drone orange county balboa island

Where in Orange County can I fly drones — and can I fly drones near helipads?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about where you can fly drones in Orange County. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I’ve been scanning B 4 U Fly and some of the forums for tips on where I can fly (legally) in Orange County and it looks like the abundance of helipads/airstrips makes the whole County a no drone zone. Any recommendations?

For new pilots, it can be extremely unclear where people can or can’t fly.

The best way to know whether your flight is legal in the eyes of the FAA — in Orange County (or anywhere!) is by checking the FAA’s website called B4UFly.

B4UFLY is an application from the Federal Aviation Administration made in partnership with Aloft, the company formerly known as Kittyhawk, that helps show pilots important information including where they can and cannot fly with interactive maps. The B4UFLY app is available to download for free at the App Store for iOS and Google Play store for Android. There’s also a handy desktop version.

There are three things you need to pay attention to:

  1. You DO need to pay attention to airports. Drone community guidelines ask that recreational operators give notice for flights within 5 miles of an airport. You can give that notice to the air traffic control tower by calling them. Or perhaps even easier, apply for LAANC. LAANC is an automated system that allows drone pilots to request to fly below 400 feet in controlled airspace that isn’t necessarily high-risk, such as in some areas around airports. 
  2. You also need to pay attention to temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). It is actually illegal to fly  a drone that is under a TFR – which are typically enacted during natural disasters (don’t fly over fires) or for major political events, such as if the President is in town.
  3. Finally, you need to pay attention to prohibited airspace. Some of the most sensitive locations in the U.S. — including Disneyland — are prohibited airspace for the safety of the people underneath. Other common areas that are prohibited are the White House or military bases.

Beyond that, you just need to respect the rules of the place you are flying. National Parks have banned drones. And of course, private property owners have the right to set their own rules.

As far as Orange County specifically, you’re going to be mostly bound by Long Beach and John Wayne airports — taking out a huge chunk of Long Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach flights (unless you get that LAANC approval or call the airport). You’re also out of luck to do flying through most of Anaheim; the red dot in the center of Anaheim is  for the security of Disneyland.

That still leaves you with plenty of other great spots to fly. I had a blast flying early in the morning around Balboa Island. Irvine Lake is a popular spot for drone racers. Pretty much any park or open space that steers clear of people or buildings is going to work.

Happy flying!

17 Comments

  • Trip Astute says:

    We were down in Strand Beach (Dana Point) a few weeks ago, and were hoping to get some quick aerial shots from the end of the beach. However, there were signs posted saying that drones are prohibited. We didn’t have too much time, so we abandoned the idea rather than looking into the ordinance. I know that Laguna Beach exempts FAA Part 107 operators, but not sure if Dana Point’s rules are written the same way.

  • drone flyer says:

    How about this ordinance?
    CODIFIED ORDINANCES COUNTY OF ORANGE, CALIFORNIA
    Sec. 2-5-42. – Radio-controlled models.
    No person shall possess or operate any radio-controlled or other remotely operated model, toy or similar device, including but not limited to cars, boats, rockets, airplanes or gliders, in any park, beach or recreational area except in areas designated and under conditions established by the Director. Any person convicted of violating this subsection shall be guilty of an infraction. (Ord. No. 99-21, § 2, 8-31-99).

  • Gary Alvarez says:

    Yep I was at Hart Park yesterday in Orange and I was approached and told you are not allowed to fly any type of drones in the city of Orange not saying I was flying them but if I were I would have left

  • noel says:

    Not allowed at Lake Forest Park. Appears to be allowed at the Great Park Irvine

  • Claudia H says:

    Confirmed; nowhere in the City of Orange (including open areas or parks) drones are allowed or so was told by one of the city park people when i was unpacking my mavic air for some testing

    • Keith Young says:

      Hi Claudia,
      I think you find that most most cities will saw no drones but the reality is, they can only control where you can land or take off. The only entity that can govern the airspace (All Airspace) is the FAA. This was passed by congress during the last presidential administration. According to what the city parks person told you, you would not be able to fly a drone in your back yard if you live in Orange. Her is is directly from the FAA https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=22938
      I live in Anaheim. A few blocks over is Orange. There are definitely parts of Orange that you absolutely cannot fly a drone. The 3 mile radius around Disneyland has a TFR in effect (Temporary Flight Restriction). It says temporary but it has been in effect for a very long time (I thing since the World Trade Center incident). this video was helpful for me as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3_oJ5ZKiwA&t=1429s

      • Skyler says:

        I watched the video, very informative, unfortunately that guy failed to check a local district ordnance that prevents anyone from using the beaches to launch a drone. I reached out to that YouTuber and gave him the info but he just deleted the comment. He checked Fed, State, and City, but he forgot Regional Parks and Rec Directors order which bans every beach in OC even the place he took off from.

  • Niklaus says:

    Does anybody know if it is really ok to launch my drone from the beach and hover over the water at Laguna Beach (by pirate’s tower)?
    The city’s web page seems to suggest it is ok: https://www.lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/police/cominfo/drones/drone_faqs.htm

    Is there anything else I need to keep in mind for restrictions? I want to get a video of me proposing to my girlfriend by the beach.

  • Keith Young says:

    Congress has passed that the ONLY entity that can govern airspace (even for drones) is the FAA. Cities can however, control where you can operate, takeoff and land. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3_oJ5ZKiwA&t=1429s

  • Friend says:

    “I had a blast flying early in the morning around Balboa Island.”
    It appears that Balboa Island is in a restricted area, which actually goes out to the tip of Balboa peninsula as well.

  • DeeDee Gollwitzer says:

    You are also not allowed to fly Drones anywhere around the Dana Point Headlands or in the Harbor (which is part of OC Parks). At this time of year, especially, there are federally protected birds nesting on the Headlands. If they see the Drone, they will take it down. If in doing so, the birds are injured, you could be looking at Federal Charges. They are dealing with a case now. Sadly, many drone operators are not given this information with their new drones – not on the aps, so they don’t know.

    • Robert says:

      I fly My drone all the time north of Newport pier. There however is a height cap of I belei E 90 meters.

    • Sam says:

      Just finished getting some footage from the harbor, wish I would’ve found this post beforehand or I wouldn’t have risked getting shot down lol

  • Can drones be flown on public school grounds in Anaheim?

    • beN says:

      Schools do have huge grass fields that are empty which is great to fly, however most of them are fenced and gate locked so it sucks to have them locked. If you’re inside the huge TFR, then it’s not lawful to fly. You can of course, don’t see how flying in a field would pose a threat to anyone.

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