America is a vast country, and also home to the most public and commercial airports of any country in the world.
It is also home to some of the world’s biggest airlines, largest fleets of biz jets and military aircraft, and a thriving light aircraft industry.
America is, therefore, an amazing place to go plane spotting.
When planning to go plane spotting in America, here are our favourite places:
Los Angeles International Airport
The West Coast’s busiest airport is Los Angeles International (LAX), which sees a constant stream of domestic and international traffic, from the smallest turboprops to the largest widebodies and cargo planes. What’s more, it’s usually sunny and warm!
There are two great spotting locations at LAX. One is the In ‘n’ Out Burger fast food restaurant at Sepulveda Blvd and 92nd Street. It has great views of aircraft approaching runways 24L and 24R.
The second is Imperial Hill Jim Clutter Park. Situated on the south side of the airport off Imperial Highway, it overlooks LAX from a height which offers great photography of aircraft, and the ability to log all movements on the south side with good binoculars (and north side with tracking apps).
Dallas Fort Worth Founders Plaza
This official spotting location is excellent for photography and logging movements at DFW, which is home to American Airlines.
It has car parking, seating, canopies and a live ATC feed. The spot is best for movements on the western side of the airport. It is excellent for photography, and is close to the eastern cargo aprons. The Plaza is easily reached from Airfield Drive or John W. Carpenter Fwy.
New York JFK
JFK is possibly the best-known airport in the USA, given its long association as the gateway to arguably its greatest city. The airport is a large and confusing jumble of terminals, runways and parking areas. It is difficult to keep an eye on everything, or find a spot where all movements can be monitored, but the best locations are:
Bayswater Park. A good place to monitor and photograph aircraft arrivals and departures on runways 04L, 04R and 31L. To find this spot, head for Mott Avenue in the residential district to the south of the airport. Head as far west as you can go, and you will reach Bayswater Park on the edge of Jamaica Bay.
A good afternoon spot for photography is Inwood Park, where you can watch and photograph runway 31L arrivals. You need to drive to Bayview Avenue and park at the end (it is signposted Inwood Park), then walk along the shore to get closer to the action.
Charlotte Douglas Overlook
Charlotte Douglas is the busiest airport in North Carolina, and one of the top ten busiest in the world based on aircraft movements. It is a hub for American Airlines, and also a military base of the Air National Guard and Air Mobility Command, with Hercules aircraft in residence.
The airport’s official viewing location is The Overlook. It is situated alongside the threshold of runway 18C and close to the taxiway linking runway 18R/36L. The location has plenty of parking spaces, and excellent elevated views for both logging and photography when aircraft are landing from the north on 18C. Movements on 18L/36R are a little distant to see. The Overlook is located off Old Dowd Rd, which links to the terminal area.
Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International
A busy alternative to Miami International, Fort Lauderdale’s main airport is busy with domestic and leisure airlines.
There are a couple of good places to spot and photograph movements. They are:
The Ron Gardner Aircraft Observation Area, which is the official spotting location situated alongside the threshold of runway 10L. It is excellent for landing and taxying shots. To reach the signposted park, exit I-95 onto Griffin Rd, heading west. Turn right onto Anglers Ave, then turn right again onto SW 42nd St. Take the first left after crossing the interstate.
Southwest Park, which runs along the south western portion of the airport perimeter alongside runway 10R/28L. There is a car park and paths lead to the fence, and also rise up small hills to elevate your camera angle above obstructions. The park is accessed off Griffin Rd
The Terminal 1 Parking Garage top floor, outside the terminal, has excellent views over runway 10L/28R and spotters are welcome here.
San Francisco Bayfront Park
A small park alongside the Bay on the southern side of the airport provides good views of aircraft on the runways and taxiways. You can take some spectacular shots with a good zoom lens.
Bayfront Park can be reached on Bayshore Highway which links to freeway 101. Aircraft landing on runways 28L/R can be photographed, and aircraft using runways 1L/R can also be logged easily.
Davis Monthan Air Base
This giant area of land to the south of Tucson, AZ, is a must-see for aviation enthusiasts. It is home to Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Center, or AMARC, which stores and recycles military aircraft (from helicopters and small jets up to large transport types), with over 4,000 on site.
The best way to see it all is to take a scenic flight from Tucson International which flies over Davis Monthan.
You can also drive along Drexel Road, Kolb Road and Nebraska Street to see some of the aircraft from the ground.
