See the beauty of the beach from a whole new perspective on one of our favorite coastal flight tours, where land, sea, and sky come together for a can't-miss show.
By David Hanson, Jacquelyne Froeber, and Tracey Minkin
1 of 7Photo: Courtesy of Overseas Aero Tours
Marathon Key, Florida
Below the airplane's humming propellers, the turquoise sea spreads out like a wild neon inkblot curving into inlets and around islands. Below, several small, circular dots in the water come in to view, which turn out to be 300-pound sea turtles. And those oblong dark shapes? Manatees. Overseas Aero Tours offers a variety of excursions, including a 10-minute jaunt above Marathon and the sea, a 20-minute loop across the Seven Mile Bridge and the island of Pigeon Key, and a 30-minute trip to Sombrero Key Lighthouse, where you have an overhead view of the coral reef that surrounds the light; 305-304-0015 or overseasaerotours.com.
2 of 7Photographer: Michael Hanson
Experience the beauty of the Queen City from above, with an aerial view of islands like Vashon, Whidbey, the San Juans, and Canada's Gulf Islands. For a mind-blowing ride, we recommend Kenmore Air, based on Seattle's Lake Union, for a year-round array of options. The quickie: City Explorer, 20 minutes for $89/person. Or The San Juans Explorer, two hours for $199/person; 866/435-9524 or kenmoreair.com.
3 of 7Photo: Tracey Minkin
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
For an unforgettable ride way above this charming surf town, jump in the back seat of an open-cockpit vintage biplane with Biplane Fun Flights, which offers 10-, 20-, 30-, and 70-minute excursions. Even the shortest flight, which follows the island north and circles the Ponce Lighthouse at Ponce Inlet, is a thrill (and crazy photo opp). And if you’re really up for adventure, ask about the “Performance Maneuvers” option, which includes steep climbs and turns, lazy eights, and chanderelles; 386-478-0600; biplanefunflights.com
4 of 7Photo courtesy of Scenic Flights of Acadia
You can get views from hiking the bald summits of Acadia National Park, but you can't get Cadillac Mountain, Egg Rock Lighthouse, Bar Harbor, and the Mount Desert Narrows in 35 minutes. A float-plane tour will zip you around all the sights. Two-person minimum; 15-minute tour, $46/person; 25 minutes, $78/person; 40 minutes, $98/person.
Hawaiin islands are steep. Some of the coastlines, especially on the Garden Island of Kauai, are inaccessible by foot or car. But a 30-minute plane tour covers the Napali Coast, Hanalei Bay, and Waimea Canyon so you can be eye-level with the cliffs. Take the Big Kahuna 70-minute tour for $125/person or the 3-hour air and land tour for $149/person.
For a budget version of the San Juans tour, drive up to Anacortes, where the San Juans ferries depart. Paraclete's small planes leave each morning and afternoon for the San Juans' non-ferry-accessed smaller islands like Decatur, Blakely, and Center. Hop on board for the out-and-back tour at around $30/person for a 90-minute to three-hour trip.
Fly over the tiny cays and sandbars of the Bahamas for a panoramic perspective on the 2,500 small islets. A half-day tour with Safari Seaplanes will drop you off on a deserted island. It then waits for you to snack and snorkel, or leaves you for a half day of exploring, returning at 4 p.m. Rates are quoted at the time of booking.