California Airports Ranked: The Ultimate List of Best-to-Worst Places to Fly

Written by Alan Lemus
Updated: June 28, 2023
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So, you’re planning a flight to, from, or within the golden state of California? Perfect. You’re about to embark on a journey through California’s vast network of airports. From the bustling metropolises to charming coastal towns and serene wine country, this state’s airports offer a fascinating microcosm of California’s diverse landscapes.

Ready to take off? Let’s buckle up and delve into an informative guide to California’s top airports. We’ll rank them from best to worst, basing our evaluation on a range of factors: airlines, destinations, amenities, and passenger feedback. But remember, no two airports are alike, just as no two journeys are identical.

We’re about to traverse the length and breadth of California via its airports. Whether you’re a business traveler with a tight schedule, a family setting off on a well-deserved vacation, or a solo wanderer seeking new experiences, this guide is designed with you in mind. Fasten your seat belts, stow your tray tables, and prepare for takeoff!

1. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Airplanes in Los Angeles International airport LAX apron. California, USA

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the fourth busiest airport in the world and second busiest in the United States, based on number of passengers.

©Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock.com

Strategically nestled in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles, Los Angeles International Airport, fondly known as LAX, serves as a major gateway for both domestic and international flights. As one of the world’s busiest airports, it acts as a bustling hub for avid travelers, linking the vibrant city of Los Angeles to a myriad of destinations.

A Hub for Numerous Airlines

LAX opens a world of possibilities for travelers. From national airlines such as American, Delta, and United to international carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air China, the diversity of airlines operating at LAX is nothing short of impressive. Whether you’re jetting off to New York or Tokyo, chances are you’ll find a flight that suits your schedule.

Destination Diversity

Variety is the name of the game when it comes to destinations available from LAX. If you fancy a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, an adventurous journey to Australia, or a business meeting in London, LAX has got you covered. Offering flights to over 175 destinations in 60+ countries, it’s the perfect start to any journey.

Exploring the Amenities

Your airport experience at LAX goes beyond checking in and boarding your flight. Whether you want to grab a quick bite at Shake Shack, indulge in some fine dining at Petrossian Caviar and Champagne Bar, or pick up a last-minute souvenir at the DFS Duty-Free store, you’ll find it all here. And let’s not forget about the luxurious airline lounges – perfect for unwinding before a long flight.

2. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

SFO is the largest airport in the San Francisco Bay Area and the second-busiest in California, after Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

©Håkan Dahlström / CC BY 2.0 – License

Also known as SFO, San Francisco International Airport is situated in the heart of California’s Bay Area. Serving as a primary gateway to Europe and Asia, this bustling hub bridges the vibrant city of San Francisco to countless destinations, nationally and globally.

An Array of Airlines at SFO

Opportunity comes a-knockin’ at SFO! With a broad selection of airlines such as American Airlines, United, and Delta, or international ones like Air France, Cathay Pacific, and Emirates, SFO lays a smorgasbord of flights right at your fingertips. Be it a cross-country flight to Miami or an intercontinental voyage to Sydney, SFO can get you there.

Wide-ranging Destinations

SFO stands out for its diversity in flight destinations. Whether you’re yearning for the sun-soaked beaches of Mexico, the historical grandeur of Rome, or the energetic bustle of Hong Kong, SFO serves as your one-stop connection. With flights to over 125 destinations, SFO is your passport to exploring the world.

A Plethora of Amenities

But SFO isn’t just about taking off and touching down. With a slew of dining options from fast food at Wendy’s to gourmet delights at The Plant Cafe and shopping from Duty-Free Americas to SFMOMA Museum Store, SFO has something for everyone. For a touch of luxury, slip into one of the swanky airline lounges, where you can kick back and relax before your journey.

3. San Diego International Airport (SAN)

Airport runway lights at night, plane or airplane landing to airstrip, twilight dusk and sunset. Airliner jet arriving to aerodrome, San Diego airfield, California USA. Aircraft flying mid air in sky.

