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Pilot Getaways: The town time forgotPilot Getaways: The town time forgot

Santa Paula, CaliforniaSanta Paula, California

Editor's note: To give you some ideas for airports to visit when you attend the AOPA Fly-In at Chino, California, on Sept. 20, we asked the GA travel experts at Pilot Getaways to share some of their favorite nearby fly-out destinations. This article originally appeared in the Pilot Getaways magazine. Want more? We've secured exclusive AOPA member-only discount pricing for a subscription.
  • Pete Mason brings his wife Rowena’s Stearman in for a sunset landing. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • The rustic Santa Paula Airport office sits beside the runway and the small park, where visitors and enthusiasts can sit and chat while watching the airplanes flying. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • Young visitor Isabella makes herself comfortable on a vintage tractor at the Museum of Ventura County’s Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula, which includes an extensive collection of vintage tractors and farm implements, rare historic photos, interative exhibits and even its own working beehive! Photo courtesy Museum of Ventura County.
  • The first blimp to visit Santa Paula was back in 1930 on the day of the airport’s dedication.On a quiet Sunday afternoon 71 years later, the MetLife blimp performed a low pass on Runway 22, passing by a vintage yellow Stearman and the many other planes at the Santa Paula Airport. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • September’s annual Moonlight at the Ranch is a premiere event with gourmet food, wine tasting, and live entertainment. Frankie Avalon performed in 2011. Photo courtesy Moonlight Committee.
  • Santa Paula Airport has long been a home to vintage aircraft. Today there are three Howard DGA’s based here. A bevy of them flew in for the 2008 Howard Fly In. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • It’s all things British for Dave Watson at his hangar: His Austin Healey, Gypsy Moth, Tiger Moth, and another Tiger Moth under restoration are on display as part of the “First Sunday” Chain of Hangars. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • The California Oil Museum chronicles the history of oil exploration in the area. Photo courtesy California Oil Museum.
  • California Oil Museum’s Rig Room with functioning cable-tool oil drilling rig dating to 1900. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • The Santa Paula Art Museum occupies the historic 1920s Limoneira Bulding, just a 15-minute walk from the Santa Paula Airport. Next door is the Oil Museum and a block away is the vintage train depot and the Agriculture Musuem. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • Interior of the Santa Paula Art Museum, a short walk from the airport. Photo by Craig Mailloux.
  • The Ventura Ranch KOA offers “glamour” tents surrounded by forest. Photo by Scott Cory.
  • The Ventura Ranch KOA offers luxurious wood lodges surrounded by forest. Photo by Scott Cory.

Subscribe to Pilot Getaways at a special AOPA members-only rate.As you fly in to Santa Paula, you’ll see rolling hills and valleys, mostly covered in citrus and avocado orchards, like the California of old. The airport evokes an old-time airfield, complete with antique airplanes dating back almost a century. Just two blocks away, tiny downtown is replete with buildings erected a century ago, now restored and protected as landmarks. Santa Paula’s museums take you back to the rise of California’s amazingly productive agriculture and back to when oil was first discovered here, powering the local economy and spurring the era of the automobile.

Specialized instructors at Santa Paula’s CP Aviation can teach you aerobatics and emergency maneuvers. Here, Rich Stowell performs aerobatics in a Decathlon. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Santa Paulans are actually proud of their airport; such community pride in an airport is rare these days. A monthly old-fashioned fly-in features antique airplanes and cars and provides an opportunity to meet other pilots, or you can fly in any time for a good meal at the airport restaurant. Santa Paula Airport is also home to CP Aviation, where you can take an aerobatic flight, learn aerobatics, or complete their revolutionary Emergency Maneuver Training to acquire skills that could save your life should you ever encounter an unexpected upset.

Flying There

Santa Paula is 44 nm northwest of downtown Los Angeles in a valley about 12 nm inland from the coast—far enough to keep the marine layer from reaching it most of the time. The valley funnels cool ocean air to the hotter inland valleys, creating a pleasant, ground-level breeze that can create bumps or wind shear in the pattern. Winds can be gusty, especially during Santa Ana conditions that sometimes occur in late fall and winter.

