I have been around the San Francisco airport for a long time but first discovered a good plane spotting site at the “Lufthansa Airbus A380 Planespotting Party“. Because it was held at the Bayfront Park in Burlingame (see my post). I was driving and walking arround to find some more good spots to take pictures of the planes. There are not to many spots and no really official spot for planespotting. For taking pictures of the incoming planes go to Bayfront Park and along they Bay Trail south of Bayfront Park.
There is free parking limited to two hours. You can walk along the Bay Trail to find a good spot. If the small parking lot is full, you can check accross the street and take a small side street. During the week this streets are pretty packed. There is a parking lot right next door, but you have to pay for parking. Here you get a great view on incoming planes.
Holiday Inn Express San Francisco-Airport South
You can park behind the hotel and they have spots all the way at the waterfront. I discovered this place during my recent stay here. I recommend that you ask for permission. The front desk ladies are always very nice and you shouldn’t have any problems to get a permission. I saw a lot of Limos parking here throughout the day and the drivers just took a break or were waiting for the next call.
Milbrae BART Station
From the top of the Milbrae BART station parking garage you get a great view on the airport. From here you can get great pictures from the traffic on the airport, when the plans pull up to the terminals as well as incoming planes. If you drive here, get off on Milbrae Ave of 101 and drive up to the top of the parking garage. Parking is free here on saturday and sunday as well as during the week after 3PM. However during the week (before 3PM) it costs you 2 Dollar the whole day, but you can’t pay here until you get inside the paid area of the BART station. There is no gate at the parking garage, you can enter and leave any time. Even if you want to pay for parking you can’t. But you should be fine, as long as you don’t abandon your car.
San Bruno Ave
If you drive on 101 exit on San Bruno Ave and go west. Park somewhere at the residential area and you can walk across the bridge. Right after the bridge is a small green between San Bruno Ave and the 101 off-ramp. You also can use public transportation to get here. If you arrive at the airport or you take BART to the airport go to the arrivals hall and take the free shuttle bus to the Long Term Parking Garage. From here you can walk up to San Bruno Ave. From this site you have a great view onto the runway and all the heavy planes fly directly above you for taking off. This spot is best to capture take-offs. The heavy planes will fly low over you.
Long Term Parking Garage
You can either drive here and park at the garage, park at the residential area at San Bruno Ave. (see above) or you can take the free shuttle bus from the airport to this garage. Take the elevator or walk up the stairs to the seventh floor. Right after you exit the elevator go to the left and you see stairs going up. This stairs lead to the elevator equipment room, but it also gives you a great view onto the airport and runway. You are also covered here, if it starts raining. This is a pretty nice spot and you are not to close to the security cameras. If you want you can also go to the south-west corner of the parking garage, where you also get a great view but there is a security camera right in front of you. You will see what I mean once you get there. Here you get great shots of departing planes. I like this spot a bit better than San Bruno Ave, because you get a better view from the site and can get the tail fin better. Means you actually get to see the whole logo and name of the airlines on the side of the planes.
Cell Phone Waiting Lot
It’s pretty much the same view as from the San Bruno Ave spot but you can park here for a little while and as long as you don’t abandon your vehicle, you should be fine. The parking lot is in between San Bruno Ave and the Long Term Parking Garage. With your car you can directly drive there. Use the signs on the 101 freeway towards “Cell Phone Lot”. This are the best spots I know and where you shouldn’t get any problems for being there. Don’t park anywhere, where you are not allowed to. Police and security is tough around airports.
San Francisco Bay Trail – near SamTrans yard
There is a small parking spot which goes around a little island where the SamTrans yard is. From here you get a unique view of the planes when the fly over the United Airlines service hangars. The parking lot is right next to a homeless shelter, There are always some homeless people arround but I never had any problems with them. Most of them are very friendly. The parking is for free here and probably most people don’t even know about that spot. You also can take the Bay Trail around that little island and you get some nice views of the bay.
To get there exit Highway 101 at N. Access Rd and go east. After you get off the bridge you make a left at the second street, after you passed the parking garage on the left side of the street.
Coyote Point Yacht Club
Another spot, which I just discovered recently. From here you get a great view and possibilities to capture the incoming planes. You see them flying over San Mateo Bridge and over the Yacht Harbour to the Airport. Planes, especially the big once use strip 27L which brings them more or less directly over you if you walk out on the marina a little bit. This is a pretty nice spot, you can also watch wildlife and have a picnic. There are benches nearby. You definitely should come here, even if it’s just for a stroll.
You can park directly at the Yacht Club, but you have to pay there. Another approach would be walk there along the Bay Trail from either side. You can park at Harbor View Park on Monte Diablo Ave. There is plenty of parking available on the streets. From here walk along the Bay Trail and find yourself a good spot.