San Diego International Airport (SAN) is the United States’ busiest single-runway airport and the second-busiest one in the world.

©Dogora Sun/Shutterstock.com

As the United States’ busiest single-runway airport, SAN makes a remarkable impression. Situated in what is described as the birthplace of California, it bridges the charming city of San Diego to numerous destinations across the country and around the globe.

A Variety of Airlines at SAN

SAN opens up a world of flying options. With domestic airlines like Southwest, Delta, and American Airlines, as well as international carriers such as British Airways and Japan Airlines, SAN’s lineup is diverse. Whether you’re planning a business trip to Chicago or a vacation to Tokyo, SAN offers an array of flights to fit your travel needs.

Destination Spectrum

SAN excels in offering a wide range of flight destinations. Seeking to experience the vibrant culture of Mexico City, the historic charm of London, or the bustle of New York? SAN serves as your ideal starting point. With connections to over 70 destinations, SAN invites you to explore the world at your convenience.

Abundance of Amenities

At SAN, your travel experience begins even before your flight. From quick bites at Einstein Bros. Bagels to sumptuous meals at Bankers Hill Bar & Restaurant, SAN has your cravings covered. For retail therapy, check out shops like Duty-Free Americas or San Diego Bay News. And for ultimate relaxation, the airline lounges offer a tranquil haven.

4. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)

Aircrafts at sjc airport

Mineta San Jose International Airport covers 1,050 acres at an elevation of 62 feet.

©Mgw89 at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, SJC stands as a major gateway for travel in and out of the tech-rich Bay Area. It’s not just an airport—it’s a central hub connecting San Jose to various domestic and international destinations.

Airlines Operating at SJC

Travel options abound at SJC. With key domestic carriers like Southwest, Delta, and Alaska Airlines, along with international airlines such as Air Canada and All Nippon Airways, SJC’s selection is diverse and dynamic. Planning a trip to Las Vegas or embarking on a journey to Tokyo? SJC has got your travel needs covered.

Destination Diversity

The range of destinations from SJC is truly vast. Whether you’re looking to enjoy the magical aura of Disneyland in Anaheim, explore the historical sites in Beijing, or have a business meeting in New York, SJC provides the perfect launch pad. Offering flights to over 50 destinations, SJC stands as your portal to an array of adventures.

On-Site Amenities

The SJC experience begins even before takeoff. Looking for a quick snack or a hearty meal? SJC’s dining options, from Gordon Biersch to Peet’s Coffee & Tea, cater to all tastes. Shopping needs? Discover shops like Hudson News or DFS Duty-Free. For that touch of comfort before your flight, step into one of the relaxing airline lounges.

5. Oakland International Airport (OAK)

Entrance to Oakland Airport

OAK is California’s fourth largest airport, with more than 13 million passengers passing through their gates every year.

©Weegee010 / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Situated in the Bay Area’s vibrant East Bay region, OAK plays a critical role in bridging Oakland to numerous national and international locations, making it an essential asset to both casual tourists and dedicated globetrotters.

Airlines Operating at OAK

Travel options are aplenty at OAK. With key domestic carriers like Southwest, Delta, and Alaska Airlines, alongside international airlines such as Volaris and Sata Azores Airlines, the selection at OAK is broad and versatile. Whether you’re planning a city escape to New York or a beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta, OAK stands ready to accommodate your journey.

Vast Range of Destinations

The spectrum of destinations accessible from OAK is notably vast. Are you keen on exploring the lively nightlife of Las Vegas, the enchanting landscapes of the Azores, or the dynamic culture of Mexico City? OAK serves as your perfect stepping stone. With connections to over 50 destinations, OAK invites you to traverse the globe at your convenience.

