Spotting at SFO

Hello, IFC! I’m heading out to San Francisco soon for my March break. I’ll be there for 10 days, and will definitely go spotting at least once during that time. I’d like to know what you guys think the best spots are for spotting at SFO.

For reference, people have told me that the West Field parking garage is a good spot, although there is some chance of getting kicked out by security. If I choose to go here I’ll probably have to try to email security beforehand. Also I’m not sure as of yet if a 300mm lens will be enough from this spot.

I’ve also been considering the new SkyDeck, or whatever its called. I was pretty excited at the prospect of not getting chased by security when they opened this one, but apparently the glass is pretty dirty and its difficult to get good photos out of it. Also it may or may not be crowded, but I haven’t been there so I have no experience.

I don’t know of any other spots, so if anyone has any ideas about either those two, or any ideas for other spots that work, that’d be great. Thanks for reading. :)

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Another good spot is the Bayfront Park, which is designated for watching the airport. You can get good views of aircraft departing off of the 1’s and departing and arriving off the 28’s. The only downside is that it might be a little bit crowded, since it’s designated for spotting. I’m no expert though, since I’ve only been once. You should ask @ran.

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300 is plenty for Westfield but didn’t SFO security say you weren’t allowed to be there anymore? I wouldn’t email them to tell them you’re there. Just like find a parking spot on the runway side of the garage and roll down your car window to spot, won’t draw too much attention. I’m not an SFO spotter so I can’t confirm this info but just my two cents.

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Slight problem with that is the fact that I won’t have a car since my brother (who lives there) commutes to work in other ways, and renting a car just to go spotting seems somewhat overkill. I guess I’ll just have to settle for either Bayfront or the Skydeck thing, unless someone suggests something different.

Bayfront you need at least 400mm and/or a 300mm that is strong at the 300 mark and probably a tripod too if your hands aren’t the most stable.

Also looking at the SFO spotter guide they said you might wanna contact security before Westfield but I don’t know if that was before or after Skydeck

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Alright, thanks. If you know any SFO spotters (preferably ones that have a good eye for quality photos, i.e. people who post stuff on jetphotos, or just have quality photos, etc) that have been to the skydeck, could you you tag them? I want to know their opinions on how dirty the glass actually is at the skydeck, and if it is actually possible to get good photos through the glass.

Ask AviationPhan on Insta

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Lmao his bio says “don’t ask spotting locations at SFO”. Oh well. Guess I’ll have to wait for someone to hopefully reply here.

I’ve spotted at SFO. Westfield was easily the best spot, but they no longer approve access there, so don’t go.

The SkyDeck and AirTrain stops and their connected parking garages are pretty good as well.

You can get everywhere via AirTrain and walking, unless you want a landing spot like Bayfront, Coyote Point, or Fisherman’s Wharf.

Connected spots are fine with a 300mm lens, but you may want more for the landing spots (the ones you need to drive to). Hope this was helpful and not confusing 😂

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There’s a new pre-security observation deck but idk if u are allowed to spot there

Aww! Wish you could’ve flown to San Jose

Maybe if you can, you could stop by SJC and spot there as well! 😃

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With a 300mm lense, bayfront park will give you really good pictures! Just be careful for the wind. It’s kinda windy in SFO.

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I might try! Due to all of the COVID-19-related shenanigans and a bunch of stuff closing, I might just have more free time to explore the south bay than I thought. I was hoping to also possibly spot at Moffett field, but I’m not sure if I’m a) allowed and if b) there are any actually good spots to spot at/if there is any interesting traffic. Maybe you could fill me in?

Thanks so much for the reply, Cameron. I’ll keep the AirTrain stops in mind, I hadn’t thought of that. I was hoping to get similar shots to yours from SFO, but I guess that sadly won’t happen. I’ll see what I can do through the glass at the Skydeck and also any of the AirTrain stops now.

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Not much traffic at NUQ but yeah explore the South Bay! If possible, fly to SJC instead! (Please) 😃

Like if you are really going to be in the South Bay, if possible (hopefully hopefully), switch to SJC 😃

The AirTrain (T-2 stop, I believe, I can double check to be certain) provides a nice but brief view of departing 28’s. The 1’s are essentially unphotographable (luckily a majority of the heavies don’t utilize the 1’s!), but the same stop can provide some views of their take-off roll along with distant views of 28 arrivals. (600mm wasn’t enough for 28 arrivals at that location).

As it was previously mentioned, Westfield is now off-limits per an e-mail I got a few weeks ago.

The SkyTerrace provides the same views for 28 departures as that AirTrain station does, along with some ramp views.

International/Garage G exit, and go upstairs provides limited views of some of the international ramps.

Other than those locations, your best bet would be to be at the Bayfront/Coyote Point park for the arrivals. You can get 28 departures taxiing, lining up, and beginning their take-off roll from Coyote, also. (no photos, it was dark)

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Thanks for the detailed reply! I’ll be sure to check those out.

Do not attempt to visit the Westfield Garage until you have permission, and you can email marcom@flysfo.com I believe to get this permission. They stopped giving this out once the skydeck came though, and the Westfield garage is closed to spotting now 😬


Right now, skydeck is probably the best place to visit for spotting, but if you have one, take a rubber lens hood! Those will help with the reflections.

The best of time of day to go is either between 10:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. to see the heavy traffic headed to Asia, or between around 3:00 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. (sunset), to see the European bank. Not all heavies go to the 28s so you may not be able to see all of them, but it is pretty nice since you see 747s and A380s, along with a lot of 787s. Every Hawaii-bound flight (except Hawaiian Airlines) will also depart the 28s, even if they’re not a heavy.

Some of the glass is dirty at the skydeck, but there are quite a few panels so you should be able to find one that’s clear. There is also a small security check where you walk through a kind of metal detector, and then they will also check your bag if you have one.

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