Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO)

SMO Airport Map

Click the map to go to Google Maps satellite view of this airport

LAX is not the only place in southern California to get your fix of watching planes. Just a few miles north sits the small Santa Monica Airport which serves general and business aviation. This is one of two airports in the greater Los Angeles area that cater to the region’s large business aviation clientele – the other one being Van Nuys Airport (VNY). This airport has just one runway and is typically very busy. The administration building, located on the south side of the field, has an outdoor observation deck that offers a closeup view on taxiing aircraft and a completely unobstructed view of the runway. The distance between you and the aircraft is well within the range of any moderate zoom lens and light for photography is best from fall to spring because of facing northwest from this spot. There are tables to sit at and its a great place to being a bag lunch (or buy food from the airport’s restaurant before 2:00pm) and watch planes. Just park in the parking lot and walk around to the back of the building. Very easy access and a closeup view make this a must-see for any aviation enthusiast while on a visit to southern California.

Here is a photo showing the view from the observation deck (click for a larger view):

The Santa Monica Airport was where Donald Douglas Sr. founded the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1921.  Douglas had a very large local workforce and produced aircraft here all the way until 1975 when they relocated to Long Beach.  Across the street from the administration building is the Museum of Flying, founded by Donald Douglas Jr.,  which has many artifacts and exhibits related to the history of the Douglas Aircraft Company.  Ever since the mid 1970s local leaders have been trying to close the airport.  The city signed an agreement in 2017 with the FAA to close the airport forever on December 31, 2028 and redevelop the land as a city park.  In order to immediately stop jet and charter traffic, they shortened the runway to 3,500 feet.  The only aircraft that can operate here now are small private prop planes.  If you’re in the LA area it is definitely worth stopping by before this airport closes.