Budget Travel

Eclipse-chasing: Where to watch the August 21 spectacle across the country

The first transcontinental total eclipse of the sun since 1918 takes place August 21 and there are celebrations across its path. Here are a few of the places that are throwing an all-out bash as the sky goes black.

SAN JUAN, WASHINGTON

An island in the Pacific where it all begins. Max coverage: 10.20AM (PDT)

South Beach on Washington State’s San Juan Island is one of the increasingly few places in the USA to have no light pollution, which makes it an ideal perch for relishing the eclipse’s darkness. (The coverage here is expected to be 85%, with maximum covering occurring around 10.20AM.) As if the unadulterated view isn’t enough, the Eclipse Viewing Party on the beach, which runs from 8.30AM to noon, will feature telescopes fitted with appropriate filters and solar art projects to keep kids busy during the daylight. From South Beach, part of the San Juan Island National Historic Park, where you can gaze at the Olympic Mountains in their full glory from the shore and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of an Orca whale. Get there by ferry, just be sure to make a reservation. Lodgings on the islands range from camping to glamping to cabins and a new hostel.   

SILVERTON, OREGON

A viewing party blossoms in Oregon Gardens. Max coverage: 10:17AM (PDT)

Oregon Garden in Silverton encompasses 22 specialty gardens (from a Children’s Garden to a tropical garden to an oak grove and a variety of others) across 80 acres of land and with Silverton on the eclipse’s path of totality, those gardens will be a swirl of activities not just on the day of the main event, but all weekend long during its Total Eclipse of the Garden Festival. Opened for extended hours (9AM to 8PM) on Saturday and Sunday, the Garden is offering themed tours, educational talks, and yoga as well as outdoor movies after sunset. But there’s plenty to do beyond the Garden’s limits. The weekend coincides with Silverton’s 17th annual Silverton Fine Arts Festival at the historic Coolidge-McClaine Park in the town’s center. Works by area local and regional artists and local food are just a few of the draws. Then on the main event day, there will be designated spots throughout the various gardens, each selected for its primo views. Don your eclipse-viewing glasses, grab some eats from one of Oregon’s famous food trucks that’s parked inside and a classic brunch drink (think: bloody marys, mimosas) from one of the outdoor bars and enjoy the coverage. Once the moon moves on, there will be live music and outdoor bars selling drinks, including local beer and wine. Tickets are $30 and should be purchased in advance.

GARDEN CITY, UTAH

How to rough it when you don't want to rough it. Max coverage: 11:33AM (MDT)

The newest word in travel is like something out of a made-for-dad riddle: What happens when you wanna go camping but you’re just not that into nature? You go glamping, so you can get that wilderness experience without having to sleep amid the bugs and the weather. For those of us who are rugged in mind only and want to watch the phenomenon from a remote location but don’t want to give up basic amenities, Conestoga Ranch in Utah, located on Bear Lake between Park City and Jackson Hole, is as good and glammy a perch as any. Its package starts at $195 per person from August 20 through 21 and includes a choice of lodgings, from the rustic Traditional Tent (sans electricity and en suite bathroom) to a 19th-century-style Conestoga Wagon (with king-size bed) to the luxe Western-themed Grand Tent, with an en suite bathroom, electricity and all sorts of frills. And just to make sure everyone stays in a stellar mood, the site is pulling out all the punches (emphasis on “pun”) and offering activities like a Half-Moon Pizza Dinner on Sunday night, morning yoga (sun salutations, anyone? *wink*) and fresh carrot juice with breakfast to give your vision a boost. On August 21, everyone gets safety goggles. Guests can drive about two-and-half-hours to a 100% totality site, or opt for 80% coverage at the Ranch.

