Aerial view of Lick Observatory. Photo by Laurie Hatch.

Update October 22, 2021: Lick Observatory’s visitor center and gift shop will be open on Saturday October 23rd and Sunday October 24th from Noon to 4:30pm.  Due to staff shortages there will be no showings of the 36″ refractor on these dates, but the general exhibits will be open.  

We do not yet have a general reopening date or schedule for the Visitor Center, but we will post the few, intermittent days we will be open above until a firm reopening schedule is established.  The main parking lot will reopen daily to the public starting Saturday October 2nd, from 10am to 4:30pm, including access to the restrooms and vending machines during the same hours.  The Shane Visitor Gallery will also be open 10am to 4:30pm daily.  Opening and hours may change as the COVID conditions and safety precautions evolve.

When visiting Lick Observatory, please:

  • Per the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards please complete the UC Santa Cruz Visitor Symptom Check Questionnaire located at this link prior to entering the UC Santa Cruz campus or UC Santa Cruz owned or leased property (including Lick Observatory).
  • Starting August 3rd, 2021, you are required to wear a face covering when indoors while on campus or UC Santa Cruz owned or leased property, regardless of vaccination status.
© 2015 Laurie Hatch – The Shane 3-meter visitor gallery is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitor Center Hours:

Currently will be open only on Saturday October 23rd and 24th, Noon to 4:30pm. 

The visitor center and gift shop are typically open year-round. Admission is free.

Closed – Monday through Wednesday
Open 12 – 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

Free talks inside the dome of the 36-inch Great Refractor are given at the following times:

12:30 p.m           1:30 p.m         2:30 p.m        3:30 p.m        4:30 p.m

The visitor center and gift shop and visitor center are also open on the following holidays:

Open – New Years Eve and New Years Day

Open – Martin Luther King Day

Open – President’s Day

Open – Memorial Day

Open – Independence Day

Open – Labor Day

ClosedThanksgiving Thursday

Open – Thanksgiving Friday/Saturday/Sunday

ClosedChristmas Eve and Christmas Day

Open – December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and January 1

Please note: Vending machines, water fountain, and restrooms are open in the main building seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visitor Activities

Make your trip to Lick Observatory a memorable one with our recommendations.

  • View exhibits in the main historic observatory building, built in 1888. Note the original oak and marble interior.
  • Enjoy a short informal talk about James Lick and Lick Observatory history while taking a look at the Great Lick Refractor in the 36-inch telescope dome (no charge). Talks begin at the gift shop, throughout the afternoon starting at 12:30 p.m. continuing until 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
  • At the gift shop check out Lick Observatory sweatshirts, t-shirts, mugs, astronomical photos, posters, educational toys, and other astronomy-related goodies.
  • Take a short walk to the Shane dome to view the 120-inch reflector from the visitors’ gallery (open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Displays at the Shane dome explain the Shane reflector, one of the major telescopes used to first discover extrasolar planets.
  • Take the self-guided walking tour.
  • Enjoy the view of the Santa Clara Valley from the parking lot at 4,209 feet. Bring a picnic lunch to eat, or grab a snack or beverage at our vending machines.
Travel Prepared

The observatory is more than 20 miles from downtown San Jose along Mt. Hamilton Road at an elevation of 4,200 feet. The road follows a gradual grade laid out over a century ago for horses and carts. It has many sharp curves and is quite narrow in places.

At 4,209 feet, the weather on Mt. Hamilton may be cool and changeable, so bring a sweater or coat. We do have wheelchair access to the main building from the back.

There are no gasoline or automative services at Mt. Hamilton or anywhere along the road outside of San Jose (or Livermore or Patterson if arriving from the east). Take extra precautions driving up to the observatory: mudslides, rocks, gravel/debris, and wildlife can cause hazardous road conditions. Also, please look out for motorcycles and bicyclists–drive conservatively and share the road.

During the winter the road may be closed temporarily due to snowfall. For current road closure information, Visit the California Highway Information website and enter Hwy #130.

Directions & Parking
Map from San Jose to Lick Observatory, courtesy of Google Maps.

Allow about one hour from San Jose, and please drive carefully as the road is scenic, but winding.

Street address for GPS and mapping apps:  Lick Observatory, 7281 Mount Hamilton Rd., Mount Hamilton, CA 95140

Lick Observatory is located on the summit of Mt. Hamilton in the Diablo Range east of San Jose. To get there from Interstates 101, 280, or 680, take the Alum Rock Avenue exit and head east. Turn right on Mount Hamilton Road (CA route 130) and drive 18.5 miles to the Observatory. From the east, take Interstate 580 west to Interstate 680 south. Then follow the directions above. Alternatively, you may take California Route 130 to Mt. Hamilton from the east, but please allow about 1-3/4 hours from Interstate 5 to reach the Observatory. The road is long and winding, but well-maintained. Take the Patterson exit off Interstate 5, and go west on del Puerto Canyon Road (away from Patterson.) At the Junction Cafe, turn left to stay on California Route 130.

All parking at the observatory is free. Parking spaces are available outside of the main building, and down the hill across from the school.

Special parking arrangements must be made for carbike, and motorcycle clubs. If you are planning on visiting the observatory with a group, please contact us at giftshop@ucolick.org to make advanced arrangements for access.

Lick Observatory UAS / Drone Policy
All unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights at Lick Observatory require prior approval and post-flight reporting. The use of all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on Lick Observatory-owned property must be reviewed and approved prior to flight. This policy applies to all visitors, faculty, staff, students, and university contractors, as well as indoor and outdoor use. To give visitors an overview of what is allowed and what is not, please visit this link (University of California, Office of the President). Please contact Lick Observatory Superintendent Kostas Chloros if you have questions regarding UAS at Lick Observatory.