San Diego Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

With 20 Mio passengers in 2015, San Diego is one of the smaller international airports in the US. But with only one active runway who handles all operations, its a pretty busy airport and gets interesting for planespotters. The main carrier is Southwest Airlines, followed by United Airlines. British Airways and JAL are the only intercontinental carriers with flights to London and Tokyo. The airport is located within the city border of San Diego and Downtown is just a hop away. The approach on RWY27 is called one of the most dangerous worldwide.

Written by Julian Mittnacht and Achim Walther / Last Update May 2016

Rating Movements
Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Information Runways 09/27
2.865 m (9.401 ft)
Terminals Terminal 1 Terminal 2 Commuter Terminal
Alaska, Southwest all other carriers American Eagle, United Express, Delta Connection
Spotting Information Ladder yes, at spot1 for departures
Car not necessary
Restrooms check the hotels or fast food restaurants next to spot 1
Drinks/Food next to spot 1
Hotel the Motel 6 is almost direct under the approach path. You can “relax” at the pool and watch the planes arriving
Season avoid the hot summer months as there is a lot of heat distortion
Runway Usage  09/27 main runway direction is 27

Spot #1 – Official Viewing Area – 27 arrivals and departures
WHERE The official viewing area of San Diego is located at the Harbor Drive, next to the water. You don’t really need a car as the hotels are pretty close and you can walk from the Downtown within 15-30 min along the boardwalk to this place. You can If you arrive from the Terminals, use the free shuttle bus to the rental car stations and walk along the Harbor Drive until you reach the spot. In the case you arrive by car, you can park there for free.
WHAT This is the perfect spot for almost the whole day. As RWY 27 is always in use, you won’t miss a single plane. The planes arriving from the east, passing the houses pretty low before the touch down in front of you. If you are planning to take pictures of planes lining up on taxiway bravo for departure, you will need a ladder or a Pick Up Truck to overlook the perimeter fence.
TIME Best time begins in the late morning until evening.
MISC. Hotels and fast food restaurants are within your reach. Due to the busy road next to the approach, heat haze can be a big problem.
FOCAL LENGTH 200-400 mm

Spot #2 – Cabrillo Bridge – 27 arrivals
WHERE This spot is located on the footpath of the Cabrillo Bride which is crossing the Freeway 163. If you start at spot#1, just follow the Laurel Street eastwards for 2 kilometers until you reach the bridge. Park your car somewhere along the public park before entering the bridge.
WHAT Its not really a famous spot for planespotters as the planes are far away. But you have parts of the skyscrapers of Downtown San Diego as a background on your pics! You are on a hill and on the same level as the planes that passing by in front of you. The heat haze of the streets could be a problem.
No sample pictures available as I visited this place in the late evening
Spot #3 – Waterfront Park – 27 arrivals
WHERE Just search a parking lot around the harbor or the San Diego Country Administration Center. Go to the north west end of the Waterfront Park. You’ll find some steps at West Grape Street where you can stand and take the pictures.

For route guide systems: West Grape St.

Public Bus: Grape St. & Pacific Hwy.

WHAT Best for landings on 27
TIME Best time begins in the late morning until evening.
MISC. You find some motels and some stores (like Seven Eleven or Jack in the Box) nearby.
FOCAL LENGTH 300mm for B737, 200mm for B787

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7 thoughts on “San Diego Intl. Airport Spotting Guide

  1. Jacob

    Just an update, they just opened up a rental car terminal on the north side of the field. Haven’t checked it out yet but probably can get some pics from it.

  2. Darryn

    Any help would be appreciated ,will be driving down from LAX and will in the area spotting and taking photos for the day ,can anyone tell me if it would at all be possible to use the following parking garages Aladdin Airport Parking or Laurel Airport Parking or should we stay at the viewing car park as mentioned in the article above .
    thankyou in advance
    Darryn UK spotter

    1. JulianJulian Post author

      Hi Darryn,

      you can park at the official viewing area but you should stay next to your car and not leave it. Otherwise there are plenty of parking lots along the harbour drive.


  3. Cole Parsons

    Another location for departures or arrivals when runway 9 is in use for departures is at a park and along some of the trails right on the other edge of the water touching runway 9. NTC Park 2455 Cushing Rd. San Diego, CA 92106 is the address. The closer you get to the east of the park, the better the views!

    1. JulianJulian Post author

      Thanks for this hint Cole! But it seem that this direction is not really often in use.

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