In case you haven’t heard, a fly-in community is a town, city, or community centered around an airport. Many of these areas even allow citizens to park their aircraft in their driveways and drive them down the streets like a car.
California, especially its interior, is home to many communities that grew up around airplanes. Ranging in size from tiny unincorporated towns to medium-sized cities, some of the best fly-in communities in the world are in the sparsely populated California desert.
But how many fly-in communities are in California? If you enjoy airplanes, you can check out the best fly-in communities in California, like Sierra Sky Park, where citizens keep their planes lounging in their driveways, or Sonoma Skypark’s Young Eagles Program, where kids can take plane rides. But whichever luxury fly-in community in California you choose, you can be sure to find beautiful and unique sites in the Sunshine State.
1. Rancho Tehama Airport Community
Rancho Tehama is a private airport community in a remote area of Tehama County, California. It is an unincorporated community in Northern California, 131 miles from Sacramento.
The community sits in the scenic desert landscape of Northern California with a view of the low-lying mountains. About 1,400 people currently live in the community, and the town has everything you can expect from a small American town, including thrift stores, pizza restaurants, and sports fields.
The Rancho Tehama Association privately owns the 36-acre airport, and the destination is only ten nautical miles from Red Bluff, California.
2. Sierra Sky Park Residential Aviation Community
Sierra Sky Park holds the distinction for being the first fly-in community in the world. William and Doris Smilie bought the 130-acre land in 1946, and by 1953 they had built the first homes. The airport and community are in Fresno, California, on the San Joaquin River, and just seven miles northwest of downtown Fresno.
Residents of the community can land their planes at the airport and move down the extra-large avenues before parking their planes at their homes.
The Herndon-Doolittle Association privately owns the Sierra Sky Park Airport, but it is open to the public. An average of 34 aircraft land in the 34-acre airport every day.
3. Borrego Air Ranch
The land of the future Borrego Air Ranch was first purchased in 1945 by Ed Fletcher Jr. so that he and a few other people could build their houses in an area where they could also land their planes. Later, he built a 1,000-foot runway, and by 1949, he received an airport license from the State of California, making the airport official.
The air ranch is in San Diego County and is only 91 miles from San Diego. The community is also close to the Mexican border, specifically the cities of Tijuana and Mexicali. Around the homes of Borrego is the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and residents can experience the picturesque desert landscape and mountains.
The airport and community began to really take off by 1971 when interest in aviation returned to the United States. At its peak in 2004, the airport was averaging 60 landings per day. However, since interest in private planes has dropped again, so has the population of the Borrego Air Ranch community.
4. Gillespie Field
Gillespie Field started life in 1942 as a site for parachute training for the United States Marine Corps, named after Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie (1812-1873). However, by 1946, the United States government handed the airfield over to San Diego County, which still owns the airport in the northwest corner of El Cajon.
Gillespie Field is an integral part of the city of El Cajon, and it employs more than 3,000 people and brings in more than $400 million to the economy. These numbers are great for a city with less than 100,000 residents.
The huge 688-acre airfield now holds services such as:
- Flight schools
- Repair and maintenance shops
- Aircraft storage
- Aircraft sales
- Aircraft rental
- Fuel and instrument shops
5. Agua Dulce Airpark
Agua Dulce Airpark is a public-use airpark in Los Angeles County. Aircraft engineer Robert W. Lillibridge and Northrop test pilot Errol Williams bought the 108-acre lot in 1958. Soon after, the pair quickly got permits to build an airport in the Sierra Pelona Valley, just 45 miles north of Los Angeles.
Surrounded by mountains, Agua Dulce is a valley that sits at an elevation of about 2,500 feet. Only around 3,000 people live in the town, but the place still has quite a bit of notoriety. Agua Dulce has been home to several film sets, including Blazing Saddles, The Flintstones movie, and 127 Hours.
The airport now sits on 400 acres and has cafes, hangars, sports fields, a pool, and a jacuzzi. Wayne and Connie Spears, who own Spears Manufacturing and Spears Motorsports, are the airport’s current owners.
6. Bermuda Dunes Airport Community
Bermuda Dunes is a fly-in community in the Coachella Valley of Riverside County, California, and is 23 miles east of Palm Springs. The valley is a desert region and surrounded by three mountain ranges: the San Jacinto Mountains, the Little San Bernardino Mountains, and the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Bermuda Dunes has a population of just above 7,000 people and houses several attractions, namely the Bermuda Dunes Country Club, which has been visited by celebrities like Clark Gable. Also, the town has a warm climate, with summer temperatures often rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and almost no rain.
The Bermuda Dunes Airport covers 105 acres and is one of the main ways people enter the town. The airport houses the Desert West Aviation flight school and Coachella Valley Aviation, which provides services for airplanes and helicopters. Currently, the airport is privately owned by CPF BDA and managed by Ann Goodwyn.
7. Cameron Airpark Estates
Cameron Airpark Estates is one of the nicest fly-in communities in the United States. The airport and community are in Cameron Park, a census-designated place in El Dorado County, and the airpark is only 34 miles from the city of Sacramento.