SAINT GENEVIEVE and PERRYVILLE, MISSOURI

The "Mother of the West" opens her arms to eclipse-chasers. Max coverage: 1:15PM (CDT)

Missouri is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to small towns, and with a number of them lined up on the eclipse’s path of totality, now’s as good as ever a time to visit the so-called “Mother of the West.” Saint Genevieve, an hour south of Saint Louis and smack in the middle of the centerline, is an historic town established in 1753 and known for being Missouri’s first settlement. This quaint community, which has a rich French heritage that holds strong in the town’s restaurants, is revving up for a pre-eclipse event on Sunday, with live music and a beer garden, and a viewing party on August 21st when the skies will be dark from about 11.30AM to 2:30PM, with maximum totality occurring around 1.15PM. The festivities include food vendors, lawn games, state park exhibits, and art displays (with a solar theme, of course). For the truly committed, there are properly filtered telescopes and scientists on hand to explain the spectacle. Packages must be purchased in advance and include a reserved eclipse-viewing space, parking, and parking shuttle passes. Meantime, Perryville, a small town of about 8,000 80 miles south of Saint Louis, is throwing a four-day Solar Fest beginning Friday, August 18th. Perhaps best described as a cosmic-themed country fair, the jamboree will include a mobile planetarium, a carnival, a road race, a parade and much more. Plus local businesses are going all out. Nearby Hemman Winery, for instance, created Totality vintage for the event and lots of food purveyors will be hawking other specialty items. 

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Eclipse excitement is brewing here. Max coverage: 1:16PM (CDT)

Most people are just starting to make plans for the eclipse, but the self-proclaimed “science nerds” at Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, have been in full-on solar-minded mode since June when they first started selling their limited edition Path of Totality lager, with a pair of eclipse-viewing glasses in each 6 and 12-pack. (It’s a traditional German-style Helles lager, for the curious beer geeks among you.) Now, as the main event approaches, you better believe they have big party plans brewing in their hometown, which will experience complete darkness for about two and a half minutes. The Schlafly’s Eclipse Field Trip ($45) starts at the Tap Room, the locally-owned brewery’s brewpub, and wrap up at the Dew Drop Inn in Bloomsdale, Missouri with BBQ, live music and, of course, beer.

CARBONDALE, ILLINOIS

NASA Knows Best: Where the solar authorities go to watch. Max coverage: 1:20PM (CDT)

With this eclipse being the first transcontinental eclipse since 1918, this would seem as good an excuse as any to get on the road and explore a small town that you probably would otherwise have no good reason to visit. Take, for instance, Makanda, outside Carbondale in Illinois. It’s proclaimed itself home to the “Total Eclipse of the Heartland,” as it's another point of greatest duration of darkness, and even NASA doesn't contest. After all, it's streaming the eclipse live from here. Unlike the sweeping expanses that make up much of the northern Illinois landscape, Carbondale, located on the state’s southern border, is hilly and scenic, the perfect setting for a wine trail, which is certainly one of the big draws of the area. But back to the eclipse: all the local stores in and around Carbondale are selling solar-themed treats to keep everyone’s moods bright as they prepare for the dark.  

HOPKINSVILLE, KENTUCKY

A Comic-con caliber celebration in the Bluegrass State. Max coverage: 1:25PM (CDT)

Kentucky has a lot to boast about: its Derby, its bourbon, baseball bats, its sports teams. And this year they can add one more thing to that list: point of the longest duration of the eclipse in the United States. Hopkinsville, near the Tennessee border, will be in darkness for two minutes and 40 seconds starting at 1:24:41PM CDT. The town has been so focused on the spectacle that they’ve even compiled a comprehensive guide to resources to learn more about the cosmic occurrence. To celebrate the “point of greatest eclipse,” the town has organized some lavish events from August 18 to 20. The biggest draw is sure to be Eclipse Con on August 19 and 20 at the James E. Bruce Convention Center. The Comic Con-style event is a fundraiser for the local Boys & Girls Club and will feature celebs from the comic book/anime world, like Samantha Newark, the voice of Jem in “Jem and the Holograms”; Shawn Aldridge, creator of sci-pulp series “Vic Boon”; and several others. Tickets range from $15 to $18 and kids 8 and under are free. Click here to purchase. From Friday through when darkness falls on Monday, the city will light up with family-friendly activities, from crafts to live music, to kids’ games and more, plus lots of food vendors, at Jefferson Davis Monument. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for kids 5 through 12, and free for kids 4 and under.  

