There’s more to loving Star Wars than just sitting in an audience. You can explore your love of the saga with a number of experiences around California—to see where the films were shot, where they are still celebrated in vivid detail, or where the spirit of intergalactic adventures extends beyond that galaxy far, far away. Here are nine ways to see California through a Jedi’s eyes.
Train as a Jedi Pilot: Sacramento or Anaheim
Think you could steer an X-Wing starfighter into the trench of the Death Star? You can test your skills—and your ability to channel the Force—using one of the F-16 simulators at the Aerospace Museum of California, outside Sacramento. Or, in Anaheim, FlightDeck Flight Simulation Center lets you choose between a fighter jet and a Boeing 737 experience; your companions, meanwhile, can watch your escapades from the LCD-screen-equipped “Officers Club.”
Put the Death Star in Perspective: LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad
Who says LEGOLAND is just for kids? The Star Wars area of the Carlsbad theme park’s Miniland keeps expanding and diversifying its mini-Empire—like the scale model of the Death Star, a 1,900-pound masterpiece made with half a million plastic bricks. Check out LEGO-constructed landscapes like the Jawa sandcrawler on Tatooine, an underwater Opee sea killer on Naboo, and displays of the planet Jakku from The Force Awakens.
Behold a Sea of Action Figures: Rancho Obi-Wan, Petaluma
Some people come to Sonoma County for wine, but others come for Rancho Obi-Wan near Petaluma. It’s home to the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia and props—and even includes a few vintage pinball and arcade video games. This is no casual drive-by, though: You can tour by appointment only—but the guided tour lasts two to four hours, and adult-accompanied kids 12 and under get in free.
Spend a Weekend on Tatooine: Death Valley
Many of the desert planet scenes in Episode IV were filmed in Tunisia, but a few choice locales were shot in California. To see the rough-and-tumble spaceport Mos Eisley (minus the alien bar), go to Dante’s View in Death Valley National Park; located about 16 miles from Furnace Creek, this Black Mountain spot was where they filmed the view as seen by Luke and Obi-Wan.
Look for Ewoks Among the Redwoods: North Coast region
If you have a soft spot for Return of the Jedi and its cute-but-combative Ewoks, you can visit some of the locations that helped create the planet Endor. While some scenes were reportedly filmed on private land, you can see where some speeder-bike chase scenes took place in Humboldt Redwoods State Park (on its Avenue of the Giants), Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. And happily, it's unlikely that furry creatures will pelt you with sticks and rocks.
Commune with Yoda: San Francisco
Alas, there are no actual tours at the original Star Wars mothership studio, Skywalker Ranch of LucasFilm Ltd., just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. But you can spend some quality time outside its San Francisco HQ, in the Presidio; Lucasfilms' Letterman Digital Arts Center is guarded by a life size version of the pointy-eared Jedi Master. To be fair, “life-size” means just 26 inches tall, but this Yoda is also a fountain, and sits in a 17-acre park (you would never judge him by his size, anyway).
Discover Distant Planets: Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles
Granted, it’s a long shot that you would spot Dagobah through one of the telescopes at Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles, but you can certainly gain new appreciation for all that our home galaxy has to offer. On one Saturday of each month, you can attend the public parties here, where resident astronomers walk around and help you understand what you are seeing through the variety of sophisticated giant scopes.
Network with Real Droids: University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Every April, during National Robotics Week, the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center at USC holds an open house, where K-12 students as well as the general public can get hands-on time with the center’s more than 70 resident robots. Check out robots that know how to map water quality, help rehab patients, or even wash windows. If you can’t make it in April, you can book private tours for other times of the year.
Head to a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Disneyland Resort, Anaheim
At Disneyland Resort’s immersive 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you can test your mettle in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance, or even get behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon to see how your piloting moves stack up against the ones Hans Solo pulled off back in the day. Afterwards, build your own custom lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop, or your own droid, from design to assembly to activation, at the Droid Depot. When the time comes to take a break from all the action, treat yourself to Luke Skywalker’s refreshment of choice—a glass of the iconic Blue Milk—at the Milk Stand.
—Katrina Brown Hunt