Aerial view facing north of Santa Paula Airport (SZP). Photo by David Byrne /

Although the airport is uncontrolled, approaches route through pretty busy airspace. Burbank Airport’s (BUR) Class C starts 25 nm to the east-southeast. In addition, the Los Angeles Basin has several towered airports, including Van Nuys (VNY), one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world. Flight-following is highly recommended for transitions and advisories. The Fillmore VOR (FIM 112.5 MHz), 9 nm east of the airport serves as a useful waypoint and provides a clear path through the valley. Along Highway 126 to the northeast, Magic Mountain (depicted as “Amusement Park VPLMM”), Lake Piru, and the city of Fillmore are common reporting points shown on the Los Angeles Terminal Area Chart (TAC); report north or south of the highway.

Los Angeles International’s (LAX) Class B begins 22 nm southeast of Santa Paula. The Los Angeles Special Flight Rules Area allows VFR pilots to follow the coastline and fly over LAX without a Class B clearance; procedures are depicted on a side panel of the Los Angeles TAC.

Due to rugged terrain with peaks near 9,000 feet MSL, most arrivals from the north divert either to the east via the Gorman VOR (GMN 116.1 MHz), Interstate 5, and Highway 126, or to the west via Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) and the coastline. If you do fly directly over the mountains, you are requested to maintain at least 9,000 feet MSL to avoid disturbing the endangered birds in several California Condor Sanctuaries.

As you approach the airport, be aware of an aerobatic practice area, 1,500–5,500 feet MSL, 3 nm east of the airport. Monitor 122.75 MHz for aerobatic activity. Noise-abatement procedures are in effect, and straight-ins are not allowed. Unless offshore Santa Ana winds are present, Runway 22 is normally in use.

The pattern is unusual; see the diagrams at Due to a ridge south of the airport, it is not possible to fly a normal 45-degree pattern entry. From the east, enter left traffic to Runway 22 on the upwind leg, north of the final approach path and the airport. Maintain 1,500 feet MSL over the city, and then turn crosswind past the K-Mart and sewer farm (identifiable by circular pools). Do not turn crosswind early, to avoid overflying a noise-sensitive mobile home park off Runway 22. On crosswind, you can start your descent to the traffic pattern altitude of 850 feet MSL, which is only 600 feet AGL. See-and-avoid procedures are essential at any uncontrolled airfield; be especially vigilant for traffic entering on a long downwind from the west when you turn crosswind-to-downwind, as well as NORDO operations in the pattern (e.g. antique airplanes without radio.) Abeam the threshold on downwind, you’ll be looking at a ridge straight ahead. It’s better to fly past the ridge before you begin your descent so you can fly a square pattern. If you descend early, you’ll have to turn left to avoid the ridge, and then make a nearly 180-degree turn from downwind directly to final. In the rare cases when Runway 4 is in use, also fly an upwind over the city at 1,500 feet and fly a right pattern.

Exercise special caution on “First Sundays” (see What to Do) when many aircraft fly in. Transient parking is just east of midfield. Self-serve fuel is nearby; many pilots stop here just for the (comparatively) low-priced fuel. Full-serve fuel is also available 9 a.m.–6 p.m., 805-415-0223.

On departure from Runway 22, turn left 10 degrees to avoid the mobile home park. If you’re flying north- or westbound, climb to 1,500 feet before turning. Otherwise, turn crosswind early to avoid the mobile home park; look out for traffic entering the pattern on a long downwind and flying a crosswind entry.


The Chumash villages of Srswa and Mupu were here in the 19th century. In 1840, the land was given away as a Spanish land grant to Rancho Santa Paula and Saticoy. Twenty years later, the ranchos were subdivided into farms. In 1880, oil was discovered in Santa Paula. California’s first gusher blew here in 1888 and Union Oil Company was formed two years later. In 1893, the Limoneira Company was founded and helped lay the foundations of a thriving citrus industry. Lemons, Valencia oranges, and walnuts were the main crops. Limoneira’s general manager went on to found Diamond Walnut and become chairman of Sunkist.

Santa Paula was incorporated in 1902 and became something of a pre-Hollywood film capital. Tragedy struck in 1928 when William Mulholland’s St. Francis Dam collapsed upstream from Santa Paula. Water and debris plowed through the valley to the ocean, killing about 450 people. The following year, a local pilot raised funds to build an airport beside the Santa Clara River. In 2005, swollen from winter storms, the river undercut its banks, causing part of the airport to collapse into the water. A shorter, temporary-use runway was angled inland and closed to all but local traffic. Pilots, city leaders, government officials, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service worked to implement a recovery program. After a massive backfill project, the airport restoration was completed in December 2006.

