You can go to most airports to watch planes taking off and landing. There is always some place along the roads that run beside them where the runways are visible. But the Van Nuys Airport actually encourages visitors to stay a while and watch the airplanes coming and going.
Located adjacent to both the runways and the helicopter yard, this observation area allows aviation enthusiasts (especially of the young variety) a safe, up-close look at smaller aircraft (mostly personal planes and private jets). There are picnic tables and benches to sit on, and a map of the airport has been painted on the ground where kids can pretend they are taking off from the runway.
Speaking of kids, the two-year-olds love it. So much that I took little bear there twice last week. Some of the jets can get a little loud, but mostly everything is too exciting to be scary. That, and hugs help. You can even see the Amtrak trains go by in the distance!
Note: If you are trying to find it, the access road is what looks to be an alley off of Woodley on the south side of the fire station. The road only goes west and dead ends at the parking lot/ airport fence. It’s open 8am to sunset every day and is free to enter, free to park. Just be aware that there are no bathrooms, especially if you are visiting with potty-training children!