltech)

  • Please note that the interior of the Hale Telescope dome is kept at nighttime temperatures for an elevation of 5,598 feet/1,702 meters. Dress accordingly.
  • Please see our tours page for information about guided tours. We do not offer guided tours every day that the Observatory is open to the public. On most days, visitors are welcome to look around the designated public areas on their own, at their own pace.
  • Cellphone reception, if any, is very limited on Palomar Mountain.
  • Palomar Observatory is a research facility. Please respect the safety rules you will see posted on signs around the grounds. Help maintain the environment and the structures by not walking on the buildings or climbing in trees. When you visit, we request you stay on the designated walking paths.

Information For Mobility-Impaired Visitors

During our initial public reopening phase observatory mobility-impaired support is limited to the Greenway Visitor Center (including the Luskin Kiosk).

Free Palomar Observatory Audioguide

Audioguide home. (Palomar/Caltech)

We have developed a free Palomar Observatory audioguide—a collection of media and information that explores individual topics about the Observatory—to accompany visitors during their self-guided tour. The audioguide is browser-based (i.e., no app to download) and can be accessed via ag.palomar.caltech.edu or QR codes posted throughout Observatory public spaces. We encourage visitors to bring their own smartphone, ear/headphones, and sufficient battery charge on their device for 30 – 60 minutes of use.

The audioguide provides visitors with supporting media (video, audio, and bilingual text/closed-captions) enhancing an Observatory visit. Other sections of the audioguide include “virtual visits” to many areas not public accessible, information on other visitor services like guided tours or public events, an interactive map, and relevant links to this website. While on site, audioguide users may connect to our free Wi-Fi through access points located in the Greenway Center and the Hale Telescope Visitors Gallery.

Reviews

See reviews from recent Palomar visitors, or contribute a review of your own: TripAdvisor, Yelp.

Questions? We've answered many common visiting, media, and academic questions in our public FAQ page.
Please share your feedback on this page at the COO Feedback portal.

Visiting / v 1.0.12
Last updated: 17 November 2022 AFB/SBF/ACM