10 Largest Airports in California

Written by Happy Haugen
Published: August 29, 2023
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10 Largest Airports in California
Over 300 million people visit California each year – many travel by air.

California is a top travel destination for many people. From Los Angeles to San Francisco, from San Diego to Sacramento, many people go to California to enjoy the natural beauty that the Golden State offers. Roughly 300 million people visit the state each year from all over the world. As a result, the airports built there are massive and are continuously growing.

#1: Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Sacramento Airport Sunset

Sacramento International Airport is the largest airport in California.

©alcfeoh21/ via Getty Images

The largest airport in the state of California is Sacramento International Airport. It sits on 6,000 acres of land, and it provides flights to the greater Sacramento Metropolitan Area. SMF also has two runways and two terminals, which contain 43 gates. Sacramento International serves about 11,000,000 passengers annually.

Opened in 1967, Sacramento International initially only had a singular 8600-foot runway, and was then called Sacramento Metropolitan Airport. Eventually, it became the largest airport in California, as it continued to add new facilities, like car rentals, in-flight catering facilities, and more terminals. This airport hosts sixteen different passenger airlines, servicing flights from Mexico City to Newark. It is currently also looking to add more gates, and even potentially another terminal. It has held onto its spot as the largest airport in California for a while!

#2: San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Aerial view of San Francisco International Airport

On average, SFO services anywhere from 35,000,000 passengers to 57,000,000 passengers.

©Thinkstock/ via Getty Images

The second-largest airport in California is located in San Francisco. San Francisco International Airport sits on 5,207 acres of land and hosts four runways, as well as four different terminals. Further, SFO has seven different concourses that hold 115 different gates. This airport serviced 42,000,000 passengers in 2022. 54 different airlines operate out of SFO, and it is considered to be a major hub – it is the second busiest airport in California, behind Los Angeles International, and it is the seventh busiest in all of the United States.

Additionally, SFO is one of the oldest airports in California. It was founded in 1927, and it served as a base for the Coast Guard as well as a training base for the Army Air Corps. It was called Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Mills Field and Coast Guard Air Station, San Francisco during World War II. Now, it currently provides flights to passengers all over the world. It is a main entrance to Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania from the United States, and is often the first place international travelers see when they come to America.

#3: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Airplane landing at Los Angeles International Airport during sunset, Los Angeles, California, USA

Los Angeles International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, but it isn’t California’s biggest airport.

©Celso Diniz/Shutterstock.com

Coming in at 3,500 acres, it’s hard to imagine that the world’s third-busiest airport isn’t even the largest in California. Los Angeles International Airport serviced 86,000,000 passengers in 2019. It has 78 different airlines that service out of LAX in addition to it being a hub for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, and United Airlines. It has four different runways, nine passenger terminals, and over 146 gates. Despite its already massive size, the airport is looking to add more gates and become modernized.

It was founded in 1928 on a 640-acre plot, in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles. Over time, it grew exponentially, and with expansions and renovations, it now claims a 3500-acre plot. One more thing: the ‘X’ in LAX doesn’t carry any significant meaning. Airports used to only have two-letter identifiers, LAX being known simply as LA. However, with the rapid rise of the aviation industry in the 20th century, three letters became the norm for airport identification. Thus, in 1947, LA became LAX, to keep up with the modernization of the identifiers. 

#4: Oakland International Airport (OAK)

Entrance to Oakland Airport

Oakland International Airport has 2600 acres of land, servicing 11,000,000 passengers in 2022.

©Weegee010 / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Oakland International Airport is the fourth-largest airport in California. It serves the East Bay area of the San Francisco Bay Area. This airport provides domestic flights as well as international flights to Central America and Mexico. Four runways and 32 total gates sit on 2600 acres of land. OAK contains 12 different airlines, and it is an operating base for Southwest Airlines.

Founded in 1927, the Dole Air Race was a major motivation to start work on an airport in Oakland. For a long time, it claimed the world’s longest runway, coming in at 7,020 feet. Many famous flights took off from OAK, including Amelia Earhart’s final flight in 1937. 

#5: Ontario International Airport (ONT)

Ontario International Airport aerial shot

Unlike other California airports, ONT has few noise restrictions and is in 24/7 operation.