Many film stars have resided in Santa Paula, the most famous being Steve McQueen, who kept his airplane here. Of the current population of 30,000, nearly 80 percent are Latino and work in the agricultural industry. The city is a major U.S. distribution point for citrus as well as the production and processing of avocadoes.

What to Do

There are hundreds of flight schools across the country, but few are like CP Aviation, known nationwide for its training programs. CP Aviation was started by Clay Phelps in 1987 and celebrated its 25th anniversary on Feb. 1, 2012. Clay runs the maintenance department, and his wife Judy manages the flight school. Judy Phelps is a three-time Master CFI-Aerobatic; she won the 2011 National CFI of the Year Award, and was also named the 2011 FAA Western Pacific Region CFI of the Year.

Dave Watson flies a Gipsy Moth in formation with Pat Quinn in a Tiger Moth near Santa Paula Airport. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Should you ever encounter wake turbulence, unexpected wind shear, spatial disorientation, a mountain rotor, or otherwise face a sudden upset, Emergency Maneuver Training (EMT) could save your life. The complete EMT program is organized into three modules that take two days each to complete. The first two modules cover stall/spin awareness and in-flight emergencies. The third module is aerobatic training. Most students opt for Modules 1 and 2 only. A detailed list of maneuvers covered in each lesson is shown at EMT flights take place in a CP Aviation Citabria or Decathlon; your cost will be the instructor’s time plus the aircraft rental. Most pilots complete Module 1 for $750, Module 2 for $800, and Module 3 for $1,000. Aerobatic training is also available in these aircraft, as well as in a Pitts S2B.

Their tailwheel transition program imparts skills you can use even if you only fly nosewheel aircraft. Learning to fly a taildragger increases your rudder skills because you cannot properly take off or land with sloppy rudder technique.

The airport is non-towered so you rarely have to wait for takeoff, and the practice area is only three miles away, so you don’t waste time getting there. CP Aviation also offers 30-minute aerobatic rides in a Super Decathlon for $145 or $180 in Judy Phelps’ Pitts. A Skycatcher is also available for training, open daily 8 a.m.–dark, 830 E. Santa Maria St. Suite 301, 805-525-2138.

Santa Paula hosts a popular airport open house and fly-in on the first Sunday of every month, weather permitting. Hangars No. 1 through No. 9, called the “Chain of Hangars,” constitute the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula. Hangar No. 1 has exhibits that relate the history of the airport from 1927 through 1930. The other eight hangars contain their owners’ personal collections. On “First Sunday,” any open hangar is fair game: just walk in and look around. The airport is home to a number of antique aircraft, and several owners have restoration projects going. You’ll also find unique car collections, collectible motorcycles, and interesting memorabilia. In California, aircraft over 35 years old can qualify for a property tax waiver, providing they are publicly displayed at least 12 times per year. On First Sundays, aircraft from all over the Southwest fly in to be displayed along the runway. A variety of cars show up as well; you might see hot rods, Morgans, Woodies, or Porsche Club cars parked along the taxiways. Usually about 40 planes fly in, free, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

Visitors trace Ventura County’s development into one of the nation’s most productive growing regions from the Mission era to the present at the new Agriculture Museum. Exhibits include rare historical photographs and a nationally recognized collection of farm implements. Children can climb on eight vintage tractors scattered throughout the building. Check out the working beehive and learn about insect pollinators and pests. The museum is housed in the landmark 1888 Mill building next to the railroad tracks, admission $1–$5, free first Sunday of the month, open Wed–Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m., 926 Railroad Ave., 805-525-3100.

The California Oil Museum tells the story of the wildcatters who struck it rich and the techniques they pioneered here. It also explains how prehistoric Indians used natural oil seeps. You’ll see a working miniature drill rig and a huge collection of gas station memorabilia. The second story has been restored to its original appearance as the headquarters of Union Oil Company. The entire 1890 building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, admission $1–$4, Wed–Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m., 1001 E. Main St., 805-933-0076.

Viewing some of the paintings at the Santa Paula Art Museum. Photo courtesy Santa Paula Art Museum.

