5 Southern California Airports

A380 Cruising Altitude


Santa Ana Airport, Orange County Airport, John Wayne Airport—all one and the same. This recently expanded (now the second-busiest in the Los Angeles area), but still very manageable, airport is our top choice for convenience, with several nonstop options to Chicago. Bonuses include the larger-than-life statue of John Wayne and the Lyon Air Museum across the runways. And anyone whose destination is Disneyland should consider flying into SNA instead of LAX.

There are aspects that some travelers would consider drawbacks. The runway is one of the shortest in the country, which can mean hard braking on landing. Noise abatement usually requires a full-power takeoff and steep climb so that power can be reduced dramatically relatively quickly. No departures or arrivals are allowed overnight, so delayed planes that don’t make the 11pm curfew are diverted to LAX, with passengers bussed back to SNA (or making their own, possibly more convenient arrangements). These potential drawbacks don’t dissuade us a bit from using this airport as our go-to.


Long Beach Airport is a fun combination of old-fashioned and recently remodeled (in 2012). Passengers walk out on the tarmac to board and deplane, and the baggage area is, though covered, outdoors. The 4th Street Vine Wine & Beer Bar is a sleek new addition, and parking is very close. Flight options are, as you’d expect, limited, but it’s quick and easy and great if Jet Blue works for you. Plus, you’ll recognize it from films like Iron Man and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

This airport is just 18 miles from LAX, so it’s a good alternative for more travelers than realize it. LGB is one of the busiest general aviation—charters, planes towing banners, private pilots, cargo, helicopters—in the world. Long Beach has some great attractions of its own, including the Queen Mary.


We generally avoid LAX–Los Angeles–because of traffic and parking (or shuttle) costs. That said, it’s definitely the way to go for any international travel (or travel from Southern California to Hawaii) because the nonstop options for Asian and European destinations are unparalleled west of the Mississippi. Also, the international terminal is swanky.


We flew out of San Diego from our recent writing residency for a one-day trip to Illinois, and the airport struck us as terrific. We imagine traffic getting there could be terrible at times, since the airport is situated near downtown and right on the water, not directly off the I-5, but we had no delays. The view was great, the terminal was clean and airy, and every step in the traveling process was quick. Visiting this airport made us want to get back to vibrant San Diego itself more often. In addition, there’s a train to Los Angeles so visitors to LA might consider flying into San Diego for bookend days there.


We’ve ended up in Ontario a couple of times, because connections were missed and we wanted to get as close to home as possible that same day. Ontario and Burbank (Bob Hope Airport) each have small airports that are alternatives for anyone flying into Southern California, especially on Southwest. Ontario is 38 miles from downtown Los Angeles and does a lot of cargo business in conjunction with the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, but Ontario isn’t much of a destination in and of itself, as might be Disneyland (SNA) or Long Beach. Still, this airport is easy to get in and out of and remains our backup.


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