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9 Best California Airports

9 Best California Airports

Make your travel to and from California a breeze by flying at one of these excellent California airports. Team


6 min read

May 21, 2019

Jet travel has long been a regular part of American life. Whether you’re going south of the border to a beachside resort, visiting your relatives in the Dakotas, or spending Christmas in Amsterdam, you’ll take a plane. Yet, despite how normalized flying is, many jet setters still dread going to the airport.  Between the long waits at security checkpoints, unexpected delays, outdated and overcrowded terminal facilities, and airplane food, flying isn’t always as glamorous as it may seem.

Fortunately, things have been improving nationwide. According to J.D. Power's North America Airport Satisfaction Study, passenger satisfaction reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021. This is because airports throughout the country have been continuously working on upgrading and improving their facilities over the last few years. While this can end up causing more delays in service, the overall impression of passengers surveyed has been increasingly positive as California’s airports have greatly improved their service, food, and retail options. So, without further ado, here are nine of the best California airports based on passenger satisfaction metrics.  

John Wayne Airport (SNA)

Take advantage of the short wait times at this small regional airport not far from the City of Angels.

Avg. TSA wait time: 17 minutes   

Because the state is so big, getting around California can be a challenge, so it’s a good idea to make things as convenient as possible for yourself. If you’re flying into Los Angeles but want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the very busy Los Angeles International (LAX), John Wayne Airport is your best bet. Although this California airport is not located in Los Angeles County but rather in neighboring Orange County, John Wayne Airport still serves the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, and most major U.S. airlines fly there. 

This airport is also closer to Disneyland Resort, so it’s a more convenient destination than LAX if your final destination is the happiest place on earth. The airport completed a $211.5 million renovation in 2011, inaugurating a massive new terminal complex that has been further improved in recent years.    

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Luxuriate in Sacramento International Airport’s airy terminal full of deluxe dining options and luxury shopping outlets.

Avg. TSA wait time: 17 minutes   

Serving as the main gateway to California’s iconic state capital, Sacramento International Airport is a major airport in California that is perfectly placed to serve a variety of important destinations. Aside from connecting Sacramento to all of California’s major cities, the airport also offers flights to major tourist attractions, including but not limited to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, and California’s Wine Country.

Sacramento International Airport is filled with various amenities to cater to all passengers, including various healthy dining options, duty-free clothing and electronics stores, and even a luxurious tasting lounge. This California airport is adorned with various distinct modernist and abstract artworks from local artists, adding a dash of local flair to the space. 

Ontario International Airport (ONT)

Get flying in no time thanks to the very short wait times at Ontario International Airport.

Avg. TSA wait time: 15 minutes

Although 38 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, Ontario International Airport is still popular for Angelinos hoping to catch a flight without going to LAX. It also serves the city of Ontario and nearby San Bernadino. Ontario Airport, California is one of the smaller airports serving LA, which is its biggest benefit. 

Since it is less busy than other airports in Southern California, this small international airport in California has less congestion. This means you’ll enjoy shorter lines and wait times at this California airport overall. As such, Ontario Airport, California is the perfect choice if you’d prefer a more laid-back small-city airport experience for your next jet journey.  

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Choose San Francisco International Airport, one of the best major airports in California, for your next international or transcontinental journey.

Avg. TSA wait time: ranges from 4 to 25 minutes. 

Coming in second place in California’s busiest airport rankings, San Francisco International Airport is just 13 miles south of downtown San Fran. This international airport in Northern California is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar renovation that has already significantly improved and expanded the airport with gleaming new modern facilities such as Harvey Milk Terminal 1. 

This massive airport features everything in the way of dining, from fast food chains to gourmet cuisine. The fashion-minded among you can shop from Gucci shops to SF souvenir kiosks. The airport is also well connected with mass transit as it is served by San Francisco’s BART system, Caltrain Commuter Rail, and multiple bus routes. 

Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)

Hollywood Burbank is the perfect small regional airport for those who want to skip the lines at LAX.