Houston William P Hobby
Houston Hobby has a couple of official spotting locations where you can watch movements and take photos.
The first is the Northwest Spotters Park. This is an area at the northwest corner of the airfield which has excellent views of aircraft on final approach to runways 12L/R and 17, and is specifically in place to allow spotting. Photographic possibilities are good here. Views over the rest of the field are not good, however. It is reached from Telephone Rd, close to the 1940 Museum.
The Southeast Spotters Park is a new area which allows for great photographs of aircraft landing on runways 30L/R. Easily reached off Monroe Road.
Located 12 miles from downtown Seattle, this is one of Boeing’s production facility and also a busy seaplane and general aviation base. Scores of Boeing 737 MAX are produced here every month, so there’s always something interesting to see. Most aircraft are initially tested here, then flown off to nearby Boeing Field for finishing.
You can spot from Seaplane Park, on W Perimeter Rd, off Rainier Ave, which is great for looking over the airfield and 737 ramps. You can take pictures of movements, and you’re right alongside the seaplane base for views of action on the lake.
At the southern and of Rainier Ave is a parking lot alongside a clothes bank. It has a fantastic, elevated view of the runway and part of the flight line. Spotters are often parked here, but be aware that it is a car park for the business’s use.
New York LaGuardia Planeview Park
LaGuardia is a very busy airport which primarily offers domestic and regional flights, including some into Canada. It is the closest airport to Manhattan and served by all of the big airlines, with American Airlines and Delta operating the majority of flights. Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and WestJet operate low-cost flights.
Planeview Park is a great spot for watching arrivals on runway 4 and departures from runway 22. The park has benches and partial views of aircraft on the ground. You can reach it from Grand Central Parkway.
Phoenix Sky Harbor Parking Garages
The busiest commercial airport in Arizona is Phoenix Sky Harbor. It sees a good mix of airlines and aircraft types, including some long-haul carriers.
The top floor of the Terminal 4 parking garage has views over both sides of the airport (although you’ll have to walk a fair bit and can’t see both at the same time). Photography is possible of aircraft on the ground, and the spot is perfect for noting registrations. Police are usually tolerant of people being here. The garages for terminals 2 and 3 also offer views, and the proximity of the terminals means you can buy food and drink supplies or find air conditioning.
Washington Reagan Gravelly Point
Gravelly Point is the best spotting location at this downtown airport, situated a stone’s throw from the runway 15 and 19 thresholds. This is a great spot for watching the River Visual Approach, and is perfect for arrival photographs. Aircraft on the ground can also be seen. This spot is just off the George Washington Memorial Pkwy to the north of the terminals, and has parking. You can also walk from the terminals in 15 minutes.
Las Vegas International
Las Vegas Harry Reid International (formerly McCarran) has become one of the busiest airports in America due to the popularity of the city as a tourist destination, with its huge resort hotels, casinos, dining opportunities, shows and shopping. The warm weather throughout the year also adds to the appeal. For the enthusiast, various spots around the airport allow movements to be seen.
On the southern perimeter of the airport is a designated viewing area off Sunset Road. The spot has parking for a number of vehicles, and fairly good views across the 08/26 runways, terminals and cargo apron. Fairly good photographs can be taken of anything on these runways, and all movements can be logged.
Van Nuys Airport Waterman Drive
This is the official spotting area for enthusiasts to watch movements at Van Nuys to the north of Los Angeles. You have views from alongside the taxiway and both runways, with ATC communications played through speakers. It is perfect for photographs on mornings.
The spot is reached by turning onto Waterman Drive, off Woodley Ave.
Anchorage Ted Stevens Point Woronzof
This is the most popular spot for photographers at Anchorage, and one of the most scenic in America. It overlooks the airport and runway 15/33 with the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop.
Be prepared to witness large Boeing 747 freighters, and classic propliners, all in a single session! But be prepared also for the weather, which is cold for much of the year!
Follow Northern Lights Blvd along the northern perimeter, and then through the gate with a warning sign if it is open, and park on the dirt. Then walk up the hill for a better view.
Get the Book
Airport Spotting Guides USA is now in its second edition, detailing all the best places to go plane spotting in America.
It cover over 430 airports across all 50 states, with maps, directions, tips on what you’ll see, plus information on the best spotting hotels and aviation museums. A must see resource for any plane spotter!