Palomar Observer Travel
Palomar Observatory is located near the Cleveland National Forest on Palomar Mountain in North San Diego County. Our street address is:
The following are a collection of travel resources for Palomar observers and visitors.
Most observers/visitors will be driving themselves to Palomar. This Google Maps link will do a good job of providing directions (see the "Get directions" link). If you find yourself needing more driving information, please see our Palomar Driving Directions page.
IMPORTANT: the roads to Palomar, Highway 76 and South Grade Road (S-6), can be difficult during and just after rain and/or snow events. Road closures and rock/mud slides are possible at these times.
For current road conditions:
Please note that many online and GPS programs can give incorrect directions for reaching the Observatory. Roads like Nate Harrison Grade and anything labelled a "truck trail" are not passable by ordinary vehicles. One happy exception is the Google Maps link cited above.
If you would rather not drive yourself to the observatory, we have identified a number of shuttle/towncar providers who can serve travellers arriving at either Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) (roughly 135 miles to the Observatory) or San Diego Airport (SAN) (estimated 80 miles to the Observatory). Typical per-mile rates quoted to us are approximately $3.50/mile + gratuity.
Please note that shuttle service information is provided for the convenience of our observers, and that the inclusion of these links do not constitute an endorsement of these providers or their services by Caltech or Palomar Observatory.
Our full-service observer dormitory (food and room included) is called "The Monastery." If you already have a reservation system account with us, you can book your Monastery reservations online from the Palomar Observer Login Page. Please see the Palomar Observer FAQ for information on accounts and creating same, Monastery reservations, and observer information in general.
If you don't have a reservation system account, our COO administrative assistant Linda Donnelly (ldonnelly [at] astro.caltech.edu) can assist you in making Monastery arrangements. Please note that reservations booked less than one week in advance will be assessed a late fee.
Monastery check-in is handled at the Monastery itself. Visitor keys are available at check-in time.
Meals are included in your Monastery stay; most special dietary requests (e.g. vegetarian, vegan) can be accommodated. Please make your preferences known when you book your Monastery reservation.
First-time observers may find the full-size Palomar campus map PDF helpful in finding your way around the Palomar site.
Our Monastery guest fee structure is (updated 01 April 2020):
Occasionally alternative accommodations are necessary or convenient; in these circumstances please consult the actively updated list of Palomar Rentals.
Outside normal business hours (typically weekdays 9a–4p) access to the Observatory compound is protected by a security gate. Gate access instructions are available through the Palomar Observer Login Page or from the Observatory support staff (phone 760-742-2100).
NAOC-Specific Information [show]
How to apply for visa if your proposal gets approved and scheduled?
NAOC TAP coordinators will contact NAOC-approved project Principal Investigators (PIs) for the necessary information to support visa application paperwork. An official invitation letter to support visa application in China will be prepared at Caltech and distributed by the TAP coordinator to observers who are designated by NAOC to represent approved projects at Palomar Observatory.
Which airport in Los Angeles to use when flying from cities in China?
The Los Angeles and San Diego areas have several airports. The largest one is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). There are many direct, daily flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Qingdao and other cities in China to LAX. This is the easiest and quickest way.
How to travel to the Palomar telescope site?
From the Los Angeles International Airport, the most common way for observers to commute to the Palomar Observatory is by driving. One option is to rent a car from the airport. It will take about 3 – 3.5 hours driving on free-ways and twisty mountain roads. It is important to note that night time and bad weather can make this driving very challenging and dangerous. Detailed directions and instructions on how to drive to the observatory can be found on the driving directions page. An alternative option is to call a taxi or shared commute service, such as Uber and Lyft. The price varies between companies, on the order of $200 or a bit more.
Questions? We've answered many common observing and operations questions in our observer FAQ page.