Amenities to Enjoy

At OAK, your travel experience begins the moment you step through the doors. With dining options from fast-food joints like Subway to sit-down eateries such as Pyramid Ale Taproom, OAK has got you covered. Shops like Oakland Tribune Newsstand or InMotion Entertainment cater to your last-minute shopping needs. For pre-flight relaxation, feel free to unwind in one of the tranquil airline lounges.

6. Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Sacramento, California

You can fly nonstop to Sacramento from 29 cities throughout the U.S. and Mexico, including New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Dallas, and Guadalajara.

©iStock.com/Belyay

As the primary airport serving California’s bustling capital, SMF bridges Sacramento to a host of destinations, both domestic and international, making it an essential travel hub for both residents and visitors.

Airlines Serving SMF

The selection of airlines at SMF is as broad as it is varied. With major domestic airlines like Southwest, American, and United, as well as international carriers such as Aeromexico and Volaris, SMF presents a myriad of travel options. Be it a business trip to Dallas or a vacation getaway to Guadalajara, SMF has you covered.

Diverse Destination Options

When it comes to destinations, SMF offers an extensive range. Whether you’re planning to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of New York, the relaxed vibe of Honolulu, or the traditional charm of Mexico City, SMF serves as the ideal launchpad. With flights to over 40 destinations, SMF facilitates your exploration of the world.

Amenities Galore

SMF believes in enhancing your journey from the get-go. Craving a quick snack or a full meal? You have choices, from Burgers and Brew to Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Need to pick up a last-minute gift? Visit shops like the Capitol Marketplace or Sactown Magazine. For that pre-flight tranquility, step into one of the premium airline lounges.

7. John Wayne Airport (SNA)

Aerial view of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, at sunset with rain in the air light trails across the 405 highway in front.

Aerial view of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, at sunset.

©SunflowerMomma/Shutterstock.com

Step into John Wayne Airport, commonly known as SNA. Located in the heart of Orange County, SNA provides crucial connections, linking the sunny Southern California region to an array of destinations across the country and beyond. For many, it’s the ideal starting point for both business and leisure travel.

Airline Options at SNA

SNA boasts a broad selection of airlines. With key domestic carriers like American, Delta, and Southwest, alongside international airlines such as WestJet, SNA’s lineup is both versatile and accommodating. Whether you’re planning a trip to the busy streets of New York or the tranquil beaches of Vancouver, SNA is ready to facilitate your journey.

Destination Diversity

SNA excels in its variety of destinations. Want to explore the gambling city of Las Vegas, experience the charm of Calgary, or visit the business hub of Chicago? SNA is your perfect embarkation point. Providing flights to over 30 destinations, SNA stands as your portal to an array of adventures.

Amenities at SNA

SNA strives to enhance your travel experience before your flight even takes off. Fancy a quick bite or a full-course meal? From Starbucks to Vino Volo, SNA has you covered. Looking for a last-minute gift or a book for your flight? Check out shops like Hudson News or Tech on the Go. For pre-flight relaxation, enjoy the peace and quiet in one of the airport’s lounges.

8. Long Beach Airport (LGB)

Regional Long beach airport in suburbs of Los Angeles

Air cargo carriers, including FedEx and UPS, also use LGB. 57,000 tons of goods are transported each year

©Xavier MARCHANT/Shutterstock.com

Welcome to Long Beach Airport, more commonly known as LGB. Nestled in the heart of Southern California, LGB offers connections to a variety of destinations, making it a cherished part of the region’s vibrant culture and an essential travel hub.

Airline Selection at LGB

LGB’s roster of airlines is as varied as it is comprehensive. With main domestic carriers like Southwest, Delta, and American Airlines, the options are wide. Whether you’re planning a cross-country business trip to Boston or a weekend getaway to Salt Lake City, LGB is ready to assist you on your journey.

Variety of Destinations

LGB shines in its range of destinations. Interested in exploring the bustling streets of San Francisco, unwinding in the peaceful landscapes of Bozeman, or immersing yourself in the iconic cityscape of New York? LGB serves as your ideal launchpad. Offering flights to over 15 destinations, LGB invites you to chart your own adventure.

