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How to celebrate the moon landing anniversary in the Bay Area

Getting to these places takes a bit more than one small step, but it’s worth it

View of astronaut footprint in lunar soil.
Photo by AP Photo

On July 20, 1969, NASA made the impossible possible and sent two men to the surface of Earth’s moon for the first time, complete with a live television broadcast to the entire world.

In the 50 years since, almost everything has changed about the Bay Area, the science of space exploration and aviation, and even the media technology we use to relive these moments. But this weekend, Bay Area residents can reach back and imagine life as it was then, on the anniversary of that historic day.

A host of moon-themed events are phasing in across the region, ranging from the edifying to the merely endearing. For anyone looking to observe the lunar milestone in style, here are some recommendations for the best of the best opportunities:

Splashdown 50 Stargazing Overnight
The USS Hornet Museum, Alameda
(July 19)

The USS Hornet is the one big Bay Area artifact that was part of the moon mission; it was the craft that recovered the Apollo 11 crew after their return to Earth. For the anniversary of the mission, guests can pay $100 to stay overnight aboard the ship and spend the evening stargazing from the deck (which provides a view of the bay almost unparalleled in the region). Dinner, breakfast, and a tour of the ship all included.

Out of This World
Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco
(July 19)

Former astronaut Leland Melvin emcees an evening with the San Francisco Symphony, whose playlist for the night includes the theme to Star Trek and John Williams’s score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a little kitschy, sure, but the aural power of the Grammy Award-winning symphony is one of the few Bay Area institutions that can hope to match the psychological thrill of the original event 50 years ago.

Full moon hike
Chabot Space, and Science Center, Oakland
(July 19)

Naturally, the Chabot Center has a full suite of moon-themed events planned for this week and weekend. But the Friday night hike is the one that takes advantage of the moon itself, here being the primary light source for a four- to five-mile trek through the redwoods. (Note: The center’s copy for the outing describes it as “lit by the full moon,” but the full moon falls on Tuesday night.) Stargazing and free beer and wine are part of the festivities.

Recovery Team Meeting
USS Hornet Museum, Alameda
(July 20)

Again, out of all of the celebratory events this weekend, Alameda’s USS Hornet boasts the most tangible links to the original event itself, this time in the form of a talk in the ship’s hangar by seven members of the original moon mission recovery team.

Saturn-V The First 700 Second
Hiller Aviation Center, San Carlos
(July 20)

At 1:17 p.m. the Hiller Center will launch a model of the Saturn-V rocket used during the moon missions—which is a little confusing since 1:17 p.m., July 20 was the time that the NASA crew touched down rather than the time they launched. Nevertheless, it still sounds like a good time. Afterward an aviation mechanic talks through the details of the original launch 50 year ago.

Apollo 11 Anniversary
Exploratorium, San Francisco
(July 20)

The Exploratorium extends its hour from 10 a.m. to midnight for a day of moon-themed events, including a 16-foot sculpture of the moon, a screening of NASA’s own restored footage of the landing, and talks about everything from the tides (the moon at work, of course) and the phases of the moon. Kids can show up early for an 11 a.m. story time, while adults can stay late, as the museum bar is open until 9 p.m.