The 12 Best Spots to Go ‘Plane-Spotting’ Across the U.S.
From LAX to ORD, you can enjoy watching planes take off and land with these rooftop bars, infinity pools, campgrounds, and more.
For some, it’s a lifelong pursuit full of aviation passion, and for others, it is the chance to watch a coordinated dance of air traffic control while enjoying a bite to eat or sitting on the beach. No matter how you like it, plane spotting is a sensational spectacle. Here are some of the best places across the United States to let your imagination take flight without ever having to leave the ground.
TWA Hotel/David Mitchell
Park and “Fries”
WHERE: Los Angeles International Airport & Harry Reid International Airport
There’s no better pastime than devouring a double-double while watching air traffic from one of the busiest airports in the world, which you can do at the Insta-famous In-N-Out Burger at West 92nd Street and Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. Diners might not hear each other speak, but it’s a great place to watch planes landing from the patio. In Las Vegas, the Jack in the Box on Las Vegas Boulevard near Mandalay Bay is also a prime spot for catching views of arriving aircrafts at Harry Reid International Airport.
Panoramic Poolside Perches
WHERE: John F. Kennedy International Airport
The Rooftop Infinity Pool at the TWA Hotel is housed in the former TWA Terminal at JFK International Airport. The hotel’s infinity pool, which is heated to a toasty 95 degrees in the winter, sits on the horizon of multiple JFK’s Runways, boasting a backdrop of views all the way to Jamaica Bay and 70-plus airline carriers taking off and landing on the stretches of concrete just beyond the TWA Hotel. Enjoy the sights with sips at The Pool Bar, which serves a seasonal menu alongside a selection of aviation-inspired cocktails. A similar experience can be found in Florida at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport’s rooftop pool, which offers a relaxing atmosphere to indulge in fun and relaxation under the sun while watching planes take off.
Rooftop Bars With a View of the Runways
WHERE: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport & San Diego International Airport
At the Kimpton Overland Atlanta Airport hotel, guests can take advantage of a package called “Date Night/Take Flight,” which includes a gourmet dinner, a wine “flight” for two on their open-air lounge, The Rooftop, and complimentary binoculars for viewing. In Downtown San Diego, at Layover located within the InterContinental San Diego, plane spotters can enjoy small bites, canned craft beers, wine, and aero-inspired cocktails slushies with a real first-class seat to watch the planes take off from San Diego airport and North Island naval station. The Hyatt Place / Hyatt House LAX / Century Blvd rooftop bar, ShoresLAX, is perched poolside on the hotel’s 15th-floor rooftop offering bohemian vibes with panoramic views of the LAX runways alongside chef-driven dishes and drinks made with seasonally-inspired ingredients.
Kimpton Overland Atlanta
Cockpit-Worthy Airport Cafes
WHERE: Monterey Regional Airport, Mason City Municipal Airport & Bowman Field Airport
At Woody’s Restaurant & Bar at the Monterey Regional Airport, Chef Tim Wood—a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with experience at extraordinary spots like the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza and Carmel Valley Ranch—creates elevated comfort dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients. While Ventura County’s Camarillo Airport is a private airport, the Waypoint Cafe’s on-site eatery creates tasty dishes. People actually fly their airplanes into the airport for a meal. Avion Azul is located inside Mason City Municipal Airport in Iowa, featuring views of the runway and margarita “flights” to enjoy while watching planes land and take off. And Bistro Le Relais at Louisville, Kentucky’s historic Bowman Field airport is the perfect place to enjoy an upscale meal with a 1940s art-deco interior reminiscent of the Café from the movie Casablanca and an outdoor back patio with views of the runways.
Louisville Tourism/ Jordan Skora
Outdoor Spaces With Extra Leg Room
WHERE: Arlington, VA, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Council Bluffs, IA & Greenville, SC
Gravelly Point is a park in Arlington, Virginia is located north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport along the George Washington Parkway and across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., perfect for plane spotting. Founders’ Plaza at DFW Observation Area offers magnificent views of aircraft with ample parking, picnic tables, telescopes, historical information, a commemorative monument, and a radio that broadcasts air traffic control communications from the FAA tower. The Lewis and Clark Monument and Scenic Lookout in Council Bluffs offer incredible views of air and river traffic on the border of Iowa and Nebraska and a nice view of Eppley Airfield in Omaha. And Runway Park in downtown Greenville is a stone’s throw from the runway of GMU, the private airport of Greenville, perfect for packing a picnic lunch on a sunny day and speculating who is inside those fancy private jets.