Next door to the Oil Museum, the Santa Paula Art Museum occupies the first floor of the historic Limoneira Building. The recently restored structure was designed in the early 1920s by local architect Roy Wilson, Sr. Walk through the triple-arch entrance to an interior accented by soaring windows, fine wood paneling, and a beautiful atrium. Beginning in 1937, local artists persuaded the city to hold an annual art show. Each year, the winning artwork was purchased and now they are displayed in the museum. Most focus on Santa Paula’s pastoral landscapes and cultural activities, admission $3–$4, free to students and to all on the first Wednesday of the month, Wed–Sat 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun noon–4 p.m., 117 N. 10th St., 805-525-5554.

As you walk downtown, you can see nine large murals on building walls celebrating Santa Paula culture; one honors local aviation. For a map and photos, visit For Santa Paula visitor information, go to

Dinner, wine and beer tasting, casino games, and a silent auction are just a few of the attractions at the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula’s annual Wine, Wings, and Winnings event. Play blackjack, roulette, or craps right at the airport, check out the Ferraris and other fine cars, and visit with other pilots. Auction items include training with Judy Phelps or Rich Stowell, biplane rides, Lightspeed headsets, Mexico and Hawaii resort vacations, and more than 75 other specialty items. The event is held in May, 6–10 p.m., tickets $40, $50 at the door, 805-525-1109.

An early morning mass ascension during the Citrus Classic Balloon Festival, which takes place about a mile from the Santa Paula Airport in late July. Photo by Craig Mailloux.

Spectacular 6:30 a.m. mass ascensions and 8 p.m. balloon glows set among citrus and avocado groves take place every July during the annual Citrus Classic Balloon Festival. Visitors can meet balloon pilots, taste beer and wine, browse art and craft vendors, or see the car show. A kid’s discovery fest until 4 p.m. features interactive agriculture and balloon exhibits, adult/kid combo ticket $5. Look for vintage Indian motorcycles, vintage tractors, inflatables, family rides, and skydivers and an aerobatic show on Saturday. The Friday Sunset Wine Dinne begins with live music at 5 p.m.; start with a gourmet salad and then enjoy three glasses of wine and an entrée like grilled tri-tip, chicken, or pasta, followed by dessert and limoncello tasting. Wrap up your evening with the balloon glow, dinner tickets, $65. The Balloon Festival runs 6:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m., tickets $5–$15, free shuttle pickup one block from airport at Mill St. and E. Ventura St., festival at 18249 E. Telegraph Rd., 805-525-2057.

For the last seven years, the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce has transported the Limoneira Ranch back in time—and even out of this world—through their Moonlight at the Ranch event. “Moonlight” is a themed community celebration that supports the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation and attracts hundreds of attendees each year. In 2011, the 1950s-themed “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” featured a performance from honorary chairman Frankie Avalon, and 2009’s classic sci-fi influenced “Out of this World!” included an appearance from astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Guests dress to fit the theme while dancing to live music and tasting the best from dozens of restaurants. Moonlight at the Ranch VIII: “Polynesian Paradise!” will take place on Sept. 20, 2014, tickets $65, 1141 Cummings Rd., five miles from the airport, 805-525-5561.

Where to Stay

If you plan to visit during a festival, book accommodations well in advance. Santa Paula has two inns within walking distance of the airport. For something different, try the surprisingly deluxe KOA campground.

The Tudor-Craftsman style Glen Tavern Inn was built in 1911 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. During Santa Paula’s “Hollywood” era, stars like Carole Lombard, Harry Houdini, and John Wayne stayed here. You can bring Fido (under 35 lbs); the pet package includes pet treats, bowls, and a map of nearby pet-friendly parks. Standard rooms feature Wi-Fi, coffee makers, refrigerators upon request, and cable TV, or upgrade to a Jacuzzi room or suite. Free continental breakfast is offered Sat & Sun at 8:30 a.m.; Enzo’s Italian Restaurant is on site for romantic dinners. Rooms cost $89–$129, pets $10 each per night, 134 N. Mill St., 805-933-5550.

