During my research for free and fun things to do with Lulu, I stumbled upon a park at Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO), a couple of miles from our house. Lucky for us, Santa Monica is home to really amazing parks.
Aptly named Airport Park, the recreation area is conveniently located only steps away from SMO. It's a treasure of a find with ample parking, plenty of picnic tables and benches, several barbecue grills, clean restrooms, and a spacious and modern playground with swings and climbing equipment. There's also a covered play area over the sand pit for sun-sensitive little ones. Best of all, since the park is located at an airport and there aren't a lot of locals walking over, there's ample space for everyone.
While researching Airport Park, I also discovered that SMO had two free viewing platforms allowing visitors an opportunity to engage in up-close airplane action. With this exciting bit of knowledge, I rallied my friend Vivien and her son Sebastian to join us for some fun with flying.
The scoop: Open 365 days a year, SMO is refreshingly easy to navigate. The airport provides many complimentary parking spaces and the Airport Administration Building is a no fuss place to visit. Walking from the front of the building to the back takes less than a minute and it's only a hop, skip, and a jump from Airport Park. The Observation Deck can also be accessed without going through the building by taking the set of stairs to the right of the building.
Lulu loves airplanes and from what I observed at SMO, she is not alone. A steady stream of airplane enthusiasts can be found at the viewing platforms at opposite ends of the building, with the Runway View Deck facing east and the Public Sky Deck facing west. Several parents told me they were regulars and unlike most kid-friendly places which are inundated with moms and nannies, airplane-watching seems to bring out the dads.
Enjoy lunch at one of the designated dining areas or grab a bleacher seat, listen to the control tower broadcast ground and air activity and watch airplanes take off or land. Have fun and get ready for a lot of finger pointing and "Airplane! Airplane!"
A few tips: Should you find yourself watching planes for hours and hunger becomes an issue, Typhoon Restaurant is on campus and Spitfire Grill is across the street. Also, while being up close totally kicks ass, the jets are fairly loud and may hurt your kid's ears. I'd recommend headphones for little ones or covering their ears for take offs and landings (the smaller planes aren't that loud at all). There are several parking lots for the grounds but the middle lot just below the airport lot and just above the soccer field allows for three hours of free parking and is equidistant from Airport Park and SMO. Dawn and dusk seem to be the prettiest times for picture taking but photos of excited kids at any time rule!