Fun Things to Do on a Long Layover at LAX

  • 01 of 07

    How to Kill a Few Hours in Los Angeles

    LAX
    ••• LAX. Photo © 2014 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

    Sometimes when you're crossing the globe and have to change planes, you end up with a long layover in Los Angeles. Here are some ideas for how you can spend your time in LA, depending on how long you have, from a couple hours to a whole day. There's a lot you can do right at the airport, and plenty more within easy reach if you have a few more hours.

    LAX Orientation

    Before we get started, there are some things you need to know about Los Angeles International Airport. In general, LAX is way behind the times when it comes to airport amenities, although things are gradually being updated. All terminals are not created equal. If you're on an international flight passing through, you'll probably be arriving at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), which was first to be updated and has more amenities than any other terminal. You can entertain yourself there with fine restaurants and shopping for a few hours without ever leaving the terminal. But some international...MORE flights do arrive into or depart from other terminals.

    As I'm writing this, Terminals 2 and 3 are kind of a dead zone with very limited food and shopping options, especially during renovations, so if you're arriving there, and have at least 2 hours, you might want to get out of the terminal.  A Terminal 2 makeover including new concessions is scheduled to be completed mid 2015.

    If you have a boarding pass for a same day flight, you can go explore any terminal. Some adjacent terminals are connected at gate level (5-8) but others are not, and you have to go outside, and possibly take a shuttle to get to another terminal, then go through security again. So if you are changing airlines, or arriving into one terminal and departing from another, then 2 hours may be just enough time to grab a sandwich and catch your flight.

    To get from one terminal to another you can catch the free Airline Connections "A" Shuttle, which picks up at the LAX Shuttle & Airline Connections blue sign on the Lower/Arrival Level islands in front of each terminal. If you need to stretch your legs, the farthest distance between a gate at Terminal 1 or 7 and the most distance gate from each at TBIT is about a mile, with much shorter distances, if you're crossing the narrow part of the  loop instead of end to end.  

    Now on to the good stuff...how to best fill those hours in LA...

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  • 02 of 07

    Things to Do at the Airport at LAX

    Encounter Restaurant at LAX
    ••• Encounter Restaurant at Los Angeles International Airport. Photo © 2011 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

    Explore dining and shopping options in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) and Terminal 7. The newly renovated TBIT is like a gorgeous upscale shopping mall with amazing multi-media public art everywhere you look.  Some of LA's top chefs have restaurants at LAX, mostly in TBIT and Terminal 7. These are some of the more well-known brands. 

    TBIT

    • Chaya Brasserie
    • Border Grill
    • Petrossian Caviar & Champagne Bar
    • Ink Sack
    • Umami Burger

    Terminal 7

    • B Grill by BOA
    • BLD
    • Wolgang Puck Express

    Others:

    • Campanile in Terminal 4
    • LA Farmers Market favorites Loteria and Monsieur Marcel in Terminal 5

    Relax and Explore

    Get a spa treatment – if you need to relax or get the kinks out after sitting long hours in a plane with more to come, stop in at Xpresspa in TBIT or Terminal 5 for a massage or other spa treatment. Even just a quick arm massage can be a huge refresher.

    Free liqueur and spirits tasting at all the duty-free shops in TBIT.

    Explore the LAX Art Exhibits – This can be a little tricky since some of...MORE the exhibits are in the customs arrival area and other areas with limited access, but there are some in more public areas in every terminal that you can seek out. Some are permanent installations and others are temporary exhibits. The multimedia exhibits in TBIT are endlessly fascinating. Grab a meal, drink or a cup of coffee in the main hall and watch the constant change of scenery around you.

    Unfortunately the Encounter Restaurant in the space-age structure called the Theme Building at the center of LAX is closed. The building is familiar to most people from its cameos on innumerable movies and TV shows, so you can still walk over to it and take a picture if you want. There's still a cafeteria on the lower level, nut they don't have a new vendor installed in the restaurant yet.  There is an Observation Deck at the top of the building, but it is only open Saturday and Sunday 8 to 5 until a new restaurant comes in.

    Fans of aviation can visit the Flight Path Learning Center and Museum to see models, photographs, uniforms and other artifacts highlighting the role of airlines, aircraft manufacturers, aerospace companies, and the airport in the history of Southern California. It's a small museum, so you can probably spend an hour and cover it all, unless you read all the words or are planning to use the research library.

    I hesitate to recommend the Flight Path Museum because it's so inconvenient to reach, even though it's technically on airport property.  It is on the south side of LAX, but you can't walk through the Sepulveda Tunnel, and it's about 4 miles around the south runways. You can take a taxi for the 5-minute drive, but it's about $20 each way with airport surcharges and minimum fares. Now you can use your smartphone to call an Uber or other personal ride car, which is more reasonable. Be sure to call in plenty of time for a ride back to your terminal.

