I don’t care who you are, where you live, or how many times you’ve flown: airplanes are still pretty darned cool. Maybe you don’t look up anymore when you hear one overhead. And if you don’t, you should probably spend a moment rekindling that childhood fascination with big heavy metal birds that somehow do the impossible. And if you happen to be in my hometown of Tampa, Florida, there’s a great place to watch them — a place where “overhead” doesn’t mean 30,000 feet.
Just beyond the southern end of Tampa International Airport’s busiest runway, you’ll find Cypress Point Park. It’s somewhat hidden, and sort-of cut-off from the rest of Tampa by freeways, but if you look around on your GPS for the patch of green, directly south of 19R/1L, you’ll find it.[tmt_info =””]Fun fact: that runway used to be 18R36L, until a slight shift in the earth’s magnetic field prompted aviation officials to change its designation, back in 2001.[/tmt_info]
Cypress Point Park is operated by the City of Tampa. Parking is free, and it has decent facilities. While it’s not as nice as the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, over in Pinellas County, it is much more convenient for anyone in Tampa. Be aware, the beach draws a very diverse group of people, and sometimes it feels too wild for my taste. For example, one particularly busy day, as I arrived, I saw people twerking in the parking lot. I went somewhere else.
While this is a decent place for picnicking, fishing, and wading in the water, its real strength is the potential for planespotting. Planes don’t always fly directly over the park on arrival to TPA. Due to wind conditions, sometimes they make their approach from the north. On those days, the planes take off south-bound, and they’re already pretty high by the time they reach the airspace over the park. But, if planes are landing northbound, they will be very low — perhaps just a couple hundred feet above the beach.
When you arrive, keep an eye on the sky for a few minutes, and it probably won’t be long until you see a plane. After that, it’s easy to figure out the right place to go. You may need to wade in the water, up to about knee-level, to get to the far eastern end of the beach, which is the best spot. Wading is also helpful, if you want to stand directly under the planes as they pass overhead.
Check out this video I shot in December, 2015, showing a few landings, just before sunset:
Cypress Point Park is also a good place to watch the sun set. I’ve included some pictures in the slideshow at the top of the page.
And if you’re thinking about visiting Tampa, book your hotel using the Booking.com search box on this page.