You remember that feeling, don’t you? When you were a child, looking up to the sky and marveling as a plane roared overhead, shrinking into a silver speck before disappearing beyond the horizon. Or maybe you’ve experienced it as an adult, waiting in an airport lounge, spellbound by the sight of giant aircraft gracefully touching down.
If you’ve ever felt that fascination and wondered how you can recapture it, you’re in the right place.
Watching planes land can be a truly awe-inspiring experience, with the harmony of man-made technology and the natural forces of wind and gravity in full display. For those who can’t get enough of that thrill, or those new to this unique pastime, let’s venture into the world of plane spotting. With a bit of guidance, a dash of enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn, anyone can enjoy this unique hobby.
So, without further ado, here are the eight best places in the U.S. to watch planes land.
1. In N Out Burger Next to LAX (Runway 24R)
When you think of Los Angeles, you might picture movie stars, the Hollywood sign, palm-lined boulevards, and pristine beaches. But for aviation enthusiasts, one of the city’s main attractions is actually at its bustling airport. The Los Angeles International Airport, known colloquially as LAX, is one of the busiest airports in the world, making it an excellent spot for plane spotting. And the best part? One of the most popular viewing spots is conveniently located right next to a classic American fast-food chain, the In-N-Out Burger.
[Image: Lukas Souza]
2. Founders Plaza at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Our plane spotting journey across the U.S. brings us to the heart of Texas at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). One of the busiest airports in the world, DFW houses Founders Plaza, a plane spotting mecca that offers a clear, close view of the airport’s extensive operations.
Located on the north side of the airport, Founders Plaza is an observation area specifically designed for plane spotting. This public space is equipped with ample parking, picnic tables, telescopes, and a live feed of air traffic control communications, offering an immersive experience that allows you to see, hear, and feel the power of aviation.
The plaza overlooks DFW’s west-side runways, providing an unobstructed view of take-offs, landings, and ground operations.
[Image: Kenneth Holland]
3. Rooftop Pool Bar at John F. Kennedy International Airport
John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City is not only one of the busiest airports in the United States, but it is also a hub for unique and memorable experiences. One of these is plane spotting from the pool bar at the TWA Hotel, an experience that combines relaxation, stunning views, and a splash of luxury.
Location and Ambience
The TWA Hotel is a unique destination within JFK Airport. Resurrecting the iconic 1962 TWA Flight Center, the hotel pays homage to the golden age of air travel. Perched on the rooftop is the pool bar, known as the “Runway Chalet,” where guests can enjoy poolside cocktails while watching planes take off and land on JFK’s runways 4 and 22.
4. Bayfront Park Looking on to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Nestled along the airport’s northern boundary, Bayfront Park provides sweeping views of the airport’s runways and terminals, coupled with the picturesque backdrop of the San Francisco Bay.
One of the unique aspects of plane spotting at Bayfront Park is the variety of aircraft you can spot. From gigantic passenger planes like the Boeing 777 to cargo behemoths such as the FedEx MD-11, there’s never a dull moment.
5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Parking Garage)
Traveling into the heart of the Southwest, we land in Phoenix, Arizona. Home to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, one of the largest and busiest airports in the country, this desert metropolis offers an idyllic environment for plane spotting. With its clear skies and scenic backdrop, Sky Harbor serves up an aircraft viewing experience that is both exciting and unique.
The Phoenix Sky Harbor airport offers multiple locations for plane spotting, but a standout is the Terminals 3 and 4 parking garages, at the top. This is an unofficial designated area for plane spotting. And although busy, PHX sees small numbers of jumbo aircraft, such as the 747.
6. The Overlook at Charlotte Douglas Airport
As we journey to the vibrant city of Charlotte, North Carolina, we discover a premier plane spotting location at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Known simply as The Overlook, this spot has made a name for itself as one of the most accessible and well-designed plane spotting locations in the United States.
Location and Features
Situated on the airport’s west side, The Overlook provides an expansive view of the airport’s longest runway, 18R/36L, where the vast majority of the airport’s arrivals and departures occur. The viewing area is aptly named – it truly offers an ‘overlook’ of the airport’s operations, providing a clear, elevated view of planes as they take off and land.
The Overlook is a dedicated public park complete with ample parking, picnic tables, and informational signage about the types and models of aircraft you might see. With its family-friendly setup, it’s a fantastic spot for a picnic or a day out with the kids.
7. Watching the Skies at Ron Gardner Aircraft Observation Area – Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
A trip to the Sunshine State leads us to the Ron Gardner Aircraft Observation Area, a dedicated spot for plane spotting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL). Nestled near the southeast corner of the airport, this plane spotting haven provides an ideal vantage point to observe the captivating choreography of takeoffs and landings.
Named in honor of a local aviation enthusiast and airport employee, the Ron Gardner Aircraft Observation Area provides clear views of Runway 10L/28R, one of the main runways at FLL. The park is equipped with benches, informative plaques, and a speaker that broadcasts air traffic control communications, offering an immersive and educational plane spotting experience.
8. Exploring the Skies at Anchorage Ted Stevens Point Woronzof
Our final stop takes us to the northernmost part of the United States, to Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport is not just a gateway to the last frontier, but also a plane spotting paradise. With its unique geographical position, this airport attracts a wide array of both passenger and cargo aircraft. And where better to witness this lively aviation action than Point Woronzof?
Point Woronzof, located to the north of the airport along the coast, offers a spectacular vantage point for plane spotting. Overlooking the water with a stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it presents both a tranquil natural setting and an unrivaled view of the airport’s runways. The juxtaposition of the serene coastal landscape and the bustling airport operations makes plane spotting at Point Woronzof an unforgettable experience.
As we conclude this exciting journey through the skies, it’s clear that plane spotting is more than just a hobby – it’s an exploration of the awe-inspiring world of aviation. From grabbing a burger while watching planes at LAX, to lounging by the pool bar at JFK’s TWA Hotel, to the breathtaking natural views at Anchorage’s Point Woronzof, these locations across the U.S. offer unique experiences that go beyond merely observing aircraft.
Each spot provides an opportunity to appreciate the incredible ballet of aviation against diverse backdrops, while also offering educational insights into aircraft types, airline operations, and air traffic control. So, whether you’re an avid aviation enthusiast or a curious newcomer looking for an interesting way to spend a day, go ahead and explore these spots. You never know, you just might catch the aviation bug. As they say, the sky’s the limit.