The town is to the west of the airport, and houses there regularly sell for more than $1 million. Residents can land at the Cameron Park Airport and then taxi their planes through the town’s streets. Roads are extra wide so that planes can easily use the roads just as cars do, and mailboxes and signs are low to the ground, so they don’t get hit by the plane’s wings.
The airport is in public use and covers 61 acres at an elevation of almost 1,300 feet. The airport has one 4,000-foot runway made with an asphalt surface. For the most part, the airport averages 98 landings a day and has tie-down and hangar spaces for pilots.
8. El Mirage Field
El Mirage Field is a private airport three miles west of El Mirage, California, in San Bernardino County. The airfield is right next to El Mirage Lake and 91 miles from Los Angeles. The field is also 12 miles northwest of Adelanto.
El Mirage is an unincorporated town in the Mojave Desert. The town has a hot desert climate and has dry summers followed by cool winters, typical for this area of California.
Leased by General Atomics of San Diego, the United States Military primarily uses the site for UAV testing and development. However, those who have permission can land at the airport to access the town of El Mirage.
9. Hesperia Airport and City
In 1960, the president of the Hesperia Bowl Corporation, Marion A. Alley, and nine others bought the 26-acre plot to expand and modernize the existing airport to bring in weekend travelers. Thus, the new Hesperia Airport was born.
Hesperia is a city of 95,000 in the Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. This fly-in city went from a town of just 5,000 in the 1970s to a medium-sized city with a population of 60,000 by 2000. The area continues to grow as more people move to this desert community.
Silverwood Aviation privately owns the Hesperia Airport, but it is available for public use. The airport also has a motel with a swimming pool, a restaurant, and a bar. Even more interesting, Mercy Air, a med-evac company, has a base at the airport and provides critical care transportation in California and Nevada.
10. Pine Mountain Lake Airport and Community
Pine Mountain Lake, often called the “Gateway to Yosemite,” is an airport and private community in Tuolumne County. The census-designated place is only 26 miles from Yosemite National Park and 75 miles from Stockton. It is one of the few places in California to have all four distinct seasons.
The vacation and retirement community is home to lots of things to do, including:
- An 18-hole championship golf course (Gold Country Golf Course)
- Golf shop
- Lake lodge
- Hiking trails
- Horseback riding
- Swimming and fishing in Pine Mountain Lake
- Several beaches
- Boat rentals
The public airport, which is part of the Pine Mountain Lake community, is only three miles outside Groveland. The airport offers services, such as a 1,100-foot public runway, 24-hour self-service fueling station, and tie-down parking.
11. Rosamond Skypark
Rosamond Skypark has been around since at least 1947 and gained its official status as an airport in 1956. The Skypark is currently just west of the central business district of Rosamond and sits in Kern County. The town is only 85 miles from downtown Los Angeles, and the Lancaster Metrolink provides direct access to the city within two hours.
Rosamond Skypark and the community are a part of Greater Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert. More specifically, the town of 18,000 is in the northern part of Antelope Valley, and the town is 2,400 feet above sea level.
The Rosamond Skypark Association privately owns Rosamond Skypark, but the airport is open to the public. The Skypark sits on 100 acres of land and has a 3,600-foot runway. Generally, 41 planes land in the airpark every day, of which 89% are single-engine aircraft.
12. Sonoma Skypark
Sonoma Skypark opened in 1965 in Vineburg. Today, the airport and city of 10,000 sits in Sonoma County and are only 29 nautical miles from the center of San Francisco.
Sonoma is part of the North Bay region and is one of the most important cities in California’s wine country. The city is a popular tourist destination and hosts the Sonoma International Film Festival, which promotes independent films. Sonoma also offers visitors biplane tours and hot air balloon rides.
Sonoma Skypark Inc. owns Sonoma Skypark, but it is open to public use for landing light aircraft. The 33-acre airport, which is not far above sea level, takes in an average of 41 airplanes a day. The airport is also home to the monthly Young Eagles Program, which gives kids from the ages of 8 to 17 an opportunity to fly in a small aircraft.
Related: Best Fishing Piers in Southern California
13. Trinity Center Airport
Trinity Center Airport is a relatively small airport that serves Trinity County. It is 55 acres and one of the five airports operated by Trinity County.
Trinity Center is a small town with a population of only 267 as of 2010. The town in Northern California sits on Trinity Lake and is 65 miles from Redding. Furthermore, Trinity Center has a marina and several campgrounds and resorts.
The airport is vital to the tiny community, even though it only has one runway.
So, California, from top to bottom, allows visitors to experience fun and unique fly-in communities. With not a single one of them being like another, California’s fly-in communities are a unique way to visit the state, especially if you have your own aircraft or are interested in airplanes.
Therefore, if you are already heading out to California and are bored by the jam-packed cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, you can try out several of these smaller places that give you a novel vacation like no other. You may even end up falling in love with one of California’s airplane communities and decide to move into a new home.
Related: 10 Best Fly-in Communities in Florida