Flying the bay tour

Pilots in the San Francisco bay area can enjoy one of the most scenic one hour flighh. A little tour of the bay called the Bay Tour.

Unfortunately, this area is one of the busiest airspace in the world. The main issue comes from the fact that there are three international airports and a couple of smaller airports around. ((SFO - San Francisco International, OAK - Oakland International and SJC - San Jose International) arranged in some kind of triangle.

In terms of airspaces, you will find one Bravo airspace (SFO - San Francisco International) surrounded by two Charlie airspaces around (OAK - Oakland international and SJC - San Jose International).

Here is an aviation map of the area. You might want to refer to skyvector or aeronautical charts in order to get more up to date information. Please do not use the following for navigation:

Bay Tour 
Bay Tour Detail 

Here are some guidelines and insights that can help you prepare for such a flight. Even with this information, I strongly recommend doing the first bay tour with the help of an experienced flight instructor. First time in a class Bravo airspace can be intimidating.

Sightseeings

Among the things to see in the bay:

Waypoints

Waypoints ATC could ask you about

  • Milbrae Bart Station

  • Amphitheatre Parkway

  • Mormon Temple

Procedure

Departing from a local airport like San Carlos (KSQL) or Palo Alto (KPAO), request a bay tour to ATC, and wait for them to come back to you. There are basically two options, depending on how busy San Francisco Airport is.

  • If the tower is not very busy, you can get a transition at FL020 and you will be asked to talk directly to San Francisco tower (120.5) which will clear you into the class Bravo airspace. They will probably ask you to stay west of highway 101, as the east part is ususally used for SFO's landings.

  • If SFO tower is busy, you will likely get a transition with NORCAL at FL035. In that case you will cross the San Francisco airport and start a descent afterwards. NORCAL will also ask you to stay West of highway 101 and will clear you into the Bravo airspace.

Misc

  • Don't forget to check for TFRs (temporary flight restrictions). Various sports game usually mean that you won't be able to fly aroud the stadiums. This can happen around AT&T Park, Oakland Arena, or the Levi Stadium in Santa Clara.