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California Flying

Beach town - Santa Monica

"You'll never know how great a kiss can feel, when you stop at the top of a Ferris wheel, When I fell in love, down at Palisades Park." — Freddy Cannon The song Palisades Park by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon shot to the top of the charts in 1962. That Palisades Park was located in the towns of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee in New Jersey and it's long gone, replaced by a cluster of condos.

"You'll never know how great a kiss can feel, when you stop at the top of a Ferris wheel, When I fell in love, down at Palisades Park." — Freddy Cannon

The song Palisades Park by Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon shot to the top of the charts in 1962. That Palisades Park was located in the towns of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee in New Jersey and it's long gone, replaced by a cluster of condos. But there is a Palisades Park in Santa Monica, California, and it's only a hop, a skip, and a jump away from a big Ferris wheel. Of course, the California version is solar powered. It's located on the world-famous Santa Monica Pier, and the Santa Monica Municipal Airport is visible when you stop — kiss or no kiss — at the top.

Easygoing charm

There are many reasons for California pilots to be grateful for the existence of Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Nearby are world-class medical facilities, absolutely luxurious beachfront accommodations, and a wide variety of big-city attractions. But there's also the easygoing beachfront feel of Santa Monica itself.


Santa Monica is surrounded by the City of Los Angeles on the southern California coast. It is an 8.3-mile coastal community affectionately know as "SaMo" or "Dogtown" to local residents.

Those who don't often fly into the Los Angeles Basin may be a little apprehensive about making a trip to Santa Monica, but all these fears can be set aside — provided that infrequent visitors study the Los Angeles Terminal Area Chart and follow the hints in AOPA's Airport Directory, either the hardcopy or the online version. The Pilots Guide to California Airports, by Optima Publications, is another good resource that contains easy-to-follow directions and charts that are invaluable when first visiting a busy airport.

The Santa Monica airport is located on some extremely valuable real estate, and is completely surrounded by businesses, and homes both humble and grand, and as such is squarely in the sights of developers who see the land under the airport as a potential gold mine. In an effort to successfully coexist with neighbors, local businesses, and noise-sensitive locals while continuing to provide airport services, the airport management provides a pilot-outreach Web site for visiting pilots. There you'll also learn how to fly the airport's strictly enforced noise-abatement procedures.

There is a landing-fee program in effect at Santa Monica airport. Is it a big deal? Not really — but there is a caveat to understanding the charges. The published rate is $2.07 per 1,000 pounds of maximum gross landing weight (as published by the manufacturer) but all weights are automatically rounded up to the next 1,000 pounds. That's why my 2,550-pound airplane costs $6.21. Within a few minutes after landing I was tooling west under sunny skies toward the beach. I rented a car but was told that the best way to enjoy Santa Monica's attractions was to catch a cab to accommodations near the beach, and then walk, or rent a bicycle, or Rollerblade around because there is plenty to do within a people-powered radius of the beach.

The beaches

The wide, clean, and well-patrolled beaches of Santa Monica are located a couple of miles west of the airport. Abutting the Santa Monica Beach to the north is Will Rogers State Beach, where episodes of the television series Baywatch were filmed. To the south is the Venice Beach and Venice Pier.

Since typical Southern California weather patterns feature an onshore flow, Southern Californians flock to the beaches when the weather is hot. I visited in mid-February when the beaches seemed almost deserted, yet the outside air temperature was a balmy 68 degrees under crystal-blue skies. Santa Monica would provide a good escape from the depressing wintertime fog of California's central valley. Want to check the Santa Monica weather? Visit the Web site; there you'll find the Santa Monica Pier webcam. Pacific Park, the family amusement park located on the Santa Monica Pier, is admission-free and features rides such as the solar-powered Pacific Wheel, as well as the West Coaster, a sharp-turning roller coaster, and the Pacific Plunge. Just north of the pier is Santa Monica's Palisades Park, a 13-block-long green space. A meandering bike path winds its way along the beach.

The airport

The Santa Monica airport is not only an airport, but also its parking lots stand in as sites for ongoing outdoor antique markets, which take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the fourth and fifth Sundays of each month. The Typhoon and The Hump restaurants are located on the field in the terminal building on the northwest side (locals refer to it as the south side) of the airport. The Spitfire Grill also is located on the south side.

The Museum of Flying, located at the Santa Monica airport, is closed; reopening may take place in late 2007 or early 2008. The Santa Monica airport was the home of Douglas Aircraft Co. A recent acquisition of photographs of a Douglas World Cruiser airplane, which departed the airport — then called Clover Field — on March 17, 1924, for a round-the-world flight, is now on exhibit at the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum. Three hundred seventy-one flying hours later, the flight of two airplanes — one crashed in Alaska, and one capsized after a water landing — landed in Seattle, the official starting point, earning Douglas Aircraft the title of "First Around the World."

Unlike at many other airports, arriving pilots should be aware that it's entirely OK to get off the active runway by turning off at any point after rollout since the entire airport surface is paved. Dedicated turnoffs and taxiways A and B are marked by paint on the pavement surface. Santa Monica is a busy airport and the tower and ground controllers do a good job of accommodating both high-performance turbine airplanes and smaller singles.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Web site features a downloadable iToor MP3 file to help visitors identify and learn about local art and architecture. The site also has maps and lists local events.

The Third Street Promenade is an eclectic mix of shopping, movie screens, sidewalk-style restaurants, and street musicians that is traffic-free and located within easy walking distance of the pier. Montana Avenue is well known for its boutiques, as are the shops along Main Street south of the pier. The California Heritage Museum is housed in a beautiful home on the corner of Main Street and Ocean Park Boulevard and features American decorative and fine arts. The museum is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Whether it is for a stop at one of the airport restaurants, or to tie down for a few days as the family explores the easygoing charms of a unique California beach town, Santa Monica is a good destination for California fliers.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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