The Most Scenic Airport in California Has Unbelievable Views

Written by Kristen Holder
Published: September 7, 2023
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California is famous for its beauty at its world-famous destinations. But did you know that flying into the Golden State can also be a visually unforgettable experience? It’s true! The most scenic airport in California has unbelievable views. We’ll discuss this major airport as well as mention other destinations worth flying into if you’re after an aerial eyeful.

The Most Scenic International Airport in California

San Francisco International Airport is the most scenic airport in California.

San Francisco International Airport is the most scenic airport in California.

©Yunpeng Li/iStock via Getty Images

The most scenic airport in California is San Francisco International Airport (SFO). When taking off or landing, passengers get a view of the San Francisco Bay from the air. At night, the lights illuminate the city which makes the waterline visible. During the day, the blue water contrasts the surrounding shorelines which are breathtaking.

The best part is the runways appear to start where the ocean ends. As planes descend, they almost always do so over water. From the plane, it’s like the wheels barely hit the ground in time! You’re even able to see the small waves lapping against the shoreline right before touchdown, or right after takeoff.

Even for people who have flown through SFO hundreds of times, the scenic view always causes a gasp. There is no other airport in the continental United States that shows a view quite as awe-inspiring as SFO.

Bonus: The Second Most Scenic International Airport in California

Los Angeles International Airport has unbelievable views.

Los Angeles International Airport has unbelievable views.

©Remy CHANEL/iStock via Getty Images

The second most scenic international airport in California is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). That’s because passengers taking off and landing at LAX get an amazing view of the Los Angeles area from their plane as the plane changes in elevation.

At night, the hills are illuminated with what seems like a million dots. This allows the curvature of the hills, from the crest to the base, to be distinguishable amidst the twinkles of civilization.

During the day, if the plane banks just right, the famous downtown LA skyline is visible. Other times, passengers get an eyeful of the Hollywood sign. Since Los Angeles is the most photographed place in the United States, seeing the sights from the air is a memorable experience even for the most seasoned traveler.

The Most Scenic Domestic Airport in California

The most scenic domestic airport in California is Long Beach Airport (LGB). It’s more expensive to fly out of LGB than the major international airports in the LA area, and only domestic flights are offered. However, it’s worth it if you want an accessible aerial view of the Southern California coastline.  

The airport lies within metro Long Beach and is surrounded by the city for miles. The airport is also relatively close to the ocean, and lots of flights head out over the Pacific Ocean toward Hawaii. They also sometimes bank over the water before heading to a continental destination.

This offers an incredibly scenic view of the Los Angeles area. Since the LA area, and Long Beach, are reliably sunny, it’s almost guaranteed that any takeoff or departure will be amazingly beautiful.

Only 3 million people pass through LGB which makes it a hidden treasure in the LA area. In comparison, LAX sees over 32 million passengers annually. This makes LGB a very desirable choice if you can afford to pay a little more for ease and comfort.

World Famous Architecture at Long Beach Airport

The terminal at Long Beach Airport is an Art Deco building from 1941.

The terminal at Long Beach Airport is an Art Deco building from 1941.

©Atomic Taco from Seattle, WA, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

Its oceanic takeoffs and landings are accentuated by the Art Deco terminal that passengers can take in when they’re on the ground. This terminal is an award winner from 1941, and it has been recognized internationally as a must-see destination when traveling to the United States.

More specifically, the Art Deco terminal at LBG is of the Streamline Moderne style. It was designed by architects Kenneth Smith Wing and William Horace Austin.

There are also amazingly preserved mosaic tiles for visitors to experience. When the Art Deco terminal was constructed in 1941, floor mosaics were created by the artist named Grace Clements. The themes of her creations include maritime subjects, oil wells, The City of Long Beach’s emblem, and a flight route map.

The tiles are hand-cut and meticulously organized. They have been well preserved over the years because they were covered with carpeting until the middle of the 2010s. Restoration and cleaning efforts are ongoing and will continue through 2024.

The Most Scenic Small Craft Airport in California

The Oceano County Airport is outside of San Louis Obispo in California.

The Oceano County Airport is outside of San Louis Obispo in California.


The most scenic airport for people flying small airplanes is the Oceano County Airport (L52). Small plane enthusiasts often make this airport a day trip destination. It is located outside of San Louis Obispo on California’s Central Coast.

While this is a public airport, it is only accessible by small crafts. However, businesses operate out of the airport and they give aerial tours of the scenic airspace.

Day trips are popular because one of the last vehicle-accessible stretches of California beach is right next to the airport. There are also restaurants nearby including a rail car diner within walking distance.

This scenic airport has unbelievable views of the California coastline. As a plane heads west, it creeps over patches of farmland until it crests the Coastal Range. These mountains spill down onto the city-lined beach, and the Pacific Ocean sparkles as far as the eye can see.

The Most Scenic Private Airport in California

Catalina Island Airport in the sky

Catalina Airport is called the Airport in the Sky.

©Golden Excalibur/

The most scenic private airport in California is the Catalina Airport (AVX) situated on Catalina Island. This island is in the chain of islands called the Channel Islands off Southern California’s coast.

This airport is over 1600 feet in elevation which offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean during takeoff and landing. This has earned it the nickname of Airport in the Sky.

As you travel to and from the island, it’s as if the plane is spit off of a mountain high above an oceanic paradise. The rocky island’s dips and curves are apparent during takeoff and landing, and it doesn’t take long for someone flying over the island to see the entirety of its landmass at one time.

While this airport is privately owned, it is still accessible to the public. People who own small crafts or who charter a plane can access Catalina Island via this airstrip.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © EQRoy/

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves doting on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with whimsical adventures geared toward exploring her new home.

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