General Info + FAQ


Telescopes - CalStar 2008
Credit: John Pierce

Overflow Camping Area - Lake San Antonio - CalStar 2008
Credit: John Pierce

Flyover drone video from CalStar 2017

CalStar 2024 will be held at Lake San Antonio County Park.

CalStar is a regional dark-sky star party held annually in late September or early October in Monterey County, California.  The event format and atmosphere are quite casual, and there are no scheduled activities, vendors, or fees other than the camping fee collected at the park entrance.  At CalStar, the focus is on observing and enjoying the dark skies and good company.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m new to CalStar / multi-day star parties.

Welcome! A multi-day star party is different than local star parties for more reasons than just the darker skies. This FAQ will answer your questions if you have never attended CalStar or another multi-day star party before.

Also, here are some general tips on star party etiquette.

How do I get to CalStar?

You can find driving directions here.

Do I have to camp?

The answer to this is no, but…

Most of the people do decide to camp. That is because many of the guests will observe all night long if the skies are good. It is safer and more convenient to collapse into a nearby tent, RV, or car than to try to drive to other lodging.

Multi-day star parties also try to protect the night vision of their guests by restricting the use of cars. Moving cars in the middle of the night is disruptive since there is almost no way to do it without costing some portion of other guests’ night vision. Thus CalStar and other star parties restrict the movement of cars after dark. You may not operate a car within those areas after dusk.  See Observing Site + Rules for more information about the different areas in the CalStar site layout.

See Camping + Accommodations for more info on camping, park facilities, and other lodging options.

Where should I set up?

Read about the observing site layout and rules.

I will be imaging, where should I set up?

All areas are viable options for imagers.  However, please shield your imaging rig accordingly.

What do I need to bring?

Water for drinking and cooking.

Plan to bring most groceries.  Oak Hill Market, a full-service grocery store, is located at Lake Nacimiento, about 30 minutes away.  The nearest cities with a full selection of major retail stores are King City and Paso Robles, at least 45 minutes away.

Bring enough battery power to support yourself.

Bring at least twice as much clothing as you think you’ll need.  Despite the warm-to-extremely-hot temperatures that can often occur in this region during the daylight hours, it can become quite chilly at night.

Consider bringing something for shade.  Some campsites have shade trees.  However, you may wish to bring an EZ-Up canopy, shade cloth/Aluminet, etc. for extra shade, especially in the main field, much of which is exposed. If you plan on hanging around the campground during the day, personal sun protection such as hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen is a good idea, as well as plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

And of course, don’t forget your telescope and other astronomy gear!

Dan Wright has a handy star party packing list on his website.

How do I walk around at night in the dark?

It is actually easier than you think. Once you get fully dark-adapted, it is amazing how much you can see at night. Try it for yourself (if you can do this safely).  Get up in the middle of the night and notice how much you can see in your room. You may even be able to walk to the bathroom without lights. Now turn the lights on and then off. You are now virtually blind and will remain that way for quite a while.

The CalStar roads and fields are not regular surfaces. We recommend that you use red flashlights to see where you are walking. After a while you may find you don’t even need these.

Can I use a white flashlight in my RV or tent?

If your RV has sufficiently blacked out windows, yes. Tents generally do not block enough light, so refrain from using white lights inside tents.

Where can I charge my batteries/equipment?

The observing site itself does not have any electrical outlets. Please do not use generators on the main field, or the area immediately around it. Setup generators way out in the casual area where they won’t bother the majority of attendees.

What is the weather like?

During the day, CalStar is usually hot, dry and dusty, with typical highs in the 80s-90s. There are occasional wind gusts in the late afternoon, but it settles down at dusk. Nights have been relatively mild some years (lows in the upper 50s) and chilly other years (lows in the 40s). Dew is occasionally an issue, as is pre-dawn fog. On a couple of rare occasions, it has rained during a CalStar weekend.

See What do I need to bring? and What should I do with my equipment during the day? for tips on weather-appropriate clothing, shading campsites from the sun, and protecting equipment from heat and wind. Some CalStar attendees like to make day trips to Paso Robles or coastal destinations like Morro Bay, Cambria, or Hearst Castle in order to escape the daytime heat of Lake San Antonio while enjoying the local sights.

What should I do with my equipment during the day?

At most multi-day star parties, people leave their equipment set up during the entire star party. Unfortunately, there is no way we can provide security for your equipment during the day. You definitely need to lock up all items that are portable and/or high value. It would be prudent to use the same rules you would any time you are visiting a park (i.e. Leave Nothing Visible).

Two more immediate problems than theft are heat and wind. You will have to protect your scope from heat during the day. The sun can be pretty vicious even in at the time of year CalStar is held. I used to use some Mylar bags (e.g. Desert Storm), but lately I have been using space blankets.

Wind is another problem. The surface area of a big Dob is surprising large. The area is not known for its wind, but protecting a scope from windmilling into something or being lifted off its mount is just plain a good idea.

How do I sign up for email announcements about CalStar?

Sign up for email announcements here.

My question isn’t answered here.

Your question may be answered elsewhere on this site.  Otherwise, contact us.

Contributors: CW, Jim Bartolini, KFB, and others