    The Flight Path Museum
    The Flight Path Learning Center & Museum
    LAX Imperial Terminal
    6661 West Imperial Highway, Los Angeles, CA 90045
    (424) 646-7284
    http://flightpathmuseum.com
    Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 am – 3 pm, closed holidays include Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday, Christmas Eve and Day and New Year's Day.
    Admission: Free
    Parking: Free

    The Proud Bird (closed for renovation)
    11022 Aviation Blvd. 
    Los Angeles, CA 90045
    (310)670-3093
    www.theproudbird.com/proudbird/
    The Proud Bird Restaurant and Museum is also technically on airport property over on Aviation and 111th Street right next to a runway where you can watch planes land. It has the same problem as the Flight Path Museum in being inconvenient to get to at 1.9 miles from the nearest passenger terminal.  It's a $20 taxi ride or use the ride share method suggested above.

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  • 03 of 07

    Go to the Beach on an LAX Layover

    Main Beach in Manhattan Beach
    ••• Main Beach in Manhattan Beach, CA. Photo © 2009 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

    The Los Angeles International Airport is adjacent to Dockweiler Beach, a very long strip of beach with few amenities, but because of the airport fee and minimum fare, it costs about $20 to take a taxi the 4 miles around the runways.  If you have less than 4 hours, this is probably your best bet, but be sure to schedule a taxi or car service to pick you up at the beach in time to get back to the airport.  

    It costs just a couple dollars more to get down to Manhattan Beach, the nearest beach that also has shopping and restaurants.  For a little more, you can take a cab north to Venice Beach or Santa Monica Beach to the north.

    Beach Bargain from LAX

    The best deal on getting to the beach is to hop on the free purple shuttle to the Concourse Hotel ( formerly the Radisson LAX), and buy a $5 ticket from the concierge for the Ocean Express shuttle to Manhattan Beach. The Ocean Express runs from the corner of Century Blvd and Vicksburg Ave, right in front of the hotel, to Downtown Manhattan Beach...MORE Pier, which gives you access to trendy shops and restaurants as well as plenty of sand, waves and beach activities. It takes about 20 minutes from the hotel to the pier. The shuttle continues to the Manhattan Village Shopping Center and the El Segundo Shopping Center. The shuttle serves all the hotels on Century Boulevard near LAX, but the Concourse Hotel is closest to both the airport and the beach. You can also walk to it easily from Terminal 1. Check gatewaytola.org for the shuttle schedule.

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  • 04 of 07

    Take a Shopping Excursion

    Luxury Shopping

    If you have 4 hours or more and want to experience some super high-end shopping in LA, arrange a car service for the duration of your layover. Your driver can pick you up at LAX and whisk you away to funky Abbott Kinney in Venice, Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica, Rodeo Drive, the Beverly Center, the Grove, or anywhere else you'd like to go, without you having to worry about directions, parking, where to put your packages between shops or keeping you on time to get back to the airport and check another bag.

    Westfield Culver City is the nearest mall, open from 10 am to 9 pm.
    6000 Sepulveda Blvd
    Culver City, CA 90230
    www.westfield.com/culvercity/

    Where's the closest WAL-MART to LAX?

    I've had a number of international visitors email me asking where the closest Wal-Mart, Target or Costco is to the airport.

    Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market (14 minutes or more)
    14441 Inglewood Ave
    Hawthorne, CA 90250
    (424) 336-2212
    Mon - Sun 7:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

    Wal-Mart Store (17 minutes or...MORE more)
    19503 Normandie Ave
    Torrance, CA 90501
    (310) 782-6022
    Mon - Sun 6 am - 12 am

    TARGET near LAX

    The top 3 of these Target stores are less than 5 miles from LAX. The Manhattan beach store is 6.7 miles, but I included it for people who might want to include a stop here with a visit to the beach. It's 14 blocks from the pier, and there is a city bus. Both Target stores in Culver City are open 8 am to midnight, except Sunday until 11 pm.

    Culver City South CA
    6000 Sepulveda Blvd
    Culver City, CA 90230-6423

    Culver City CA
    10820 Jefferson Blvd
    Culver City, CA 90230-4935

    Inglewood CA
    3471 W Century Blvd
    Inglewood, CA 90301-1218

    Manhattan Beach CA
    1200 N Sepulveda Blvd
    Manhattan Beach, CA 90266-5104

    COSTCO near LAX

    Marina Del Rey/Culver City (3.54 miles)
    13463 Washington Blvd
    Marina Del Rey, CA 90292-5658
    (310) 754-2003

    Shopping Westchester

    For the closest shopping to LAX, there's a two-block stretch of shops just north of the airport on Sepulveda Blvd between Manchester Parkway and Westchester Blvd including Kohl's Department Store, Ross, TJ Maxx Home Goods, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Radioshack, Trader Joe's, Ralph's Super Market as well as multiple office supply stores. The biggest attraction on this little strip is the In-N-Out Burger, LA's favorite fast food burger.

