With 22 Mio passengers in 2017, 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, Lufthansa, Edelweiss and JAL are the only intercontinental carriers with flights to London, Frankfurt, Zurich 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, Achim Walther, Bruno Geiger and Matthias Buchheim / Last Visit March 2018
How was your spotting trip?
Rate this airport now.
(6 votes, average: 2.67 out of 5)
|2.865 m (9.401 ft)|
|Terminals||Terminal 1||Terminal 2|
|Alaska, Southwest||all other carriers|
|Spotting Information||Ladder||Just needed at spot 1 for departures.|
|Car||Not necessary as you are very close to downtown San Diego and can walk or use public transport to all spotting locations.|
|Restrooms||Check the hotels or fast food restaurants that you find all around the airport.|
|Drinks/Food||Almost around the whole airport there are fast food restaurants.
Inside Terminal one there is a food court at one of the lower levels, where you might take pictures from. We’ve not tested this spot yet, that’s why we didn’t mark it as spot – we can’t guarantee at the moment.
|Hotel||The Motel 6 is almost direct under the approach path. You can “relax” at the pool and watch the planes arriving. But there are plenty of hotels arround the airport.|
|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 09 departures|
|WHERE||The official viewing area of San Diego is located at the “N 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. In the case you arrive by car, you can park there for free.|
|WHAT||Arrivals on runway 27, if they aren’t too low (then they will fly behind the fence = no picture possible). Apart from this late departures on runway 09 should be okay.
On the other site of “N Harbor Drive” there is the San Diego Coast Guard Base, where you can get some interesting helicopters.
|TIME||Best time begins in the late morning until evening.
You’d have backlit all day for the helicopters (except early mornings and late evenings, but this depends on the angle, too), that’s why cloudy days are better here.
|MISC.||Hotels and fast food restaurants are within your reach.
This spot is quite tricky and difficult. Due to the busy road next to the approach, heat haze can be a BIG problem. Apart from this, the fences are pretty high. If planes are approaching very low, they will be behind them, so you won’t be able to take pictures. Line-Ups aren’t possible anymore from here due to the (new) fence. The best way is to use the containers/bins as or even with an extra ladder, then you might be lucky and can take “good” pictures.
|FOCAL LENGTH||150-400 mm|
|Spot #2 – W Laurel St – 27 arrivals|
|WHERE||This spot is located along the sidewalk of “West Laurel Street”, which connects “North Harbor Drive” and “Pacific Hwy”. As mentioned, this spot isn’t an exact position, rather the area along the sidewalk, depending ont he angle you like the most! The example shots and the overview picture were taken exactly from the marked spot (on the map) just next to a zebra crossing, which is new and cannot be seen on Google Maps yet.|
|WHAT||Arrivals on runway 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. No ladder needed.
|FOCAL LENGTH||50 – 400mm|
|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. This spot is an alternative to spot #2, but due to the bigger distance spot #2 is almost always better!
For route guide systems: West Grape St.
Public Bus: Grape St. & Pacific Hwy.
|WHAT||Arrivals on runway 27.|
|TIME||Late mornings or in the evening hours. During midday this spot isn’t really good due to heaty air.|
|MISC.||You find some motels and some stores (like Seven Eleven or Jack in the Box) nearby. Heat haze might be a big problem due to the busy “West Grape St” infront of you.|
|FOCAL LENGTH||300mm for B737, 200mm for B787|
|Spot #4 – Spanish Landing – 27 departures|
|WHERE||Drive from Photo-Point 1 on North Harbour Drive to direction Airport. After 3 km turn left to the Spanish Landing NTC and park your car. It´s a nice park directly at the water to relax under the trees or jump into the water from the very tiny “beach”.|
|WHAT||Takeoff shots from runway 27 only.|
|TIME||From Morning 10 to late afternoon. Due to the distance it is not the best place in the summer because of the heat distortion.|
|MISC.||Hotels and fast food restaurants are within your reach, just westwards of your location. No ladder needed|
|FOCAL LENGTH||From 330 mm to 600 mm (A330 340mm / E175 600mm)|