Jake McGuire for Arlington Convention & Visitor Service
Sky-Side Camp and Glampgrounds
WHERE: Taos Regional Airport & Catalina Island Airport in the Sky
Glampers can watch the air traffic set against the dramatic landscape of the Sante de Cristo Mountains from the comfort of Hotel Luna Mystica, the vintage trailer and campground located directly across Highway 64 from the Taos Regional Airport. At Catalina Island’s “Airport in the Sky,” which is perched high on a plateau 1,600 feet above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California, aviation enthusiasts who fly in can camp underwing if they BYOP (bring your own plane), for a firsthand view of breathtaking seaside scenery. For those just passing through on the iconic Trans Catalina Trail, it serves as a great place to stop, smell the flowers, and watch the aircraft since the plateau hosts its own restaurant, gift shop, and Nature Center.
First Class Hospitality
WHERE: Boston Logan International Airport & Chicago O'Hare International Airport
The Omni Boston Seaport offers guests spectacular “plane spotting” views of nearby Logan Airport visible from any room facing North or East above floor ten. Nearby, at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport, guests can book “airport view” rooms and enjoy aeronautical views in a newly-renovated setting inspired by the elements of the hotel’s Boston surroundings. And at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare Airport, guests can book “runway view” rooms in the no-fly zone to watch take-offs and landings from the comfort of a comfortable guest room, with fantastic views of the runway and blackout curtains and sound-resistant windows for when it’s time to rest.
Hilton Boston Logan Airport
Parking Structures With a Window Seat
WHERE: Portland International Airport & Tampa International Airport
The short-term parking garage at Portland International Airport is a fantastic plane spotting location, and you might even be able to catch a glimpse of a snowcapped Mount Hood on a clear day. The roof of the long-term parking garage at Tampa International Airport is known as a great spot to grab some take-out and enjoy a park-and-picnic out of the trunk while watching the takeoffs and landings.
Photo Courtesy of Port of Portland
Climbing Toward Cruising Altitude
WHERE: Sedona Airport & Aspen/Pitkin County Airport
The Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout is many things. Nearby is a well-known Sedona vortex, it’s a famed spot to catch a gorgeous desert sunset, and it’s also a great place to spot some of the local air traffic. Visitors can either hike up to the mesa or pay a few dollars to park at the lot above the overlook and enjoy the sights. Over in Colorado, Aspen Snowmass’ Buttermilk Ski Resort isn’t just a skier’s paradise. Here, snow sports lovers can watch the air traffic at nearby Aspen/Pitkin County Airport and shred a run on the mountain simultaneously.
(Intentional) Water Landing
WHERE: Lake Hood, AK
Lake Hood in Anchorage is the largest seaplane base in the world. In the summer, it is a known attraction where thousands of people depart for flightseeing trips to destinations like Denali National Park and Lake Clark National Park to see grizzly bears. The seaplane base is home to 500 floatplane slips, and plane spotters can watch as these specially equipped planes glide across the lake and then take off atop the city’s rugged mountain peaks. In winter, 100 “ski-equipped” airplanes use Lake Hood as their home base. Plane spotters can walk around the lake to watch the planes or set up a picnic at Lake Hood beach, but understandably, there’s no swimming in the lake as it’s only meant for aviators.
Courtesy Visit Anchorage / Juno Kim
Ascending to Ocean Views
WHERE: Pensacola, FL, Los Angeles International Airport, Santa Barbara Airport, Key West International Airport
Pensacola is a military city and home to the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. The impressive shows that the Blue Angels put on can be seen from Pensacola Beach during the air show hosted each July but can also often be seen in town while they’re practicing throughout the year. In Los Angeles, Dockweiler State Beach is directly beneath the takeoff path from Los Angeles International Airport. Build a fire in the designated fire rings along the three miles of shoreline to roast marshmallows and watch the near-constant air traffic above. In Santa Barbara, Goleta Beach is an excellent spot to view planes taking off, bordering the south side of the Santa Barbara airport. In the Southeast, Smathers Beach in Key West is adjacent to the Key West International Airport, making it a spot in the sunshine for watching the airplanes.
Complimentary Onboard Entertainment
WHERE: San Diego International Airport
For those who want to earn some airline miles shopping while watching the air traffic, Liberty Station in San Diego is just opposite the northern end of the San Diego International Airport runway, so naturally, it’s in a prime position for plane spotting. This complex was originally a former Naval training center, but today has transformed into one of San Diego’s premier destinations for shopping, dining, art, entertainment, and history. Visitors will find 361-acres that host hundreds of businesses, restaurants, art galleries, and studios with 48 acres of grassy, beautiful parkland on which aviation lovers can simply look directly across the water’s edge to watch airplanes take off and soar above.
Liberty Station Community Association