Airports of Los Angeles – a spotting guide

Los Angeles is among the largest and most populous cities and metropolitan areas in the United States, as well as a major tourist draw and transport hub.

Its huge 469 square miles and extended Los Angeles Basin is home to a great number of airports and airfields, making its skies one of the most complex and busy air traffic regions in the world.

A spotting trip to Los Angeles can be hugely rewarding for aviation enthusiasts and, whilst Los Angeles International itself is a great draw, spending time exploring the other airports is very much recommended.

This report covers the basics and essentials of spotting in Los Angeles, plus some ideas for trips further afield.

 

LosAngelesAirports

 

 

 

Airports with airline service

  • The main airports in Los Angeles are:
  • Burbank Bob Hope
  • Los Angeles International
  • Long Beach
  • LA/Ontario International
  • Santa Ana John Wayne

 

Los Angeles International (LAX)

LosAngeles-LAX

By Alan Wilson (Flickr: LAX International Line-up #2) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Most travellers, especially from overseas, will arrive at Los Angeles International (commonly known as LAX). Situated at the western side of the city, bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean, it is an airport with four runways, nine terminals, and handling well over 60 million passengers per year.

LAX is a hub for many airlines. In terms of movements, the most prominent are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Qantas, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin America.

Many of the world’s large airlines fly to this airport, arriving in waves from Europe or Asia. Most international airlines use the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which has recently been extended, although some share the other terminals.

Cargo is also important for LAX, with many daily freighter flights. These use facilities and aprons on the southern side of the airfield.

Where to spot at Los Angeles LAX

Where to spot at Los Angeles LAX

There are a few of spotting locations at Los Angeles International:

Imperial Hill Jim Clutter Park
Situated on the south side of the airport off Imperial Highway, this hill overlooks LAX from a height which offers unobstructed photography of aircraft, and the ability to log all movements on the south side with good binoculars. Movements on the northern runways can be read with a pole. The park features benches and the shade of trees, and a number of food concessions are located close by.

In & Out Burger
This fast food restaurant at Sepulveda Blvd and 92nd Street has gained a reputation amongst spotters due to its position under the approach to runways 24L/R. From the car park, this is a fantastic location for photographs; however, viewing aircraft on the ground is nearly impossible.

Tom Bradley Terminal Parking
The top level of the parking garage has views over much of the action, particularly aircraft on the north side. Departures on the southern runways are also visible.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

Long Beach (LGB)

By Ms ArtGeek at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

By Ms ArtGeek at en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Formerly the airport at which McDonnell Douglas constructed many of its great airliners, and still a production and maintenance base for C-17 military transports. Long Beach, situated at the south of the Los Angeles area, is a hub for JetBlue Airways and has some other flights.

You can spot at Long Beach from the café and terrace inside the terminal. There’s also a small observation area at the Rainbow Air Academy, just down Kilroy Airport Way from DeVry University. It gives views of the C-17 ramp.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

Burbank Bob Hope (BUR)

LosAngeles-Burbank

Photo (c) Bob Hope Airport

Situated to the north of the city, closer to Hollywood. Burbank has two runways and is a hub for Southwest Airlines, with additional services by Alaska Airlines, Delta Connection, JetBlue Airways, United Express and US Airways Express. The airport is quite hemmed in by the surrounding roads and commercial areas.

Spotting at Burbank is best from the top floor of the car park outside the terminal, from where all movements can be seen.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

LA/Ontario International (ONT)

Photo (c) LA/Ontario Airport

Photo (c) LA/Ontario Airport

Ontario Airport is one of the main Los Angeles airports, and handles over 6 million passengers per year, but is quite restricted on growth by its surroundings. Although it has two parallel runways, they are situated very close together.

There are three passenger terminals, with Southwest Airlines being the most prominent airline although other major US carriers all have a presence. UPS also has a strong cargo presence at the airport.

Spotting at Ontario Airport is more difficult as there are no obvious locations. However, the best views can be had on the southern perimeter near the UPS ramp, were views of aircraft approaching the runways can be had from the road.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

Santa Ana John Wayne (SNA)

Photo (c) Santa Ana Airport

Photo (c) Santa Ana Airport

The closest airport to Disneyland, and named after the famous cowboy actor who lived nearby. Santa Ana is in southern Los Angeles’ Orange County and has two short runways and a cramped terminal. It is also a hub for Southwest Airlines, with nationwide links via other US carriers. Santa Ana is also a very busy general aviation airfield, with hundreds of based aircraft.

