Airports of San Francisco Bay – A Spotting Guide
San Francisco Bay covers a large area, from the densely populated southern portion to the scenic countryside of the north.
It is surrounding by major cities such as San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, as well as many other communities and areas of population, which account for a population of over 7 million people.
Due to this, and the many important commercial and financial centres at its heart, the San Francisco Bay area has many interesting airports and airfields, large and small, for the enthusiast to visit. In this guide we take you through the more important ones.
San Francisco International
The busiest airport in the area. San Francisco International (SFO) occupies a site on the western edge of the Bay, built partly on reclaimed land. It has four runways in a cross pattern, with four passenger terminals in a combined area on the western edge of the airport, linked to Highway 101 and Interstate 280.
The northern portion of SFO is used for aircraft maintenance and cargo carriers.
San Francisco International is a hub for United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. Other notable airlines are:
- Air China
- Air India
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- China Southern
- Copa Airlines
- Etihad Airways
- EVA Air
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Philippine Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- WOW Air
SFO is not too easy to spot at, but there are locations to the south of the airport where aircraft arrivals can be monitored and even photographed with a good lens.
Head for Bayfront Park off Old Bayshore Highway.
Directly across the Bay from San Francisco International is Oakland International, another major airport in the region serving the smaller city on the eastern shore.
Oakland has one main runway on reclaimed land, and three smaller runways inland which are mostly used by biz jets and light aircraft.
Oakland is a hub for Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines and FedEx Express. Other carriers of note are:
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- JetBlue Airways
- Norwegian Long Haul
- Spirit Airlines
The San Leandro Marina to the south east of the airport is a great place to watch arrivals onto the main runway from the south. It is possible to take photographs.
The Oakland Aviation Museum on Doolittle Drive is also worth a visit. See http://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/
San Jose International
The third major airport in the San Francisco Bay area is San Jose International at the very southern end of the Bay.
It has had an up-and-down history, with periods of growth and decline. At the moment it is enjoying relative success, with a number of prestigious long-haul services by the likes of Air China, All Nippon Airways, Hainan Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa.
San Jose is a hub for Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines, and other notable carriers include:
- Air Canada Express
A small parking lot at the southern corner of the airport is the best place for spotting. You’ll find it where Aviation Blvd and Coleman Blvd meet.
Concord Buchanan Field
Buchanan Field near Concord, to the north east of San Francisco Bay, is an airport which has dabbled with commercial operations but has never really grown into a fully fledged airport. It does, however, now have executive standard flights to Burbank and Las Vegas by JetSuiteX.
Drive or walk along John Glen Drive to the airport terminal and you’ll be amongst the main parking aprons with a lot of aircraft visible for logging.
Half Moon Bay
In an idyllic position on the Pacific shore to the western side of the peninsula to the Bay, Half Moon Bay airport is a general aviation field with a single runway.
It is not particularly busy, but the Three Zero Café is worth stopping at for a bite to eat and a view over the airfield.
Hayward ExecutiveA former military airfield to the south of Oakland. Hayward Executive has two runways and lots of small aprons running along the northern side of the airport which are full of light aircraft and executive jets.
Skywest Drive has numerous vantage points through the fence as it meanders its way past these aprons and hangars. At its northern end, Clubhouse Drive runs past the end of the runways, with more vantage points.
Away to the east of San Francisco Bay is the town of Livermore which has a small municipal airport with two runways. It has good facilities, but has no airline service.
Light aircraft fans will enjoy the hundreds of based aircraft here, with occasional biz jets thrown in.
Roads around the airfield are useful for watching movements and logging some of the aircraft on the ground.
Moffett FieldAt the southern end of San Francisco Bay, close to San Jose, Moffett Federal Field is a joint civil-military airport with two parallel runways. It has a long history as a Naval station, although it is not an active military base at the moment. Despite this, there are many military movements and activities still.
As well as private aircraft users, the airfield is also used by NASA aircraft, and there is a small collection of preserved aircraft at the Moffett Field Historic Society.
If you’re exploring the northern Bay area and the Napa Valley wine country, this small general aviation field may be worth a look. It has lots of hangars for light aircraft, and sees some executive aircraft movements.
Head along Airport Road to the terminal car park for a view through the fence.
A small airfield between San Jose and San Francisco on the south western coast of the Bay. It has a single runway, but a decent sized parking area for light aircraft which hints at its status as one of the busiest general aviation fields in the United States.
The terminal parking lot, and the lot outside the flying club, both off Embarcadero Road, offer some views of parked aircraft.
I don’t usually cover military aviation on this site, but Travis Air Force Base is a major airfield north east of San Francisco Bay near the city of Fairfield. It is home to units of C-5, C-17, and KC-10 aircraft.
If you enjoy aviation history, you’ll also want to visit the Travis Heritage Centre, which houses a large collection of retired military aircraft, including some transport planes. See https://travisheritagecenter.org
Spotting at Travis AFB is possible with caution along Creed Road, which is accessible to the south of the air base off Highway 12.