Staff Writer Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
With so much to see and so many distinct travel destinations spread throughout the state, it makes sense that California’s airports are top-notch. But contrary to popular belief, not all of the state’s airports are bustling centers where it takes half an hour to get from one side to the other. Instead, there’s an airport for every mood, need, and preference, so you don’t have to stress about missing your flight—unless you’re looking for that kind of adrenaline rush.
Since the Golden State is home to hundreds of airports, you’re sure to find your ideal airport where you can learn how to fly, travel internationally, or conveniently skip out on crowds at California’s tiny locales (such as Redding’s airport in the Shasta-Cascade or the Arcata airport in Northern California’s Humboldt County). But when it comes to flying commercially within the state, country, or around the globe, you just can’t beat these airports.
A few of the state’s international airports are perhaps some of the best known around the world—but many others have been able to fly under the radar. These little-known gems and ultra-popular airports can get you where you need to go, so get ready to pack your bags and start planning all of your future vacations.
Airport code: LAX
City: Los Angeles
LAX is one of the most infamous airports in Los Angeles (and beyond). While you’re likely to face traffic on your way to and from this iconic airport, it’s one of SoCal’s best portals for traveling around the world. LAX is also one of California’s largest airports, so you’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time to get through security and find your gate—you don’t want to find yourself running around the terminal and missing your flight.
Airport code: FAT
Fresno’s airport is the perfect starting point for a trip to Yosemite or Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Unlike most other international airports, this one is refreshingly small, making it easier than ever to get around.
Airport code: OAK
While visiting an airport in Oakland, California, might not immediately make your to-do list, Oakland International Airport (OAK) is easily one of our favorite airports in the Bay Area. With a more intimate feel than SFO, this place makes flying much less stressful. Plus, OAK is situated along the BART line, so you don’t have to deal with traffic or parking if you don’t want to.
Airport code: ONT
At first glance, you might think this airport is in Canada, but this Southern California hub is actually close to the San Gabriel Mountains, the summit of Mount Baldy, and the cities on the edge of Los Angeles County (including Claremont). As a medium-sized airport, this locale gives travelers the opportunity to relax instead of fighting their way through L.A. traffic to get to LAX.
Airport code: PSP
City: Palm Springs
Located near a variety of incredible golf courses, resorts, and destinations, this airport is a convenient way to travel in style. Whether you’re looking to hit a few rounds on the greens or to spend your days lounging by the hotel pool and shopping at the one-of-a-kind boutiques, it’s easy to fall in love with Palm Springs.
Airport code: SFO
City: San Francisco
SFO is one of California’s most popular airports thanks to its gargantuan size and plethora of travel opportunities. If you’re looking to explore the city of San Francisco or the surrounding regions such as Sausalito, Half Moon Bay, or Point Reyes, SFO is the airport for you.
Airport code: SJC
City: San Jose
San Jose International is a great alternative to SFO, especially if you’re interested in exploring the South Bay. Located just 30 minutes south of SFO, the San Jose, California, airport is a slightly smaller venue that feels much less intimidating. With easier navigation and plenty of parking, this airport will set your mind at ease so you can enter vacation mode as soon as you step inside.
Airport code: SMF
Nestled along the Sacramento River, not far from town, this Sacramento, California, airport is a convenient way to get out of town. If you’re flying in for a weekend getaway, make sure to see all of Sacramento’s best sights, but if you’re planning a longer escape, rent a car and visit the quaint Gold Rush towns to the east. Sacramento International Airport is also California’s closest major airport to Lake Tahoe, so drive two hours northeast toward the Nevada border for a vacation like no other.
Airport code: SBD
City: San Bernardino
Tucked near the San Bernardino National Forest, this airport is one of the most underrated. As one of only a few small international airports in the Golden State, this spot lets you jet-set without the crowds. Rent a car once you land, and drive 25 miles up to Lake Arrowhead for an adventure that will stay with you long after your vacation has ended.
Airport code: SAN
City: San Diego
As far as airports go, San Diego International is one of the most conveniently located. Disembark from the plane, and hop in a car for a three-mile excursion to Balboa Park, where you can experience art galleries, the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and so much more. Then, take a short drive over the bridge to Coronado for some family-friendly fun.
Airport code: STS
City: Santa Rosa
Airport code: BUR
Close to: Universal Studios Hollywood and Griffith Observatory
Airport code: SNA
City: Santa Ana
Close to: Disneyland
Airport code: LGB
City: Long Beach
Airport code: BFL
Airport code: MRY
Close to: The Central Coast’s surf spots
Airport code: SBP
City: San Luis Obispo
Airport code: SBA
City: Santa Barbara
Close to: Ventura and the Los Padres National Forest
Airport code: SCK
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