Amenities on Offer

At LGB, your journey begins from the moment you step through the airport doors. Need to grab a quick meal or a coffee? From 4th Street Vine to McKenna’s Burger Bar, there’s something for everyone. If it’s shopping you’re after, be sure to explore the retail offerings at CNBC News or the Long Beach News. To unwind before your flight, check out one of the comfortable airline lounges.

9. Ontario International Airport (ONT)

Aerial view of Ontario Airport

Aerial view of Ontario International Airport.

©Quintin Soloviev / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Welcome to Ontario International Airport, widely known as ONT. Situated in the heart of Southern California’s Inland Empire, ONT provides crucial connections linking Ontario to a diverse range of destinations, making it a beloved asset for residents and visitors alike.

Airline Options at ONT

ONT showcases a wide selection of airlines. With key domestic carriers like Southwest, Delta, and American Airlines, along with international airlines such as Volaris and China Airlines, ONT offers a broad and diverse selection. Whether you’re planning a city escape to Denver or a cross-Pacific journey to Taipei, ONT stands ready to accommodate your travel needs.

Vast Range of Destinations

The spectrum of destinations available from ONT is notably wide. Are you interested in exploring the vibrant city life of Atlanta, the mesmerizing landscapes of Guadalajara, or the bustling streets of San Francisco? ONT serves as your perfect starting point. With connections to over 25 destinations, ONT invites you to discover the world at your own pace.

Enjoyable Amenities

At ONT, your travel experience starts as soon as you walk through its doors. With dining options from fast-food chains like Chick-fil-a to coffee hubs such as Dunkin Donuts, ONT ensures that your culinary needs are met. For last-minute shopping needs, consider visiting shops like CNBC News or Tech on the Go. And for pre-flight relaxation, you can unwind in one of the airport’s tranquil lounges.

10. Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

Entrance to Palm Springs International Airport.

Palm Springs International Airport offers flights to over 20 destinations.

©Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Embedded in the heart of California’s picturesque desert region, PSP connects Palm Springs to a wide array of destinations, making it a much-loved hub for residents and sun-seeking travelers alike.

Airline Variety at PSP

The variety of airlines at PSP is impressive. With domestic carriers like American, Delta, and Southwest, coupled with international airlines such as Air Canada and Alaska Airlines, PSP offers a versatile lineup. Whether you’re planning a jaunt to the bustling streets of Seattle or a holiday in the snow-capped beauty of Calgary, PSP is prepared to make your travel plans a reality.

Diversity of Destinations

When it comes to destinations, PSP truly shines. Want to explore the dynamic cityscape of Chicago, experience the iconic attractions of New York, or immerse yourself in the cultural richness of Toronto? PSP provides the perfect jumping-off point. Offering flights to over 20 destinations, PSP extends an invitation to your next adventure.

Amenities at PSP

Your journey begins the moment you set foot in PSP. In need of a quick meal or a caffeinated pick-me-up? From Starbucks to California Vintages, PSP’s dining options cater to your palate. For those last-minute shopping needs, check out shops like Desert News or Brighton Collectibles. And for a serene pre-flight experience, visit one of the airport’s cozy lounges. 

Airports in California Locations

Key Takeaways

Well, there you have it! That’s our comprehensive round-up of California’s varied and vibrant airports. With each airport offering a unique experience, we hope this guide will prove a handy companion on your Californian adventures.

Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. So whether you’re after the convenience of an array of flights, a last-minute dash to the duty-free, or a peaceful lounge to unwind in before takeoff, California’s airports have something to suit everyone’s travel style. As we draw our exploration to a close, it’s clear that these airports are more than just transportation hubs – they are gateways to the diverse experiences California offers. And while each airport is distinct, they all share a common goal: to make your journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Celso Diniz/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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