My idea of a perfect vacation is different.  For me, it’s not food or sand or sun.  I’m on an eternal search for that perfect dark sky where I can look up into an immense starry sky and remember (again) just how big and how old the universe is and how my problems really don’t matter in the scheme of things.  Looking out into that sky is a spiritual experience for me.  I feel grounded, connected and thankful to just be there in that moment. And so, I read a lot about star-gazing destinations.  I’ve focused primarily on West Coast and Southwest spots that are fairly easy drives or flights from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area.  And, for those destinations where you have to fly +three hours to get there, I’ve filtered my suggested list down to only those destinations that offer a whole lot more beyond stargazing.

Cedar Breaks National Monument – In March of last year, this Utah star-gazing destination became the 16th designated International Dark Sky Park.  Dress warm year-round because the Point Supreme Outlook is at a 10,350-foot altitude.

If the drive to that altitude doesn’t sound like fun, you can also stick to the five National parks in southern Utah.  Best bets would be Arches National Park and Canyonlands for stargazing.

Palm Springs Desert – Head up to Joshua Tree National Park (5,000 feet) to enjoy their annual Night Sky Festival in fall or the Rancho Mirage Observatory. Another good spot is the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, between Northern San Diego and Palm Springs.  Come in Spring to see fleeting spring desert flowers and night-blooming lilies.

I’ve tried to do star-gazing in Hawaii but the weather never seems to want to cooperate.  If you time it right, the best spots on Maui are the Haleakala Observatory or the Hyatt Regency’s rooftop observatory.

I’ve heard I’d have better luck at the Mauna Kea Observatory over in Hilo, Hawaii because of its height (13,000 feet).  I haven’t made it up to the summit yet.

Travel+Leisure magazine tried to sell me on the idea of going kayaking at night at Acadia National Park.  Maine is a leader in the dark sky movement.  The waters are also home to bioluminescent microorganisms that produce a silvery-green glow when disturbed.  My only hesitation is how much bug-spray I would have to put on to keep mosquitos at bay out on that lake.  I’m delicious.

Idaho is another state focused on light pollution restrictions.  They’re creating the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, a 1,416 square mile area between Ketchum, Stanley Lake and Sun Valley, which would make it the third largest dark sky reserve in the world.  This one is definitely on my list.

Another trip on my wish list is the Atacama Desert in Chile.   Chile is such an amazing country with so many diverse things to see and do, but I’ll likely carve out and save half of my trip there for the Atacama Desert where you can sleep under a star-studded sky that is so clear that the stars glow instead of twinkle.

The world’s largest dark sky reserve can be found on Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak at 12,217 feet. Another destination on my list for a number of reasons beyond stargazing.

Remember to schedule your trip during a moonless night for best viewing.

Enjoy your next stargazing trip…make a wish for me!