There are many ways to see Los Angeles, and one of the most fascinating is to fly low over famous landmarks and celebrity homes in a small plane or helicopter or for the more adventurous, an open-air light sport aircraft. Within close proximity to LA, you can also enjoy the thrill of taking a flying lesson, piloting a stunt biplane or taking the controls of a light attack aircraft in air-to-air combat or check a hot-air balloon ride off your bucket list. In most cases, if you and your party are booking the whole plane, helicopter, or balloon, you can customize what you want to see in the allotted time you're paying for - within local air regulations.
If you're looking to get some great aerial photographs, helicopter tours are your best bet, and most of the companies can help you rent gyrostabilizers to eliminate blur from helicopter vibration if you don't have your own gear.
Many of the tour companies also offer flying lessons. A 30-minute preview lesson can be a real bargain compared to the cost of a tour.
Pacific Blue Air Adventure Flights From Hawthorne
Every tour with Pacific Blue Air is a flight lesson in an open-air light sport aircraft with just you and your flight instructor. What you can see depends on the duration of your lesson from 30 to 90 minutes. From the Hawthorne flight base south of LAX, that's the difference between sticking to beach cities or seeing the entire LA Basin.
This isn't exactly a romantic option since you would be in a separate aircraft from your partner, but it's still a heck of an exciting gift for that special occasion for the adventurer in your life.
You are not allowed to carry a camera, phone, or any loose items on your flight due to the danger of things getting caught in the rear propeller, but they have on-board cameras that shoot still photos and video of your flight that you can purchase for an additional fee.
Star Helicopters From Hawthorne
Star Helicopters flies out of the Hawthorne Municipal Airport just 3 miles from LAX. With their limo service (or an Uber, Lyft or taxi), you can get from LAX to your helicopter flight in just a few minutes and fit in an air tour of LA on a 4-hour layover. In addition to their pre-packaged tours of the city's highlights, their services are completely customizable. As a bonus for aerial photographers, they have their own gyrostabilizer that you can rent for the day for a competitive rate.
Helicopter Tours From Van Nuys
Van Nuys Airport in the Valley has the greatest number of helicopter tour operators. It's a relatively convenient departure location if you're in the Valley, on the West Side of LA or in Hollywood and aren't trying to get there during rush hour.
- Jetboy Helicopters has package tours from 20 to 45 minuted departing from Van Nuys. Options include the 30-minute One-Oh-One Tour that flies from Van Nuys along the 101 Freeway over movie studios and Hollywood into Downtown LA. They have a champagne and rose Romance add-on available for any flight.
- Air Tours LA has both helicopter and small plane tours of the Los Angeles Basin and coastline, as well as a 3-hour private Catalina airplane flight with lunch at Catalina's Airport in the Sky.
- Elite Helicopter Tours, owned by National Helicopter Service, offers a variety of daytime and nighttime flights from 30 to 90 minutes also departing from Van Nuys Airport. You can head up the Malibu coast or inland over Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles. Charters and in-house pro aerial photography and cinematography services are also available.
- Flying High Helicopters also offers day and night flights out of Van Nuys covering the same territory. They also have a couple different romance packages and a 3rd-passenger-rides-half-price special.
- Lite Flight Helicopter Tours offers similar tours to the others with options from 10 minutes to an hour. They also offer a price match guarantee for the same duration flight on any competitor with at least a 4-star Yelp review.
Orbic Air Helicopter Tours From Burbank
Orbic Tours from Burbank Airport include regular air-only tours over movie studios, Hollywood, movie stars' homes, Downtown LA, or the coast. They also offer unique landing tour options that make a stop for a picnic on a Malibu mountaintop or on top of a Downtown LA skyscraper for a really once-in-a-lifetime-experience.
Burbank is a convenient departure location if you're near Universal Studios or in Hollywood or Downtown LA.
If you're staying in Orange County, OC Helicopters, departing from a private terminal at John Wayne Airport, can cater to your flight needs from coastal tours and romantic sunset proposals to business charters or elaborate heli-dine experiences with limos and security details as needed. You can go whale-watching from the air in season. They're also certified for heli-skydiving and heli-scuba diving.
Non-airport landings come with a steep price tag, so if you have to ask how much, you probably can't afford the pictured picnic at a scenic landing, but you can bring your own basket on a charter flight and dine in the air.
Helicopters Tours From Long Beach
There are several companies offering daytime and nighttime helicopter tours out of Long Beach with options from coastal exploration to a Hollywood flyover, a flight to a wine tour or a hop over to Catalina Island. Long Beach is a closer departure point than Van Nuys if you're in Downtown LA and it's also a reasonable option if you're near Disneyland.
- Anthelion Helicopter Tours depart from Long Beach Airport
- Island Express Helicopters depart adjacent to the Queen Mary
- Los Angeles Helicopters depart from Long Beach Airport
Hangar 21 Helicopters in Fullerton
The Fullerton Airport is a convenient starting point if you're staying near Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm and want an air tour of the Los Angeles area. They also have 30 to 60-minute tour options to Long Beach or Orange County Beaches. They also offer private one-hour sunset flights with champagne.
Advanced Flight Helicopter Tours From Torrance
Advanced Flight offers helicopter tours of Long Beach and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, LA Beaches, and Hollywood departing from the Torrance Airport, convenient to the South Bay Beach Cities.
Celebrity Airplane and Helicopter Tours from Carson
Celebrity Helicopter Tours offer a variety of airplane and helicopter tours from quick 15 minute rides to fancy 75-minute deluxe tours departing from the Carson Airport. You can see over those high walls protecting movie stars' homes, or see Hollywood lit up at night from above. Their service seems to have declined in recent years according to their high number of negative Yelp reviews.
SkyThrills Biplane Thrill Ride out of Fullerton
Co-pilot or just ride along in a 1935 Classic Aerobatic Biplane for mild maneuvers, or choose the Extreme Stunt Biplane for daring rolls, loops, and spins. You can also take an Air Combat flight for added adventure. More relaxing vintage plane rides are also available.
Air Tours LA Small Plane Tours out of Van Nuys
Air Tours LA offers both helicopter and plane tours, but is better known for their private plane tours along the coast, over the city or all the way to Catalina for lunch or Santa Ynez for wine tasting.
Biplane Rides out of Compton
Biplane Fun offers rides in vintage WWII biplanes departing from the Compton Airport and flying over Long Beach, Palos Verdes, and Redondo Beach.
Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Rides Over Temecula
Many people have a hot air balloon ride on their bucket list. You can take a group, semi-private, or private sunrise hot air balloon ride over Temecula wine country. Flights are available for all ages 48 inches or taller. Various configurations are available from different companies.