Sam got me thinking about good places for a pilot to grab a bite around Southern California.
I was going to add a comment to his entry, but it soon exceeded the length of his original post, proving once again that Socal cannot be beat for flying destinations (or weather, but you knew that right?). Upon reflection, it also became quite frightening to realize how many calories I’ve consumed at these joints.
Let’s get started. I’d put Catalina Airport on the top of the list. There’s nothing like enjoying a Buffalo burger on the airport’s patio!
Lots of history at that field — William Wrigley (of Wrigley’s Chewing Gum fame) had the airport built in the 1930s so the Chicago Cubs could be flown onto the island for their pre-season baseball games. The airport was nearing completion when World War II came to America, and the War Department closed the airfield to prevent its use by the Japanese during an invasion. The runway remained blockaded with obstacles until 1945.
I also like Catalina because you’ll see plenty of interesting people. Hikers passing through, pilots, and sometimes a recognizable face. I’ve seen Harrison Ford and Lorenzo Lamas out there. The people who work at the airport have wonderful stories, too. One guy whose name I cannot remember, used to pilot Grumman flying boats between the island and the mainland.
At French Valley (F70), the basin’s newest airport, there’s a very clean, quiet, and most importantly, strongly air conditioned restaurant called the French Valley Cafe. After flying over the Inland Empire, it feels great to step inside there and have a cool one. Er, a Coke, that is. And two hours later, you can head back out onto the ramp and find your oil temp exactly the same as you left it!
Then there’s Corona Airport, one of my longtime stomping grounds. You have to be careful out there — it can be a zoo in the pattern. But after braving the non-towered wilds, your reward is the infamous Bob’s Chili & Chow Hall. With a name like that, how can you go wrong? You walk in there and they know your name, your order, and your booth. No a/c, but the ambiance more than makes up for it. I recommend the club sandwich. Ask ’em to prepare it “the old way”. Also, don’t miss seeing the poster-sized photograph of the airport during the January, 2005 flood.
Sam mentioned Big Bear Airport, but I should add that there’s a greasy spoon called the Barnstorm Cafe on the terminal’s lower level, below the Chinese joint. They have limited hours, but those hours seem to compliment Mandarin Garden’s quite nicely. If you’re out there for breakfast or lunch, Barnstorm will be open. For late afternoon or evening dining, the only option there is the Mandarin Garden.
Actually, that’s not quite true. There’s a decent Mexican place at the end of the street, La Mulita. It’s a 3 minute walk. Paul and I flew up there to watch football games and get out of the heat once or twice. Big Bear Airport is also blessed with relatively inexpensive fuel, a great ski resort, and a large freshwater lake.
I like Camarillo’s Waypoint Cafe — it’s on the far east end of the field. You’re near the arrival end of the runway, and there’s a shaded outdoor seating area with a strip of grass so you can watch the planes come and go from the ramp and the runway. Inside, the walls are plastered with photos, hundreds (if not thousands) of them covering the last sixty years of aviation history.
If airplane watching is a priority, though, it’s impossible to beat Santa Monica. Sam touched on the virtues of SMO, but I should note that both on-the-field restaurants are a hundred feet from the runway, each with a panoramic, unobstructed view of the runway, taxiways, and indeed, the entire pattern. The late afternoon brings in the cool ocean breeze, making a perfect mix of humidity and wind. I could sit out there for hours.