Avg. TSA wait time: ranges from 3 to 34 minutes. 

Also known as Bob Hope Airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport is similar to Ontario International Airport in that it serves the Los Angeles metropolitan area and handles a similar number of passengers annually. Although it is exclusively a regional airport, Hollywood Burbank Airport is the perfect place to fly out of if you plan to travel somewhere stateside, as it is relatively small, making for a stress-free and timely passenger experience. 

The airport is also pretty accessible thanks to multiple transit links, including a station on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner route, shuttle links with the LA Metro, the Metrolink commuter rail network, and both LA and Burbank bus services. The cozy little California airport is poised for significant modernization shortly, so it will only improve in the coming years. 

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San Diego International Airport (SAN)

This ultra-modern airport is only going to get better thanks to an ongoing expansion project.

Avg. TSA wait time: 31 minutes. 

Welcome to the busiest single-runway airport in Southern California and the entire world. Located just two and a half miles from downtown San Diego, this major airport in California serves one of the busiest airspaces in the country and offers destinations across the world from London to Tokyo. The airport is undergoing a major renovation with the construction of a brand new terminal one building, which has contributed to longer wait times. 

Nevertheless, these delays are temporary and the airport’s eco-friendly facilities offer a wide range of dining and duty-free shopping options for you to enjoy after getting through security. The airport also features exquisite art pieces that give the terminal a dash of color and pop. Transit lovers will be happy to know that San Diego International Airport can be reached via Amtrak’s Intercity line, COASTER commuter rail, and San Diego’s light rail network via shuttle. 

San Jose International Airport (SJC)

The modernized San Jose International Airport has been a hit with passengers thanks to efficient management and an abundance of high-end dining.

Avg. TSA wait time: ranges from 2 to 30 minutes. 

The second busiest airport serving the Bay Area is San Jose International Airport. Less than four miles from the skyscraper-studded skyline of downtown San Jose, SJC is a major regional hub offering destinations across the Westcoast and international destinations. Since 2009 San Jose California Airport has undergone significant expansion and modernization work. 

This combined with the airport’s efficient management, comfortable facilities, cleanliness, an abundance of shopping options, and quality restaurants all makes the airport an excellent alternative for the Bay Area. Unlike San Francisco International Airport, SJC, unfortunately, does not sport a direct link to the BART metro system, but fortunately, there is a free shuttle bus that connects to BART. 

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

Avoid the hustle and bustle of SFO by flying out of Oakland instead, a smaller airport that is easily accessible by BART rapid transit.

Avg. TSA wait time: 17 minutes. 

Oakland International Airport is the Bay Area’s third major airport. Apart from serving Oakland, it is also just 10 miles from San Francisco, making it a viable option for those hoping to catch a regional flight or perhaps take a trip to Latin America or the Azores. Unlike San Jose International, OAK is connected to BART thanks to its dedicated line, meaning that much of the Bay Area is just a swift train ride away. Because this is the least busy airport in the Bay Area, you can expect shorter wait times, making for a more serene experience.    

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

LAX is undergoing major renovations that promise to completely transform the airport.

Avg. TSA wait time: 14 minutes.

LAX is the most famous California airport on this list, although it has not always been viewed favorably in the past due to severe congestion, delays, and a lack of modern facilities. However, over the past decade, Los Angeles International Airport has been getting a multi-billion dollar renovation to bring LAX up to standard. 

This is a very thorough modernization project and it has already hugely improved the passenger experience at this major airport in Southern California, with one good example being the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Modernized in 2021, the new international terminal has optimized baggage handling, a revamped range of dining options, and an ultra-modern open-air design. 

Terminals one, two, three, seven, and eight at LAX are all getting major makeovers that should be complete in the next two years. As anyone who’s ever moved from NorCal to SoCal knows, things are pretty spread out down south and LAX is no exception. For this reason, one of the items in the modernization project is the construction of an automated people mover system linking all the terminals that will go into service later in 2023.     

Disclaimer: does not receive any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

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