The 14-room Santa Paula Inn dates to 1912 and exudes the feel of historic Spanish California. It was thoroughly renovated in 2002 into a comfortable bed and breakfast. The lobby has a cozy fireplace and chairs, or you can take advantage of the mild climate on the outside patio, surrounded by flowers and trees. Choose a traditionally furnished queen, king, or double queen room, or a suite with patio or kitchenette; rooms have Wi-Fi access. The continental breakfast includes coffee, juices, fresh local fruits and breads, bagels, and cereals, served 8–10 a.m., rooms $79–$139, pets $20 each, 111 N. 8th St., 805-933-0011.

The Ventura Ranch KOA has a climbing wall and giant inflatable jumping pillow, as well as a zipline. Photo by Scott Cory.

Four miles north of the airport, the Ventura Ranch KOA is more like a resort than a campground. Nestled in 76 forested acres along Santa Paula Creek, the facilities reflect owner Scott Cory’s $1.4 million investment. You’ll find an 1,400-foot zipline for $15–$25 a ride. For $10, you can use a 25-foot climbing wall and a 30-by-60-foot inflatable jumping pillow all day. KOA continues to improve its amenities; it opened a swimming pool in August and tree houses are planned for the future. For now, you can enjoy a fully furnished wood lodge with linens, towels, private bath, full-sized appliances, 38-inch flat-screen TV, DVD, central heat/air, and deck; the lodge houses up to six people, $139–$239. Sites have outdoor seating, fire rings and BBQ grills (primitive tent sites have no grill), water, restroom, and shower access. Glamour tents with linens are like you get on an ultra-deluxe safari, $139. Or try the teepees with queen and twin mattresses on frames and chairs, but no electricity. Bring bedding and camping supplies; the $39 glamour package adds linens, blankets, and fur throws, $79–$99. Large, primitive tent sites are $38, 7400 Pine Grove Rd., 805-933-3200.

Where to Eat

Garman’s Irish Pub is like you have dropped a piece of Ireland into the Southwest. The century-old, impressive dark wood bar looks straight out of the Old West. Restored pool tables and darts invite you to hang out after your meal, and some weekends feature live entertainment. The Gauntlet menu is a Guinness and beer of your choice; start with the traditional Black & Tan (Guinness and Bass Ale), or peruse the large selection of Irish whiskeys. Irish Tacos come with corned beef, cabbage, and a cilantro dipping sauce, $9. Boxtys are potato pancakes served crepe-style with fillings like smoked salmon and dill or roasted chicken with sharp cheddar and rosemary sauce, $14. Fish and chips come with fries or thick, homemade potato chips, $13. The Black & Tan Onion Rings get raves too; they are crispy and not too strong, $9. Tuesday Trivia Nights from 7 to 9 p.m. are popular; you can win bottles of wine, Garman’s gift certificates, or other prizes donated by owner Clint Garman. The pub is two blocks from the airport, open Mon–Thu 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Sun 11 a.m.–7 a.m., 932 E. Main St., 805-933-4600.

Another local favorite is Rabalais Bistro, a New Orleans-style restaurant serving Cajun and Creole cuisine. Owner Tracy Lippert named the establishment after her grandmother, Anesia Lois Rabalais, who hailed from Louisiana’s bayou country and whose simple, dearly prepared meals inspired Lippert’s vision. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with classic items like buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, Po’ Boys, and shrimp and grits on the menu, along with dishes like chicken paillard, pan-sautéed chicken served with rich mushroom gravy and a choice of sides, entrées $6–$25. Hardwood floors, dark-wood fixtures, and Louisiana-themed art add to the Southern ambience. Those just looking for a beignet and coffee can visit the adjacent bakery. The Bistro is open Sun–Mon 8 a.m.–2 p.m., Tue–Thu 8 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri–Sat 8 a.m.–9 p.m., bakery opens daily at 7 a.m., 861 E. Main St., 805-525-2109.


You won’t need a car within Santa Paula. Inns provide free pickup if staff is available (call ahead), and festivals provide free shuttles. Should you desire a rental car for staying at the KOA, attending Moonlight at the Ranch, or further exploration Enterprise is one block away, free airport pickup, $32–$155, Mon–Fri 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.–noon, 125 E. Harvard Blvd., 805-933-0068 or 800-736-8227.

Santa Paula is the perfect pilot destination with year-round mild weather, cheaper avgas, no need for a car, and fun airport fly-ins. Add a brand new airport restaurant and a world-class aerobatic training center, and your recipe for a memorable getaway is complete.

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Topics: US Travel, Travel, Vintage

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