San Diego International Airport (SAN/KSAN) has turned from a small local airport into a huge international hub. Downtown San Diego is 4.2 miles away from the airport, so it is about a 15-minute drive or roughly a one-hour walk. San Diego has airliners from all over the world that include Edelweiss, Condor, British Airways, and Japan Airlines. San Diego has roughly 500 flights daily. San Diego is a single runway airport (09/27), which gives you the ability to never miss an arrival or departure, making spotting very convenient. San Diego has a large Southwest Airlines presence and you can bet on seeing at least one Southwest special scheme throughout the day, every day. There are plenty of private jets coming into San Diego as well, along with a lot of wide variety cargo planes (FedEx, MD-10, 767 and 208B Super Cargomasters, 767’s from UPS, 767’s from DHL (Operated by Atlas Air) and on some rare occasions, 747’s from Atlas Air. Most of the following spots around the airport require a car and most of them are hard to spot at because you may be asked to leave. One final thing to note about KSAN is that the light there is tricky due to the fact that the runway runs east to west (09 and 27) and that’s how the sun moves, so top lit pictures are not uncommon.
Aladdin Airport Parking- Runway 27 Arrivals and Departures
This spot gives you a great view of arriving and departing traffic in and out of KSAN. Aladdin is best from sunrise to noon because after that the photos will be backlit. This is a parking garage and the safest way to not be asked to leave by staff is by parking your car up there during your spotting. I have walked in and never parked my car up there, but the 5 times I’ve gone up to the car park, I’ve been asked to leave twice. So go in at your own risk, but the view is hard to beat. For arrivals and departures, the preferred lens for airline traffic is a 70-200mm or a 100-400mm.
Official Spotting Place for Arrivals and Departures- Runway 27 Arrivals and Departures
This is the official viewing area for spotters and people that want to watch planes fly into KSAN. It’s a great spot for arrivals and taxiing traffic, but the sun is tricky here due to top lit conditions. You will need a ladder or a pick up truck for this spot, as the fence is very high to view the planes. Heat haze can also be problematic at this spot, with the best time for this spot from noon to sunset. The ideal time for good pictures with little heat haze is around 4-8 during summer. The best lens for this spot is a 100-400mm for all traffic and 70-200mm for big traffic.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Training Facility Parking Lot- Runway 27 Departures
This spot is good for 27 departures, especially heavy traffic. Smaller airline traffic is high and still good for pictures, but heavy traffic is perfect from this spot. It should be noted that at this location you might be asked to leave, as I am unsure if you are allowed to be here. When I went, nobody gave me a hard time about it. The best time for this spot is from noon to sunset. Best lens for all traffic is a 100-400mm.
Featured photo from Layoverhub writer Tyler Jablonski.