Santa Barbara (SBA)

Santa Barbara is one of my favorite nearby flight destinations. In an airplane like a 172, it’s about a 1 hour flight each way from EMT and you have the option of a 15 minute walk to a seaside restaurant once you arrive. Santa Barbara is a Class C airport – they have some airline service and a lot of private jet traffic, but don’t let that keep you from giving it a try.

Getting there

From my home base, EMT, I make a northwest departure towards Pasadena and then generally follow the 134 and 101 freeways west to the coast and then along the coast to Santa Barbara. The turn towards Pasadena helps avoid the LAX Bravo airspace (VPLRB, the Rose Bowl, if you want a GPS waypoint) . I always get flight following and will cruise at 4500′, but occasionally higher. Along the way expect several handoffs to different SoCal Approach frequencies, Pt Mugu Approach, and eventually to Santa Barbara Approach somewhere around Ventura. Vectors for traffic around BUR and VNY are common and part of the reason I get flight following (which you need for that route at 4500′ anyway). Try to pick up the SBA ATIS as you reach the coast so you can let Santa Barbara Approach know when you first check in with them.


When you check in with Santa Barbara approach, you will almost always be assigned to make a left base along the 101 freeway for “runways 15”. By following the 101 freeway through the city of Santa Barbara, you’ll be kept north of the arrival and departure corridor for runway 7/25, which is used by the bigger and faster airplanes. Runways 15 left and right are usually favored by onshore winds and used for smaller airplanes. In most cases you can expect to be cleared for landing on 15L. The runway is a bit over 4000′ long, so right in line with what EMT pilots are used to.


Most larger airports like SBA don’t have “transient” parking per se (EMT has cheap overnight and free day parking provided by the airport). They usually are served by one or more FBOs (fixed based operators) that offer parking, fuel, rental cars, meeting space, and for larger aircraft – lavatory service and catering. As of 2017, SBA has two FBOs – Atlantic and Signature. Both are both large FBO chains that serve airports with private jet activity. Atlantic is located at the southeast edge of the airport and is an easy left turn off of 15L. I also prefer Atlantic as it is an easy walk from there to the beach. There is now a restaurant close to Signature too.

I encourage all pilots to have a taxi diagram (printed or through an app) in the plane for reference as they taxi, but I have almost always been given a left turn on Echo into Atlantic’s ramp. In most cases, you should see a lineman to direct you to parking, but they can get very busy at times with jets coming in and out. In most cases, I’m directed to parking that is a bit south of the echo taxiway and where you will need to push the plane into a tie down with your tail pointed towards the Bravo taxiway. If there was someone to help direct you there, they will often assist with pushing and tie down and offer a golf cart ride to the FBO (it’s not _that_ far). Be careful if you walk to be aware of other plane and prop and jet blast.

Once you walk into the FBO, check in with one of the people behind the desk. They’ll want to know your tail number, how long you plan to stay, and whether you need any fuel or services. In most cases, I ask for a minimum amount of fuel (7 gallons in 2017) to avoid a ramp/facility fee, but you should confirm what the total charges will be (call ahead and check recent reviews if it really matters to you) . If I’m going to walk to the restaurant, they are often willing to call the restaurant to put your name in. It can cut 15 minutes off your wait if the restaurant is busy. It’s also possible that a “courtesy/crew” car may be available if you want to drive someplace for a lunch or dinner. If you want to stay overnight, rental cars, taxi, or Uber should all be possibilities.

Beachside Bar-Cafe

I’m a creature of habit and my habit is to walk to the Beachside Bar-Cafe. Walk south on Moffett Pl after you leave Atlantic. When the road turns, continue straight on the bike/walking path. Be careful of bikes, but continue as you turn left and you’ll eventually pop out into a parking lot – go left towards the pier and you should see the restaurant. I suggest the tables outside on the patio and the “Chile Rellenos De Camarones”. As of 2021, I’m sad to say the restaurant has closed, but I’m hopeful we’ll have a new option soon


Once you’ve ambled back to Atlantic, settled up your bill for any fees and fuel (and do check out the restrooms), you’ll need to be “buzzed” through to the door to get out to the ramp. Remember to undo tie downs and check fuel, while making sure the plane is still in good shape. If you’ve parked with your tail to the taxiway, I’m fine with starting up in place. Since this is a Class C airport, you’ll need to contact clearance delivery prior to taxi. Clearance delivery wants to know your tail number, destination, altitude, and that you are VFR. They’ll give you a squawk code, departure frequency, and instructions. “Santa Barbara clearance, skyhawk 19760″… “Skyhawk 19760, Santa Barbara clearance, go ahead”… “Skyhawk 760 at Atlantic with Romeo, VFR to El Monte at 5,500″… “760, plan departure runways 15, maintain runway heading at or below 1,500 until advised, squawk 4746, departure frequency 120.55”. Read back the instructions, code, and frequency and you should be done with clearance.

Contact ground for taxi. Expect to be taxied via bravo to 15L, but told to hold short of runway 25. As you approach 25, they will usually clear you to cross 25 quickly, once it is safe to do so. Runup is a bit out of the way ahead and to the right, marked to with a single dashed paint line. Once you are ready to go, contact tower. Expect to be cleared for takeoff and told to contact departure after climbing only a few hundred feet.

Depending on traffic, departure may not release you for several miles from your 1500′ limit and runway heading. As a result, I suggest you always carry life vests with you – you would quickly be out of gliding distance of the shore. When traffic allows, expect a “resume own navigation and climb approved”. I tend to aim to get back into gliding distance of the shore pretty quick.

Things to be aware of

Any airport near the coast in California is subject to very local clouds and fog. I’ve watched Santa Barbara go from 10sm/clear to 1/2sm/overcast 700′ in a few minutes and even oscillate back and forth between those two as a fog moved on shore and off again repeatedly. In some cases, weather may force a departure from a different runway if safe to do.

Occasionally, class C airports will note via ATIS that Ground and Clearance are combined on a frequency (usually the ground frequency – very common at BUR). Some class D airports also have clearance delivery (VNY, LGB, and even occasionally CNO and POC).

2 thoughts on “Santa Barbara (SBA)

  1. Great advice and insights into flying to SBA! Your experiences match mine as well. The walk to the beach area from Atlantic FBO is delightful – lots of birds and a little stream. There’s also some interesting geologic/archaeologic history if you stop to read the plaques. I also recommend walking out on the pier, where you can get nice views of beach and coastline as well as watch small planes take off over the ocean (or do pattern work!).

  2. This is a great guide to visiting SBA. I note that while buying gas gets you out of paying an FBO fee to Atlantic it’s not possible to weasel out of the security fee, which is about $20 at this time. If the staff at Atlantic are not busy they may be willing give you a (free) ride to and/or from the Beachside Bar-Cafe. The walk is OK but when coming back with a full stomach it’s nice to have that option!

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