I have been around the San Francisco airport for a long time but first discovered a good plane spotting site during the “Lufthansa Airbus A380 Plane Spotting Party“. It was held at the Bayfront Park in Burlingame. I was driving and walking around to find some more good spots to take pictures of the planes. There are not too many spots and no really official spot for plane spotting. For taking pictures of the incoming planes go to Bayfront Park and along the 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 across the street and take a small side street. During the week these 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 of 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.
Millbrae BART Station
From the top of the Millbrae BART station parking garage, you get a great view of the airport. From here you can get great pictures of the traffic on the airport when the planes pull up to the terminals as well as incoming planes. If you drive here, get off on Millbrae 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 3 p.m. However during the week (before 3 p.m.) 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 anytime. 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 to San Bruno Ave and go west. Park somewhere at the residential area and from there you can walk across the bridge. Right after the bridge is a small field between San Bruno Ave and the 101 off-ramp. You can also use public transportation to get here. You can take BART to the airport and take the shuttle bus to Long Term Parking Garage. From here you can walk to San Bruno Ave. From this site, you have a great view onto the runway and all the big planes fly directly above you for taking off. This spot is best to capture take-offs.
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. These 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 in case it starts raining. If you want, you can also go to the south-west corner of the parking garage, where you also get a great view. Here you get great shots of departing planes. I like this spot a bit better than San Bruno Ave, because you get an angled view of the planes which allows you to frame them better.
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. Follow the signs for Cell Phone Waiting Area.
San Francisco Bay Trail – near SamTrans yard
There are a few public parking spots on the little island. The parking lot is right next to a homeless shelter. There are always some homeless people around 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. From here you get a unique view of the planes when the fly over the United Airlines service hangars. You can take the Bay Trail around this little island to get great views of the bay itself.
To get there exit Highway 101 at N. Access Rd and go east. After you get off the bridge take the second street to your left after you passed the parking garage.
Coyote Point Yacht Club
Another spot, which I just discovered recently. From here you get a good view and possibilities to capture the incoming planes. You see them flying over the San Mateo Bridge and over the Yacht Harbour towards the Airport. Planes, especially the big once use strip 28L which brings them more or less directly over you. 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 walking there by taking the Bay Trail from either side. You can park at Harbor View Park on Monte Diablo Ave. There is plenty of street parking available there. From there walk along the Bay Trail and find yourself a good spot.
These are the best spots I know and where you shouldn’t have any problems for being there. Don’t park anywhere, where you are not allowed to. Police are regularly patrolling the areas around the airport and security is always tight around an airport.