If your child is always pointing out airplanes or helicopters, surprise them with a visit to a prime airplane-spotting destination. We rounded up 12 locations that will make plane-loving kids (and adults) squeal with joy while spotting aircraft on the ground or in the air. Many places are free and near other kid-friendly attractions to make for an easy add-on activity. So grab a hat or sunglasses, a jacket (these spots are windy!), and get ready to take off on a plane-spotting adventure!
Where to See Airplanes Take Off or Land
Buchanan Field Airport (Concord)
Buchanan Field Playground and Observation Area in Concord is a must-visit destination for little ones who are all about airplanes. It is a working airport where small planes and jets take off about every 8-10 minutes. Kids can also play pretend at the small playground equipped with an airplane that can fit 4 tots and a play structure that resembles a ticket counter, baggage claim, and control tower. There’s also a mini replica of Buchanan Field’s runways painted on the ground. Enjoy a snack while viewing the aircraft at the shaded picnic area. You’ll feel like a VIP with the access and proximity the observation area offers.
Location: 201 John Glenn Dr, Concord
Parking: Yes, plenty of spaces in the parking lot.
Fun nearby: Play at Matteo’s Dream Playground or The Veranda’s Vertical Playground.
Read our Buchanan Field Playground review >
Marina Park (San Leandro)
This waterfront park has sweeping views of the Bay, plus prime viewing for planes going in and out of OAK. Spot them from the paved paths—ideal for walking, biking, scooting, or pushing a stroller— or one of the two playgrounds at the park. Marina Park is a gem of a park and can’t be beat on a sunny day!
Location: 14001 Monarch Bay Dr, San Leandro
Parking: Yes, the park has several large parking lots.
Fun nearby: Try a game of FootGolf at adjacent Monarch Bay Golf Course, or go for a summertime swim at the Family Aquatic Center. Drake’s Dealership Barrel House is also just up the road.
Read our San Leandro Marina Park review >
Coyote Point (San Mateo)
Just south of SFO, Coyote Point is a beautiful park with some top-notch airplane viewing. Find a spot along the water for prime access; we like to go to benches behind CuriOdyssey Museum. You’ll see a mix of commercial and cargo airplanes, which are easy to spot but also quite loud. This destination is about 45-60 minutes from Oakland and is a fun add-on activity especially before heading into the museum for a visit.
Location: 1701 Coyote Point Dr, San Mateo
Cost: $6 per vehicle for parking
Parking: Yes, there are several large parking lots throughout the park.
Fun nearby: Explore science and visit wildlife at CuriOdyssey. Play at the huge, castle-and-dragon-themed Magic Mountain Playground.
Livermore Municipal Airport
Travel east to this newer airport for plane, jet, and helicopter sightings. Families can watch from the viewing platform, from the gate that borders the runway, or while enjoying a meal at Elevation LVK, located in the terminal. You’ll be wonderstruck by the access and proximity the observation areas offer. Depending on traffic, this airport is located about 50 minutes from Oakland. Keep little ones happy and visit when the restaurant is open for lunch or dinner Wednesday-Sunday.
Location: 680 Terminal Cir, Livermore
Parking: Yes, many spaces are available in the airport lot or along the street.
Fun nearby: Pair with an outing to a pumpkin patch and other fall activities in Livermore. Or after venturing to May Nissen Playground (it’s worth the drive).
Rotary PlayGarden (San Jose)
Planes headed for SJC fly overhead at Rotary PlayGarden. The inclusive, fully-enclosed playground is filled with slides, climbing features, swings, spinners, and nature-inspired sculptures. There are few tall trees or buildings nearby so kids can have a first-class view of the high-flying planes. Travel time to Rotary PlayGarden is well over an hour, but it’s worth a visit if you’re spending time in the South Bay. Be sure to check the playground’s hours or social media pages before you depart; it can close for extreme heat or wet weather.
Location: 438 Coleman Avenue, San Jose
Parking: Yes, parking lot near the Playground and throughout larger Guadalupe River Park & Gardens.
Fun nearby: Climb into an indoor tree house or splash in the water tables at San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum.
Where to See Planes On The Ground
Oakland Aviation Museum
Located next to OAK, families can both stand next to a plane and look up in the sky to see what’s just taken off. The museum is filled with various aircraft, flight simulators, and other special planes and replicas. Visit on an Open Cockpit Day to experience the planes even closer.
Location: 8252 Earhart Rd, Oakland
Cost: $10-$18 per person; children 4 and younger are free
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm
Fun nearby: Scooter, bike, walk, or search for fairy doors along Bay Farm Island Shoreline Trail in Alameda.
Read our review of Oakland Aviation Museum >
USS Hornet (Alameda)
Kids of all ages will love the huge aircraft carrier and its many cool airplanes on display. There are 15 airplanes on view across the Hangar Deck and Flight Deck, plus an Apollo 11 exhibit and many interesting artifacts. Check out specialty tours like one led by a veteran carrier pilot.
Location: 707 W Hornet Ave, Pier 3, Alameda
Cost: $10-$20 per person; children 6 and younger are free
Hours: Friday through Monday, 10 am to 5 pm
Fun nearby: Ride the zipline at Woodstock Park or learn about fish at Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium.
Read our review of visiting the USS Hornet with kids >
Hiller Aviation Museum (San Carlos)
Tour the museum which boasts over 50 aircraft. There are also STEM features like building with foam blocks in the Imagination Playground, exploring aerodynamics and engineering in the Innovation Lab, and experiencing a flight simulator. The museum also hosts food trucks and various special events, from a kids’ carnival to Santa visiting by helicopter.
Location: 601 Skyway Rd, San Carlos
Cost: $12-$19; children 4 and under are free
Hours: Daily, 10 am to 5 pm
Fun nearby: A Rockin’ Jump location is just across 101; read about why we love Rockin’ Jump for active kiddos.
Pacific Coast Air Museum (Santa Rosa)
Peer into cockpits and walk under the wings of the museum’s collection of airplanes and helicopters. Visitors will find a variety of aircraft used in WWII, 9/11 response, and more historic moments. Ride in the flight simulator or visit on an Open Cockpit Day to experience a pilot’s perspective.
Location: One Air Museum Way, Santa Rosa, CA
Cost: $5-$10 per person; children 5 and under are free
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm
Fun nearby: My kids had fun at Charles Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Home Ice, an indoor ice skating arena across the street from the museum.
Other destinations for Plane-Loving Kids
- Soar on the airplane play structure at Mia’s Dream Playground in Hayward.
- Ride the airplane ride at Pixieland in Concord or Sonoma Traintown.
- Pretend to be a pilot in the jet play structure at Larsen Playground in San Francisco.
Where does your family like to go plane-spotting? Tell us in the comments.