Hour to Kill: Santa Monica Airport

Have an hour to kill in Santa Monica? Take a seat along the tarmac and watch private jets come in for a landing on the observation deck SMO.
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You can't mention the Santa Monica Airport without bringing up a bit of controversy. To its neighbors, it's a noisy, dangerous nuisance. But for those of us who don't live underneath its flight path, SMO is an incredible place to celebrate LA's rich aviation lineage; it was the birthplace of the commercial airline-pioneering Douglas DC-3. Above all, its public observation deck is the best place to hear the roar of jet engines only feet from an active runway.

Good for: Reliving your childhood giddiness over planes taking off and landing.
If you're going to: SMO Antique Market, a fashion or food event at Barker Hangar 
For that moment when: You need a break from the 405/10 interchange traffic—or a unique place to eat your lunch.
In case you're hungry: Typhoon, Spitfire Grill, Vito
Getting there: From South Bundy Drive, turn west onto Airport Avenue and then right onto Donald Douglas Loop; park in the lot to the left. Alternatively, the 6, 14 and 44 lines on the Big Blue Bus stop just outside the airport entrance.
 
The observation deck at Santa Monica Airport (3223 Donald Douglas Loop South) doesn't have set hours, but you won't see any planes depart between 11pm and 7am on weekdays and 11pm and 8am on weekends.
Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Click through our slide show for photo highlights of the airport, plus how to find the free observation deck.
Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

As you approach the main entrance, the staircase to the observation deck is hidden underneath the tree to the right.

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Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

The observation deck is literally right on the runway. So behave.

Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Though technically an extra seating area for Typhoon, you can walk upstairs for a great vantage point, albeit sans shade.

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Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Feel free to creep on pilots as they prepare for departure.

Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Speaking of eavesdropping, you can listen to takeoff and landing radio chatter thanks to a few sets of speakers outside.

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Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Take advantage of the mounted telescopes if you want to track the planes more closely.

Santa Monica Airport observation deck.
Photograph: Michael Juliano

We're sure the pilots have a fantastic view, but we're pretty impressed from here on the ground.

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