Spotting at Santa Ana is quite difficult. The best place is to find Airport Loop Drive, one the western side of the airport behind the many GA hangars, and park up. You can then walk to see aircraft arriving from the north.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

 

Other airports of note

In addition to the airports with airline traffic, a number of other airports are worth checking out if you are into executive aircraft and biz jets, and general aviation aircraft. These include:

  • Santa Monica Municipal
  • Torrance Zamperini Field
  • Van Nuys

 

Santa Monica Municipal (SMO)

LosAngeles-SantaMonica

This historic airfield is hemmed in on all sides by the city. It is here that many Douglas propliners were built. It is very busy with executive and light aircraft movements. However, local residents have been pushing to have the airport closed for many years and the decision is still being considered.

Spotting at Santa Monica is possible from the official viewing deck on the administration building on the south side of the airport, with good all round views and photography. There is a preserved Douglas DC-3 alongside. Clover park on the north side is also good for viewing through the fence.

Be sure to check out the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

Torrance Zamperini Field (TOA)

This is one of the busiest general aviation airports in California. It’s around 10 miles south of LAX. Approximately 500 light aircraft are based here at any time, and the two runways are often busy. The Western Museum of Flight is also based here, albeit quite small. A walk along Airport Drive should yield many of the aircraft parked under the low hangars, and a tour of Robinson Helicopters’ factory is also possible.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

Van Nuys (VNY)

LosAngeles-VanNuys

A few miles to the west of Burbank Airport in the San Fernando Valley is Van Nuys, a busy executive and general aviation airport. It has two runways, and sees well over a thousand movements per day. It is also quite open to aviation enthusiasts.

Spotting at Van Nuys Airport is best from the official viewing area at Waterman Drive in the north east corner of the airfield. This small car park is nestled next to the runways, taxiways and a helicopter parking ramp. You can get close views of all the action, with photography through the fence. ATC is broadcast here too.

Driving around the perimeter will uncover a number of other vantage points from which aircraft parked at the various ramps and hangars can be logged. You can also spot from the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant on Raymer Street.

Airport Diagram: Download Here

 

 

Museums and Preserved Aircraft in Los Angeles

California Science Centre

Includes an air and space section, with the Space Shuttle Endeavour and a United Airlines Douglas DC-8 on display, amongst a few other aircraft.

http://californiasciencecenter.org/

700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037

 

Museum of Flying

A nice collection of aircraft from the beginnings of flight through to the jet age. Includes a FedEx 727 nose section, a DC-3, and a Convair 240 cockpit. Situated at Santa Monica Airport.

http://www.museumofflying.com/

3100 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, California 90405

 

Ronald Reagan Library

707 Reagan Library

707 at the Reagan Presidential Library

The final resting place of Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley, to the north of Los Angeles, is also home to a museum which includes his Air Force One Boeing 707 transport and one of his helicopters.

http://www.reaganfoundation.org/

40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, California 93065

(See our list of Boeing 707s you can still go inside today, including President Reagan’s example at Simi Valley)

 

Western Museum of Flight

Located at Torrance Airfield. It houses a number of military aircraft, including jet fighters, which are indicative of Southern California’s aviation heritage.

http://www.wmof.com/

3315 Airport Drive, Red Baron #3, Torrance, CA 90505

 

 

Further Afield

 

LosAngeles-FurtherAfield

 

Once you’ve had your fill of the Los Angeles area, there are a number of options for easy spotting trips further afield:

  • Storage Airfields
    Both Mojave and Victorville are within an easy drive of Los Angeles, and each has many stored and retired airliners.
  • Las Vegas
    There are lots of cheap daily flights to Las Vegas from the various Los Angeles airports. Enjoy some time in ‘Sin City’ and at its very busy airport.
  • San Diego
    A two-hour drive to the south of Los Angeles. San Diego is a busy and compact airport.

 

You can find spotting locations for airports across America in our book, Airport Spotting Guides USA

 

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6 Responses

  1. Mike Harper says:

    While in the LA area a visit to Chino is well worth a visit, which is about an hour from LAX and not very far from there to Ontario. There are two museum there, one being the famous Planes of Fame where many of the exhibits are reguarly flown.

    Also when I went in 2013 I drove round the airfield and found what must be a Gulstream maintenance area with about a dozen G2/3/4 and 5 parked.

  2. Matt Falcus says:

    Thanks Mike, that’s a great tip!

    Can anyone suggest any other spotting locations in and around Los Angeles?

  3. Dale says:

    Thank you for this website, great info.
    Best wishes
    Dale

  1. March 4, 2017

    […] (Airports of Los Angeles – a spotting guide) […]

  2. March 21, 2017

    […] Head to Imperial Hill or the In ‘n’ Out Burger restaurant for the best views. Here’s a post about spotting at Los Angeles. […]

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