How Long After Sunset Does It Get Dark In California?

Whether you’re planning an evening hike, beach bonfire, or just want to know when to turn on the porch light, you may wonder how long it takes for real darkness to arrive after the sun dips below the horizon in California.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: It takes around 30-40 minutes for full darkness to occur after sunset in most parts of California.

Definition of Civil, Nautical and Astronomical Twilight

Civil Twilight – Sky is bright, outdoor activities easily possible

Civil twilight is the period of time before sunrise and after sunset when the sky is still illuminated, making it possible to engage in outdoor activities without the need for artificial lighting. During civil twilight, the center of the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon.

The sky appears bright, and objects can be seen clearly without the aid of streetlights or flashlights. This is the time when many people enjoy activities such as jogging, walking their dogs, or simply taking in the beauty of the twilight hours.

Nautical Twilight – Horizon still visible, sky substantially darkens

Nautical twilight is the phase that occurs after civil twilight and before astronomical twilight. During nautical twilight, the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon. At this time, the sky starts to darken significantly, and the horizon is still visible.

Navigators and sailors often use nautical twilight as a reference point for determining visibility during sea voyages. It is also a popular time for stargazing enthusiasts to observe the night sky as the stars become more prominent.

Astronomical Twilight – True darkness, sky becomes very dark

Astronomical twilight is the darkest phase of twilight, occurring after nautical twilight and before nightfall. During astronomical twilight, the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon. At this point, the sky becomes very dark, and the stars and other celestial objects become more visible.

Astronomers and astrophotographers rely on astronomical twilight to observe and capture the beauty of the night sky without interference from sunlight. It is also the time when many nocturnal animals begin their activities.

Length of Twilight Periods in California

Twilight is the period between daylight and darkness, when the sky is partially illuminated. In California, the length of twilight periods can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location within the state.

Civil Twilight Lasts 20-30 Minutes

The first phase of twilight is known as civil twilight, and it begins just after sunset. During this time, there is still enough natural light for most outdoor activities to be conducted without the need for artificial lighting.

In California, civil twilight typically lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes after the sun has set.

Nautical Twilight, Another 20-25 Minutes

Following civil twilight is nautical twilight, which is characterized by a further decrease in natural light. Nautical twilight is named as such because it is the period when sailors can still navigate using the stars.

In California, nautical twilight usually extends for an additional 20 to 25 minutes after civil twilight.

Astronomical Twilight, 10-15 More Minutes

The final phase of twilight is known as astronomical twilight. During this period, the sky becomes progressively darker, and stars become more visible. Astronomical twilight is of particular interest to stargazers and astronomers, as it signifies the optimal time for observing celestial objects.

In California, astronomical twilight typically lasts for an additional 10 to 15 minutes after nautical twilight.

To determine the exact length of twilight periods in specific locations within California, it is recommended to consult astronomical charts or utilize online tools that provide accurate sunset and twilight information based on geographical coordinates.

Websites such as or can be valuable resources for obtaining this information.

Factors Affecting Duration of Twilight

Have you ever wondered how long after sunset it takes for complete darkness to set in? The duration of twilight, the period between sunset and complete darkness, can vary depending on several factors. Understanding these factors can help you plan your activities accordingly and make the most of your evenings.

Let’s explore some of the key factors that affect the duration of twilight.

Time of Year – Longer in Summer, Shorter in Winter

The duration of twilight is influenced by the time of year. In general, twilight tends to be longer during the summer months and shorter during the winter months. This is because the angle at which the Earth is tilted affects the amount of daylight we receive.

During the summer, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, resulting in longer days and therefore longer periods of twilight. Conversely, during the winter, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, leading to shorter days and shorter periods of twilight.

Location – Varies with Latitude

The duration of twilight also varies with your location on Earth, specifically with latitude. The closer you are to the equator, the shorter the duration of twilight. This is because the sun sets more vertically at the equator, causing it to dip below the horizon more quickly.

As you move towards the poles, the angle at which the sun sets becomes more oblique, leading to longer periods of twilight. It’s fascinating to think about how the Earth’s curvature and your position on it can impact the duration of twilight in your area.

Weather Conditions – Clouds/Fog Slow Darkness

Weather conditions, particularly the presence of clouds or fog, can also affect how quickly darkness sets in after sunset. Cloud cover can scatter and reflect sunlight, prolonging the twilight period. On the other hand, a clear sky allows for a more rapid transition from sunset to darkness.

Foggy conditions can also delay the onset of darkness, as the moisture in the air can diffuse and refract sunlight. So, if you find yourself in an area with cloudy or foggy weather, be prepared for a longer twilight period.

Did you know? The duration of twilight is officially defined by the angle of the sun below the horizon. Civil twilight occurs when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon, while nautical twilight occurs at 12 degrees below the horizon.

Astronomical twilight, the period with the least amount of sunlight, occurs at 18 degrees below the horizon.

Understanding the factors that influence the duration of twilight can enhance your appreciation for the natural rhythms of our planet. Whether you’re planning a romantic evening stroll or stargazing session, being aware of these factors can help you make the most of your time during twilight hours.

Planning Sunset Activities in California

When planning sunset activities in California, it is important to consider how long it takes for it to get dark after the sun sets. This will help you plan your outdoor activities, such as hikes, picnics, or beach outings, more effectively.

Allow 30-40 Minutes for Full Darkness

On average, it takes around 30-40 minutes for it to get fully dark after the sun sets in California. This is known as “civil twilight,” which is the period when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. During this time, there is still enough natural light to see and carry out activities without the need for artificial lighting.

It’s important to note that the duration of civil twilight can vary depending on factors such as the time of year and your exact location within California. In some areas, it may take slightly longer or shorter for it to get completely dark.

Earlier in Winter, Later in Summer

The length of daylight varies throughout the year due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. In general, the days are shorter in winter and longer in summer. This means that the time it takes for it to get dark after sunset will be shorter in winter and longer in summer.

For example, in Southern California, during the winter months, it may start getting dark within 30 minutes after sunset. However, in the summer, it may take closer to 40 minutes for full darkness to occur.

Check Twilight Times if Precise Timing Needed

If you have a specific activity planned that requires precise timing, such as photography or stargazing, it is recommended to check the twilight times for your location. There are various websites and apps available that provide accurate information on the different stages of twilight, including civil twilight, nautical twilight, and astronomical twilight.

By checking these twilight times, you can ensure that you arrive at your desired location with enough time to set up and fully enjoy the beautiful transition from daylight to darkness.


In most parts of California, you can expect it to take around 30-40 minutes for full darkness to occur after the point of sunset. This gradual transition period is split between three phases of twilight. So even though the sun slips over the horizon quickly, be prepared to wait a bit for true nighttime conditions.

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