The Best Places to Enjoy Air Sports in Southern California

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Some people like to have both feet firmly planted on solid ground at all times… and others like to leap into the air whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Fortunately, when it comes to recreation in Southern California, the sky is the limit (at least until this space elevator is built).

In fact there is a lot of ways to get a little height in SoCal – even if you don’t feel like freefalling from an airplane (skydiving isn’t for everyone, after all).

Yes watching birds just aren’t enough for you – and you’d rather join their ranks up there in the sky – here are five of the most exciting ways to get some fresh air and pretend for a while that you can actually have wings.

1. Hang Gliding Sailing Sports (Sylmar and Dockweiler State Beach)

Believe it or not, Sylmar – this neighborhood in the northern San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles – is considered the hang gliding capital of the world. In fact, in 1973, Sylmar hosted the very first US National Hang Gliding Championships. Who knew ?! According to the Sylmar Hang Gliding Association nonprofit, The Flight Park – where Windsports Hang Gliding is located – enjoys 300 flying days per year, a pretty good record considering its starting point at Kagel Mountain and the way the wind can blow, leaving solo and tandem flights on the ground. (Fortunately, it just takes a little patience to wait for the winds to be just right – conditions are rarely such that you would lose an entire day of flying.) This is an interesting sport to be a spectator, so you can spend the afternoon at the Flight Park watching and experiencing the adventure without lift your feet yourself. Or, if you choose to take a mountain course, bring some friends to watch, even if they aren’t aspiring hang-gliders themselves. For extreme novices, or if you don’t want to spend so much time on your hang gliding experience, Windsports also offers two-hour mini-courses (as well as full courses that last up to four hours) at Dockweiler State Beach all of the way. Wednesdays to Sundays. While this appears to be a much more touristy option – given the billboards that have been placed along the cycle path – this is actually the rare opportunity to occupy airspace directly next to the entering commercial jets. and exit LAX.

Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine, left, learns to hang gliding with the help of instructor Greg DeWolf at Dockweiler State Beach in El Segundo. | Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

2. Paragliding at Torrey Pines Gliderport (La Jolla)

Just south of Torrey Pines Golf Course you’ll find both hang-gliders and paragliders – two subsets of the foot-launched pilot community – hanging out at the glider harbor, waiting for the wind to blow just before jump in the air. from the cliff. If you have your own glider you’re free to take off here, but it’s the world’s largest tandem operation, which means it’s a great place to learn. For paragliding lessons in particular, you are seated more or less on the lap of an expert instructor who, depending on your level of ease, will give you the controls to give you an idea of ​​how to navigate higher, dive and turn with just a tug of the parachute. Remember that when you are up there, even if you are not doing anything steering, you are not a pilot – you are a pilot. Spectators are also welcome here, and there’s a food stand that sells casual options that you can enjoy at the picnic tables right behind the launch. It’s a beautiful part of the North San Diego County coastline – and if you’ve got a long wait ahead until the wind picks up or calms down, take the trail to Black’s Beach below the cliffs, where clothing would be optional.

Paragliding at Torrey Pines Glideport (1)

Sandi Hemmerlein

Paragliding at Torrey Pines Glideport (3)

Sandi Hemmerlein

3. Panoramic plane rides

To go from a hang glider to a glider, visit Sky Sailing in the small town of Warner Springs, just east of Palomar Mountain and the Cleveland National Forest. You may not be intending to flying an airplane yourself, but if your pilot proposes – and he will probably propose and keep offer – do not refuse the opportunity to grab the joystick and put the pedal to the coin. Gliders are not motorized and must be towed up to a certain altitude (which is why they are considered gliders), but if you want more acrobatics Sky Sailing has experience too. Of course, this is not the only option for SoCal planners. We have many private operators at local airports (like Compton, Santa Paula, Camarillo and Fullerton) and traveling collections of vintage crafts coming to town (like those from the Collings Foundation or the Experimental Aircraft Association) that can take you high in a biplane, vintage warbird, or any other antique aircraft. It’s a great way to experience collisions past and present, and it’s a testament to the quality of the high-performance machinery that has clearly been built to last and continues to operate despite the many air miles that may have been accumulated.

Scenic plane rides (1)

Courtesy of Sandi Hemmerlein

Scenic plane rides (4)

Sandi Hemmerlein

4. Hot air balloon

If you thought that flying a hot air balloon was just a wizarding pastime in the merry old land of Oz, then now is the time to learn more about the history of hot air ballooning in Southern California. Thaddeus Lowe – the namesake of Mount Lowe in Altadena and creator of the long-lost resort town Echo Mountain / White City atop the Mount Lowe Incline Railway – was a chief balloonist in the Union Army Balloon Corps for two years during the civil war; however, once he moved to the LA area, he traded his balloon fame for trains. These days, you’re more likely to find an unattached recreational hot air balloon ride (since no one is using them for transport more) in wine country – namely, Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley and the Temecula Valley. (Captive rides, such as the Great Park Balloon in Irvine, do not really Of course, you can book a romantic flight directly with one of Temecula’s operators like California Dreamin ‘or A Grape Escape, but it’s a much better experience to overdose on balloons with the launch of Sunrise. sunshine at the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, which will resume in 2022 at Skinner Lake. There is nothing like seeing the sky early in the morning full multicolored balloons, all lit up by the flames of their burning propane fuel. And when you land safely, your pilot will open a bottle of champagne to celebrate with you.

Hot air balloon (1)

Sandi Hemmerlein

Hot air balloon (2)

Sandi Hemmerlein

5. Zipline

The idea of ​​a zip line in LA keeps coming up. A few years ago, a company proposed to install one in Runyon Canyon. And more recently, the topic has come back as a solution to creating an “alternate” access to the Hollywood Sign, now that the Beachwood Canyon gate leading to the Hollyridge Trailhead has been locked. Can you imagine going from Mount Hollywood to Mount Lee in Griffith Park? Of course, the idea may signal the Disneylandification of one of the largest urban parks in the country … but if you like ziplining, that must ring a bell. little exciting! In the meantime, if you’re in the mood for swinging a wire, the closest zipline courses to LA are Skull Canyon in Corona (60 miles southeast of downtown LA), Ziplines at Pacific Crest in Wrightwood ( 75 miles northeast of downtown LA) and Action ZipLine Tours in Big Bear (100 miles east of downtown LA – and GoPro’s are the only cameras allowed on the trails). Sure, the one at Sturtevant Camp in Big Santa Anita Canyon is the closest within 40 miles (including a hike to the cabins) – but this one is the most terrifying of all. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to experience it until the area reopens after recovering from the 2020 Bobcat Fire (date TBD).

Zipline (1)

Sandi Hemmerlein

Zipline (2)

Sandi Hemmerlein

Note: This article was updated on June 29, 2021 to reflect the latest information available.

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