Layover lowdown: Los Angeles International Airport
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on Sep. 2, 2015.
Most people understandably try to minimize the time they spend at an airport. However, delays/cancellations happen and long connections are sometimes inevitable. Fortunately, being stuck in an airport between flights doesn’t have to ruin your trip.
Today, we’re going to take a look at how you can pass a layover of any length at my home airport, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). We’re going to go over navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the city.
LAX is the second-busiest airport in the U.S. and the fourth-busiest in the world. Traffic is projected to rise to up to 100 million by 2040 — so chances are you may soon have a layover in LA. The airport serves as a hub for Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United and is a focus city for Air New Zealand, Allegiant Air, Norwegian, Qantas, and Southwest Airlines.
At the airport
Although LAX has nine separate terminal buildings, many are connected airside, so you can clear security at one and either walk or shuttle to another to visit a specific lounge. Tom Bradley International Terminal and terminals 2 and 3 are connected airside via shuttles, and Tom Bradley and terminals 4 — 8 are connected airside via walkways.
Related: 18 Time-Saving Travel Hacks for Los Angeles International Airport
LAX is home to over a dozen lounges. Although some of the airport's nicest lounges — like the Qantas International First Lounge, United Polaris Lounge and Etihad Lounge — require a premium cabin ticket or upper-tier elite status for entry, the airport fields several options for Priority Pass members, such as the Alaska Lounge. There's also an American Express Centurion Lounge coming to TBIT in 2020.
Related: Choose this, not that: LAX Priority Pass lounge edition
Like many airports, LAX offers free Wi-Fi throughout the airport and water-bottle filling stations in every terminal. For those traveling with a pet or emotional support animal, there are three pre-security animal relief areas, as well as one airside at every terminal except 8, per this map. For those missing their pets back home, for a few hours every week, there are therapy dogs greeting passengers in various LAX terminals and at the ground level of the Theme Building, part of the airport’s Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) program. There are also several permanent and rotating art installations throughout the airport, as well as live performances as part of the “LAX Presents” series.
Although the airport's iconic Theme Building no longer offers meal service in the Encounter restaurant, there's still an observation deck open on second weekend of each month (Saturdays and Sundays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Alternatively, AvGeeks, especially aviation history enthusiasts, should consider heading to the Flight Path Museum at LAX, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is free to enter. Aside from a treasure trove of flying collectibles, the museum has a Douglas DC-3 parked on the airport's tarmac that you can go inside and terrific views of aircraft takeoffs and landings on the south runway complex.
If you have a long layover and don’t want to wheel your luggage around with you, you can store your bags at LAX Luggage Storage for between $12-$18 per day. You can drop off and pick up your bags at the facility yourself, though if you opt for the more convenient terminal curbside pick up and drop off, it’s $5 per item each way.
Los Angeles is a shopping mecca, so as one would expect, the airport offers great shopping. The Great Hall in the TBIT offers the most options of any terminal for shopping with a Rodeo Drive-inspired retail boutique and duty-free shopping area. Some stores you'll find here include Burberry, Bvlgari, Coach, Fred Segal, Gucci, Hermes, Tumi, Victoria's Secret, Hugo Boss and more.
Other terminals are a bit more limited, but you'll still find multiple MAC Cosmetics stores, multiple DFS Duty Free stores, multiple See’s Candies stores, a Kiehl’s store, and plenty newsstand-type stores.
Travelers can sample some of the best of LA's food scene without leaving the airport. From healthy options like açaí bowls from Earthbar or cold-pressed juices from Beaming Cafe, to artisanal burgers from Umami Burger or Cassell’s Hamburgers, to Neapolitan-style pizza from 800 Degrees to caviar and Champagne from Petrossian Caviar & Champagne Bar, LAX has even the pickiest of eaters covered. The airport features a number of local eateries with recognizable names such as Ashland Hill, Lamill Coffee, Trejo’s Tacos, Vanilla Bake Shop and Urth Caffé & Bar that use ingredients that are identical to those in their city locations. Even the LAX-it rideshare pickup lot offers a good variety of options from rotating food trucks — a staple of the city's cultural identity.
However, LAX's most popular dining option might just be the In-N-Out burger located on Sepulveda Blvd, just off the airport property. In-N-Out is a California institution, but what makes this one stand out is that it has picture-perfect views of the flight path into the airport, a mecca for anyone who loves plane spotting. Heck, some AvGeeks arrange trips to California, specifically to come here and photograph airplanes. If you have a few hours between flights, you can enjoy your planespotting with a burger and feel like you got a real LA experience. It is relatively walkable from Terminal 1, but you'll want to leave the airport from the arrivals level as the sidewalk on the departures level is very narrow. Savvy travelers used to get to In-N-Out by hopping on the complimentary shuttle for the nearby Parking Spot lot, but the lot has since made it clear that their shuttle is for "paying customers only" and now requires your car's entry ticket (or a flash of the free Spot Club card).
Related: How I became an AvGeek in a week: Plane spotting at the In-N-Out in LAX
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to a layover hotel in Los Angeles. Although no hotel is connected directly to the airport, all of the hotels in the area offer free shuttle services. If your layover isn't overnight and you're simply looking for a quiet place to shower and regroup before your next flight, call the hotel and inquire about a day-rate room.
Related: The best hotels for a layover at LAX
The Sheraton Gateway is often an overall solid choice. The shuttle runs frequently, the rooms are well-appointed, and the hotel has wonderful views of the airport. Nightly rates range from $96 to $339 , including taxes, for the cheapest-available room, depending on the date. Alternatively, you could redeem 20,000 to 30,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for a night here.