CHEROKEE, NORTH CAROLINA 

A tribute to Native American spirit. Max coverage: 2:35PM (EST)

Long before the United States of America was the United States of America, the Cherokee people of what’s now North Carolina were devoted observers of eclipses, so much so that they have several names for them, like “Nvdo walosi ugisgo,” or “the frog eats the sun/moon,” and the tribes would make loud noises to scare off that alleged cosmic amphibians. Things are sure to be less boisterous during this year’s celebration the town of Cherokee, where the eclipse will last from 1:06PM to 4PM, with a minute and 24 seconds of complete darkness at 2.35:41PM. The traditionally minded festivities, (think: Native American performances, storytelling, music, food) will last much longer: from 2PM to 9PM on Sunday and from 9AM to 7PM on Monday. Admission is $25 each day and includes eclipse-watching glasses. Children under 6 are free. 

RABUN COUNTY, GEORGIA

Let Georgia State University professors guide you through the darkness. Max coverage: 2:36PM (EST) 

The southern foothills of the Appalachian mountains are situated in the farthest northeast corner of the Georgia Mountains, and that mountainous pocket is the only place in Georgia that lies in the eclipse’s Path of Totality. For the occasion, the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, a small, modest K-through-grade-12 day and boarding school, will serve as the region’s most gigantic classroom on August 21st during the Total Solar Eclipse Viewing Part. Thanks to a partnership with Georgia State University’s Astronomy & Physics Department, the academic professionals will be on the campus narrating the cosmic event as a NASA feed streams on two Jumbotron screens. They’ll have properly filtered telescopes and various eclipse paraphernalia with them, so rest assured this is a much more engaging affair than just waiting around for the sunlight to dim and brighten. No afternoon is Georgia is complete without a hefty dose of bluegrass, so Cedar Hill, a four-man silver-fingered outfit out of Atlanta, will be onsite alongside a variety of local food trucks to seal the deal. Tickets are $5 and include protective eclipse-gazing eyewear. You can purchase tickets here. On-site and off-site parking is $5. A shuttle is provided to/from off-site lots.

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

Eclipse-mania takes over South Carolina's capital city. Max coverage: 2:41PM (EST)

Columbia is throwing what just might be the biggest, most all-encompassing celebration of all. A total of 80 events will take place throughout and beyond the city as part of Total Eclipse Columbia in the days and minutes leading up to the moments of darkness that befalls for two minutes and 30 seconds at 2:41PM. Not surprisingly, the events are radically diverse: The South Carolina State Museum is showcasing its Astronomy/Telescope Gallery with tours of the museums and offering Planetarium shows and nighttime stargazing opportunities; “Arts & Draughts,” a shindig at the Columbia Museum of Art, features art projects and other kid-friendly events while grownups can indulge in a beer tasting. Speaking of adult-friendly, Mercer Winery in nearby Lexington is hosting the Grape Eclipse, a four-day festival with music, food trucks, picnics, tours, and more. The festival grounds at the Historic Columbia Speedway hosts a drive-in movie, “Escape from Planet Earth,” on Sunday night. The Speedway is also the site of Monday’s main event, a day-long viewing party with music, food trucks, an art festival and, of course, all the requisite viewing accoutrements. But anyone looking to avoid the party mood, Carolina Outdoor Adventures is leading a kayak excursion down the Congaree River with a stop at a secluded sandbar just as the moon hits the sun.  And that’s just to name a very few of the happenings. Many more goings-ons are listed here

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA

Streaming live from the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum! Max coverage: 2:42PM (EST)

If any museum in the USA is going to throw a party to revel in the biggest eclipse of this generation, you better believe it’s one that’s focused on the solar system. Enter: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. At its Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located next to Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, they’re making arrangements so that anyone who wants to get into hard-core science mode will be very well accommodated. (Anyone who wants to just wander around and enjoy the dreamlike mood of the day will be well suited here, too.) In DC and its immediately surrounding area, the eclipse will be visible from 1.17PM to 4:01PM, with maximum coverage at 2:42PM, but the museum’s activities run all day and include free eclipse glasses and safe solar telescopes. Visitors can make their own pinhole eclipse viewers, too. Meanwhile, over on the other side of Potomac River, on the National Mall, there will be a live view of the eclipse streaming from Missouri and broadcast throughout the museum.

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