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  • 05 of 07

    Take a Tour on Your LAX Layover

    Starline Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus
    ••• Starline Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus in front of the Chinese Theatre. Photo © 2012 Kayte Deioma, licensed to About.com

    Take a Hop On Hop Off Tour from LAX

    The Starline Hop-On, Hop Off tour has four routes and two connectors, one of which stops at the Concourse Hotel next to LAX. If you have four hours or more during the day, you can hop on and off up to Marina del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica. If you have all day, you can take an additional loop over to Hollywood. Each of the narrated tour loops takes about 2 hours if you don't get off.  The down side is that the tours end at 6 pm. However, if you have all day into the evening, you can loop out to the farther tours first, then end in Marina Del Rey for dinner so you'll be closer to the airport to grab a taxi back for your flight.

    You can buy your tour in advance at a discount, or from the concierge at the Concourse Hotel.

    Schedule a Custom tour with a Personal Tour Guide

    You can hire a limo driver to shepherd you around LA, or you can hire an actual private tour guide to pick you up and give you a custom tour of whatever interests you.  Find a...MORE guide who speaks the language you need and has the expertise you want on Viator.

    Drive-Yourself Tour

    If you have all day, rent a car, which is less expensive than a limo or taxi, and take yourself on my 1-day LA Driving Tour. You can head straight to Hollywood and follow the tour to LAX, or follow it in reverse. Before you do, check out my guide to Driving in LA.

    If you don't get out of the car, you can do the driving tour in 2 hours in one direction and deadhead back, which could take another 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on traffic. Depending on how many hours you have, you can get out and explore at locations that interest you. Take into consideration the time it will take on both ends to deal with car pick up and return.

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  • 06 of 07

    Hit the Links Near LAX

    Golfer
    ••• Golfer. Photo Getty Images/Cavan Images

    The Westchester Golf Course is an 18-hole public golf course just north of LAX airport. Tee times run from well before dawn to well after dark and vary by season. Prices vary by tee time. Premium club rentals are available. There's also a 58-stall driving range and practice areas. Never golfed before? Make an appointment with a golf pro for instruction.

    www.westchestergc.com

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  • 07 of 07

    Eat Iconic LA Junk Food

    In-N-Out
    ••• Britney Spears at In-N-Out in Los Angeles. Mel Bouzad/ Getty Images

    I don't actually recommend eating at any of these places in the sense of it being food you will absolutely love. However, these are three LA fast food establishments that are often talked about by celebrities, missed by locals when they're away from home and have cameos in numerous big and small screen productions.

    In-N-Out Burger (15-20 minute walk)
    9149 S Sepulveda Blvd
    Los Angeles, CA
    (800) 786-1000

    There are probably more limos going through the drive through at In-N-Out-Burger than any other fast food chain.  It comes up surprisingly often in late-night talk show interviews as one of the things visiting celebs do every time they come to LA. There's an In-N-Out within walking distance of LAX. It's about a 20 minute walk from Terminal 1. I don't get what all the fuss is about. It's a pretty ordinary hamburger. But if you want to say you've been there. It's there. It's not far, but it's a little tricky to walk to because of streets that cross over...MORE top of each other. To walk from Terminal 1, head east (left out the doors of the terminal) away from the airport and take the first left on Sky Way before the big parking lot. The street curves right, and you'll turn right at the first opportunity on W. 96th St, then turn left in 2 short blocks on Sepulveda Blvd. You'll walk north underneath Sky Way, through a sea of parking lots on both sides of the street. You'll come to a fork in the road where Sepulveda continues north and Lincoln/Pacific Coast Highway 1 veers left. Cross the street here to the little triangle park and In N Out Burger is just on the other side. You can also take the free shuttle to LAX Lot C, and it's a 10 minute walk, right/west on 96th St, right on Sepulveda, and cross the street when you see it.

    For a more gourmet burger, there's a branch of LA's famous Umami Burger in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, the newcomer, Built burgers in Terminal 2, the 8 oz Burger Bar in Terminal 4, and the Counter – build-your-own- burger restaurant in Terminal 7.

    Randy's Donuts (2.6 mi; 7 min by car, 50 min on foot , 31 min walk/bus combo -Bus 115)
    805 W Manchester Blvd
    Inglewood, CA

    The real draw at Randy's Donuts is to take a selfie with the giant donut that's been featured in so many movies and TV shows, but the donuts and pastries are pretty good too.

    Tito's Tacos (20 minutes driving)
    11222 Washington Pl
    Culver City, CA
    (310) 391-5780

    Tito's Tacos in Culver City is about a 20 minute drive from LAX. It's another one of those places that people who grew up in the area miss when they're away and nostalgically reminisce about, making it better in their memory than it really is. If you want to live the experience of standing in long lines for mediocre tacos, so you can say you've been there, go for it.