©Quintin Soloviev / – License

Located in San Bernardino County, Ontario International Airport is the fifth-largest airport in California, where it sits on 1,741 acres. It has two terminals and 26 gates, and also its own separate international arrivals gates, totaling 28 total gates. ONT services about 5,000,000 passengers annually and serves the Inland Empire and Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Areas. Founded in 1929 after the city of Ontario purchased the land near the original airport, it was initially considered solely a municipal airport. However, when international cargo flights began to originate out of the airport, it was renamed Ontario International Airport.

#6: Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT)

Fresno Yosemite International Airport

Fresno Yosemite International Airport has origins as a military base, opening just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

©Ken Lund / CC BY-SA 2.0 – License

Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the sixth-largest airport in California. It sits on 1,728 acres of land and has two runways. FAT is a military and public-use airport, and it offers domestic flights and limited international flights solely to Mexico.

It opened as a military airfield in 1942, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was known as Hammer Field, and it was a training site for new pilots who were entering the Fourth Air Force. After World War II ended, the military inactivated Hammer Field. The city of Fresno purchased the land to create a more local airport for its citizens. It is now home to many regional airlines, including SkyWest Airlines, the largest regional airline in the United States. FAT sees about 2,000,000 passengers annually. In addition to its public use, many different types of private organizations call this airport home. FAT houses different airplanes and other air units for medicinal and firefighting purposes in addition to law enforcement and military resources.

#7: Long Beach Airport (LGB)

Regional Long beach airport in suburbs of Los Angeles

Long Beach Airport only provides domestic flights.

©Xavier MARCHANT/Shutterstock.com

The seventh-largest airport in California is Long Beach Airport, located in Los Angeles County, about three miles northeast of downtown Long Beach. It sits on 1,166 acres of land, and it solely serves domestic flights. Long Beach Airport has three runways and only three airlines that operate within it. The airport serves Greater Los Angeles, and it’s primarily used for domestic commercial passenger flights, as LAX is only 20 miles away. Until Long Beach Airport was founded, pilots used the nearby beach as a runway, including Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the pilot of the first transcontinental flight. 

#8: San Jose International Airport (SJC)

San Jose International Airport

SJC covers 1,050 acres with two terminals and 37 gates.

©Aries Liang / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

The San Jose International Airport, officially known as Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, is the eighth-largest airport in California. It covers 1,050 acres, and it has two terminals and 37 gates. It is located in San Jose proper and serves the Santa Clara Valley. Of the three Bay Area airports, SJC is the second busiest, despite San Jose being the largest city in the Bay Area. SJC sees about 12,000,000 people annually and is home to 14 different airlines. The airport was founded in 1939 by the efforts of Ernie Renzel, a grocer and also the future mayor of San Jose. He helped negotiate a deal to purchase the land that the airport now sits on. 

#9: Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA)

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is a domestic-only airport.

©D Ramey Logan / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is the ninth-largest airport in California. Located seven miles west of downtown Santa Barbara, the airport covers 948 acres of land. SBA has three runways and services flights for six different airlines currently, and it doesn’t offer flights internationally. This airport was built as a part of the United States Government’s program to build 250 airports during World War II. During the war, the airport became a training base known as Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. After the war, it became a public-use airport again in 1946. 

#10: Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)

Entrance to Palm Springs International Airport.

Located just outside Joshua Tree National Park, PSP is partially outdoors.

©Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Finally, the tenth-largest airport in California is Palm Springs International Airport. PSP covers only 940 acres of land, and it contains two terminals and 19 gates. In addition, 16 different airlines operate out of Palm Springs International and offer domestic flights and international flights. The airport saw 3,000,000 passengers in 2022, making it its busiest year ever. Initially, it was founded on land that was owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, to be used as an emergency landing strip. After the military deactivated the airfield, it was sold to private buyers and eventually, the city of Palm Springs bought the land in 1961, and turned it into Palm Springs Municipal Airport.

#1Sacramento International Airport (SFM)6,000 acres
#2San Francisco International Airport (SFO)5,207 acres
#3Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)3,500 acres
#4Oakland International Airport (OAK)2,600 acres
#5Ontario International Airport (ONT)1,741 acres
#6Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT)1,728 acres
#7Long Beach Airport (LGB)1,166 acres
#8San Jose International Airport (SJC)1,050 acres
#9Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA)948 acres
#10Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)940 acres

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Gabriele Maltinti/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Happy Haugen is a writer at A-Z Animals, where he typically focuses writing about flowers, mammals, and various countries and continents. Happy lives in Tennessee, where he enjoys playing music, reading, and hiking.

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