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As a new pilot, flying along the central coast of California is really fun. I learned to fly in San Luis Obispo and now have a Cessna 150 based in Santa Maria. I have to say the Air Traffic Controllers are very nice and accommodating at all of the local airports. There are also several airports in the area without control towers. My neighbors at the airport have a pair of Cub Crafters Sport Cubs. They have permission to land on many ranches in the area and land off airport quite often. They always have their radios, transponders, and ADS-B on while flying.

Flying at the uncontrolled airports is really fun as none of the airports are very busy. I can’t remember a time that someone wasn’t flying without using their radio or ADS-B out. It would be preferred if they flew the pattern, but they usually just fly straight-in approaches. There were several Carbon Cubs that usually use their radios when flying around Santa Ynez, but they’re using a different frequency so they can just talk to each other. They didn’t show up on ADS-B either, not that it’s required. I talked to one of the Cub pilots and he said they were all bush pilots from Alaska, but they looked like they were from Santa Ynez.

The Santa Ynez Airport (KIZA) is really easy to fly into with a runway about 2,800 feet in length. The Airport has tie-downs and a nice pilot lounge available and maybe a crew car. There is a dirt area prior to the runway that the gliders use, as well as a classic yellow Piper Cub. Many pilots who fly direct form the east will make radio calls that reference, “short final over Lake Cachuma,” which places them between six and ten miles out. I’ve had someone make that call right after I advised “turning left base for 26”. My instructor at the time indicated that they have the right of way once they call short final as we can’t use our lower altitude and proximity to the airport to turn in front of them.

The Oceano Airport (L52) is also a great place to land as you can walk to several restaurants. The runway is about 2,300 feet long so there’s plenty of runway. There is even a camping area with bathrooms. It’s usually not very busy, but there are sightseeing airplanes and helicopters in the area. There is also a Stearman that takes people on short tours along the coast. Many pilots opt for straight-in approaches that turn into a low pass down the runway and then enter the pattern.

airport camping

Oceano County Airport camping area with bathrooms.

New Cuyama (L88) recently had the runway resurfaced and is now approximately 3,380 feet long. The runway is in great shape. There are a couple of restaurants within walking distance of the airport. There is only a cattle fence around the airport and no real fence between the tie-down area and the parking area for cars. Just like your car, don’t leave valuables in your plane.

airport parking

There is only a cattle fence around the Cuyama Airport and no real fence between the tie-down area and the parking area for cars.

The Paso Robles Airport (KPRB)  is the home of the Estrella Warbird Museum, which is well worth a visit. Joe’s One-Niner Diner is a great place to grab something to eat. If you fly a Cirrus, make sure to position your airplane so it takes up two or three tiedown spaces – it’s sort of a thing for some reason.

Some of the local pilots like to practice touch-and-go landings alternating between runway 19 and 31 on calm days. They enter a left base for 31 and a right downwind for 19 and loop back. Most pilots use their radios, but sometimes you get radio silence.

San Luis Obispo Airport (KSBP) is really a nice stop. There is usually parking by the Spirit restaurant. On final approach in small aircraft, there is sometimes a bit of a sink or ballooning on short final above the roadway just prior to the runway. Tower and Ground Control are sometimes the same person and they will ask you to stay on Tower frequency. It can be a busy airport but they do a great job. If you don’t follow directions well, you might get several transponder code changes. There are many student pilots training in the area as well as a helicopter flight school.

It’s not unusual to be extended on a left downwind due to approaching traffic. Also be aware of wake turbulence from larger aircraft and military airplanes and helicopters. The Tower will often call your base and place you in between aircraft on straight in approaches. I only had trouble once and I think it was because the Controller did not realize how slow a Piper Cub was going to fly on final. As soon as I turned from base to final, I realized my closing rate was way too high. I told my instructor at the time I thought we were catching the Cub too fast and he growled “Go Around”, so no big deal.

Santa Maria Airport’s (KSMX) Air Traffic Controllers have been said to be a little grumpy, but I haven’t experienced that. The Controllers have always been nice to me and accommodating to my requests. From time to time it gets busy here, especially during fire season. When they are working a fire, I just stay on the ground out of the way. There is a hotel and a couple of restaurants at the airport. The Jet Center is on the opposite side of the airport from the hotel. The main runway is 8,000 feet long. I tend to exit the runway on the taxiway that makes a straight shot to the fuel pumps.

The Santa Barbara Airport (KSBA) is class C airspace, but it’s relatively easy to fly in and out. They will usually give general aviation aircraft instructions for the parallel crosswind runways. There is an active helicopter school that does maneuvers near the airport.

Flying along the central coast of California with the great weather, scenic views, and especially all the nice people involved in aviation is a great experience.

Chuck Johnes
2 replies
  1. Randy Rutkowski
    Randy Rutkowski says:

    Hi Chuck! I enjoyed your and great information about our central coast airports! I especially like the comment regarding KPRB “ if you fly a Cirrus … be sure to take up two or three tie down spaces” . I just had lunch there last week and bear witness to your observation! LOL as they say. Joes One-Niner is a great place to take the family after the museum! Thanks for the morning smile!


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