Got a little airplane lover? You don’t need to spend money on tickets to an airplane museum. Here are five cool places across the country where you can watch planes take off and land—right above your heads—for free! Just pack a picnic and enjoy!
Gravelly Point Park, Arlington, VA: This gorgeous park on the Potomac River, just 400 feet from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s main runway, is one of the best places in the country to watch planes take off and land. You can see, hear, and feel the planes roar only 100 to 150 feet above you. During busy times, you may see 30 planes in an hour.The Northern Virginia Bike Path runs right through the park, and there’s a great view of the Washington skyline. Just be aware that the noise from the planes is deafening, so it may be scary for very small children! (George Washington Pkway., 22202)
Founders’ Plaza, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX: This observation area at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport offers magnificent views of many types of aircraft as they take off and land. The plaza also has picnic tables, telescopes, historic information, a monument, and a radio that broadcasts air traffic control communications from the FAA tower. Founders’ Plaza is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm. (1700 N. Airfield Dr., 75261)
Ron Gardner Aircraft Viewing Area, Fort Lauderdale, FL: This parking lot, located near the western end of the north runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, allows you to watch airplanes from the comfort of your vehicle. That makes it a good place to wait for a friend or relative’s plane to land. A set of speakers broadcasts a live audio signal from the control tower. The viewing area is open from 7 am to 11 pm. (W. Perimeter Rd. & SW 39th St., 33315)
In-N-Out Burger, Los Angeles, CA: This location of the famous burger chain is right next to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), making it a perfect first or last stop in the Los Angeles area. Not only are the burgers delicious, but you can snag an outdoor table and watch airplanes take off and land while you eat. If your kiddo wants to see more planes after you finish eating, you can head over to the small park across the street and stay as long as you’d like! My twin boys love coming here whenever we pick up or drop off visitors at LAX. This In-N-Out is open 10:30 am to 1 am Sunday-Thursday and 10:30 am to 1:30 am Friday and Saturday. (9149 S. Sepulveda Blvd., 90045)
Planeview Park, Queens, NY: This small park in northwest Queens is scruffy, but it offers incredible air shows whenever airplanes land at Runway 4 at LaGuardia Airport (weather permitting). You can experience planes roaring only about 100 feet overhead at two-minute intervals. As at Gravelly Point Park, the planes are loud, so keep that in mind if you have an easily frightened child! (23rd Ave. bet. 85th St. & Ditmars Blvd., 11369)
And if you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, both Smithsonian air and space museums are incredible—and free! The National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave. at 6th St., SW, 20560) on the National Mall has 23 galleries exhibiting hundreds of airplanes, spacecraft, missiles, rockets, and flight-related artifacts. You can see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module, and more. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (14390 Air and Space Museum Pkway., 20151) displays thousands more aviation and space artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Concorde, and the Boeing Stratoliner. Both museums are open 10 am to 5:30 pm daily, except Christmas Day.