Visit Palomar Observatory during the Julian Starfest in August (reservations for the tour are required). (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
SKY-WATCHING LANDMARK: The stars are free, so the saying goes (and a thousand sayings like it). We can gaze up, any night of the year, and if clouds aren't doing their clouding-up thing, well... we're soaking in Ursa Major and Orion and deep space, all for the pleasure of it, the mystery, the science, and knowledge. But there's a special something in getting together with other looker-uppers, people who like to stare into the vastly voidness of it all and consider why planets and meteors and stars act in the ways they do. The Julian StarFest is one of the stellar astronomical gatherings on the California calendar, meaning that both professional astronomers and nebula-lovin' backyard-telescopers circle the summer date as a must-do. This year's dates are Thursday, Aug. 21 through Sunday, Aug. 24, the place is Menghini Winery in Julian, and there's a special field trip, of sorts, that'll require sooner-than-later reservations: a tour of Palomar Observatory.
IT'S TRUE... that you can visit the mountain observatory, which sits northwestish of Julian towards Temecula, most any day of the year in the daytime, but hopping on a Julian StarFest tour'll be a treat (and we can't imagine all the info that'll be shared and parsed regarding the observatory's magnificent and huge Hale 200" telescope). You will need to make reservations, though, ahead of time, which means soon. If you'd rather stick closer to the StarFest, you can: The free public star party is on Saturday night, Aug. 23. "(M)any telescopes" shall dot the grounds, meaning you'll get a thorough look at something far, far, far and away from Julian, and, well, earth. And you'll have plenty of astronomers on hand to tell you what you're looking at and answer questions. Cosmic knowledge and universe-cool good times, indeed.