If you have Hyatt elite status, you may prefer the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport for its impressive club lounge. Or, if you're an AvGeek, you'll want to stay at the H Hotel for its spectacularly well-placed 12th floor terrace, which has truly exceptional views of the airport. Other solid options include the Westin Los Angeles Airport and the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport.
Aside from having to take a shuttle to the "LAX-it" ride-hailing lot, using Uber, Lyft or other ride-hailing services out of the airport is relatively easy and reasonably priced. Manhattan Beach is about 15 minutes away and would cost about $20 if you Uber, Santa Monica is about 30 minutes away and would cost $30, Beverly Hills is 35 minutes away and would cost $34, Hollywood is about 40 minutes away and would cost $40 and Downtown LA is 35 minutes away and would cost $32, but give yourself plenty of extra time with LA traffic. Alternatively, you can hop on a FlyAway bus from LAX to Hollywood, Long Beach, Union Station (Downtown LA) or Van Nuys for $8 to $9.75, one-way. Tickets can be bought online or in person. Taxis offer flat rates to Downtown LA for $50.50.
Related: We checked out LAX’s new ride-hailing lot — and things are improving
If you want to be picked up from the terminal curb front, you can request a black car service like Uber Black or GroundLink. If you're heading Downtown and really want to maximize your layover, you can book a BLADE helicopter.
While LA's public transportation system still isn't great (it's improving!), shuttling to Lot South / LAX City Bus Center and transferring to a public bus is also an option. There's also a shuttle bus to connect from LAX to the Metro Green Line, which connects to both the Metro Silver Line bus and Metro Blue Line light rail to take you into Downtown's 7th/Metro Center station. Traveling by bus and Metro could take at least an hour.
If you have half a day
The nearby In-N-Out Burger previously mentioned is an awesome place to watch planes land while you await your next flight. Be aware that at peak lunch hours, both drive-thru and dine-in lines can get pretty long, but the friendly staff move people along quickly.
If plane spotting between flights does not sound fun to you, taking an Uber or Lyft to Manhattan Beach is a great idea. You can get some fresh air while walking along the beach or the pier, rent bikes and ride along the strand, have lunch at a variety of awesome restaurants, shop or even hop in the ocean for a swim.
Related: Miles Away episode 15: Turning a layover into the perfect beach day in LA
Manhattan Beach has embraced a culinary surge — GQ called it the "Best Beach for Food." TPG team members successfully used the American Express Concierge to score last-minute table reservations at chef David LeFevre's MB Post, which features a host of tasty eats including bacon-cheddar biscuits. Great views of the water can be had from The Strand House and the classic beach bar Shellback Tavern. You might also want to try the seafood at Fishing With Dynamite, Petros for Mediterranean or grab a beer or glass of wine at Simmzy's Pub or Brew Co.
Even closer to the airport is El Segundo, with a classic Main Street area that's growing in popularity. Popular restaurants include El Tarasco for a super deluxe burrito and the original Rock & Brews location. (Rock & Brews also has an outpost inside Terminal 1). For some more local brews, check out the tap room of El Segundo Brewing for wonderfully hoppy craft beer or the classic tiki bar Purple Orchid.
If you have a whole day
If you have a full day, you should probably consider renting a car — touring sprawling Los Angeles is quite a challenge via public transit and can get expensive if you rideshare everywhere. If you enjoy driving, some of the coast roads are incredibly beautiful, and with a car you'll have a lot more options to explore. Going north from the airport you could check out Venice Beach, Santa Monica or farther up to Malibu — try the barefoot bar at Duke's Malibu on the water's edge — or just before the Ventura County border, stop at Neptune's Net for some seafood. After your meal, you'll be driving along the Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH), which offers gorgeous sunset views over the ocean.
Of course, you could also head into the city and visit attractions like the Griffith Observatory for excellent views, Rodeo Drive or The Grove for shopping, The J. Paul Getty Museum or Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for arts and culture or Hollywood Boulevard for the Walk of Fame. Or, if you're really feeling adventurous, you could visit one of LA's amusement parks, such as Universal Studios Hollywood or Disneyland.
Related: Miles Away episode 11: Using an LAX layover for a day at Disneyland
If you don't rent a car and take the bus or train to Union Station, walk across to Mexico-inspired Olvera Street. It's home to a lot of interesting early Los Angeles history and art including the once-hidden América Tropical mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros. If you go to Los Angeles City Hall, check out the top observation deck for a free view then relax in the Grand Park. Just a couple of blocks away is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), The Broad museum and the steel, undulating planes of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Related: 23 fun things to do in Los Angeles for every type of traveler
If you want to stay a little closer to the airport and avoid big crowds, head south past Manhattan Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, cruise through Malaga Cove Plaza and go up and around the hill to relax with food and drinks at Nelson's at the Terranea Resort. Grab a spot around the outdoor fireplaces right on the cliff's edge and soak up the sweeping views — on a clear day you can see Catalina Island. Tide pools are nearby, and there are also some good places for an easy hike including the Crenshaw Trails at Del Cerro Park in the Portuguese Bend Reserve.
Los Angeles is definitely one of the better airports to have a layover in. The airport is undergoing massive renovations so amenities like lounges, restaurants and shopping options have improved significantly. That said, if your layover is more than a couple hours long, you'll want to leave the airport and explore all that the City of Angels has to offer.
Keep in mind that if you’re a victim of a lengthy delay at LAX (or any other airport) that was out of your control, you may be entitled to certain benefits from your airline or credit card. If the delay was within the airline’s control (like maintenance problems), they’ll typically provide you food vouchers and overnight accommodations. But if it wasn’t, or the vouchers aren’t enough to cover all your expenses, credit cards with trip delay reimbursements will reimburse you for reasonable additional expenses, such as meals, lodging and toiletries.