Los Angeles International Airport Guide

LAX sign with airplane flying overhead

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Los Angeles International Airport is the fourth busiest passenger airport in the world and the second busiest in the U.S., behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. This mega travel hub—occupying 3,500 acres southwest of downtown—sees more than 85 million passengers annually and just keeps getting busier year after year. LAX now serves nearly double the number of people it did a decade ago, but its complex infrastructure has proven capable of accommodating the rapid growth nonetheless.

Los Angeles International Airport is a perfect gateway to the beaches, cities, desert oases, and mountains dotted along the ever-diverse American West Coast. It's less than a 10-minute drive to the beaches of Playa del Rey, a 30-minute drive to the bustling downtown area, and a two-hour drive to palm-dotted San Diego. Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, and Las Vegas aren't too far to drive, either.

Airport Code, Location, and Contact Information

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is located in the coastal Westchester neighborhood of LA.

Know Before You Go

Unlike most, this airport doesn't have one central concourse. LAX's nine terminals are shaped like a U with a traffic loop and parking garages in the center, making it easy to navigate. The airlines for each terminal are clearly signposted along the loop (except for Terminal 8, which is a wing of United Airlines that can only be accessed through Terminal 7), but if you miss one, it could take 30 minutes or more to drive around the loop once more. The traffic at LAX is like a taste of LA's streets: It is safe to say it's chaotic at all hours of the night and day. Arrive early, avoid peak travel times (6 a.m. to 9 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.), and obtain an electronic boarding pass ahead of time. The airport is split into two levels—arrivals on lower and departures on upper—and has car traffic on both levels. The Tom Bradley International Terminal, which has 18 gates, is the last terminal on the driving loop.

All gates are accessible directly from the terminals, which have their own security screenings and unique dining options. Everything here is housed under a single roof, so most terminals are within walking distance of each other; however, passengers who need assistance or have tight layovers can take Route A of the inter-terminal LAX Shuttle. You can find these in front of each terminal on the arrivals level (look for blue signs that say "LAX Shuttle & Airline Connections"). It departs every 10 minutes and runs 24 hours a day.

If you're connecting to a new airline during your layover, it's likely that you'll need to travel to another terminal that may not be connected to the terminal you arrived in. In any case, you won't have to go through the security line again. United, located in Terminal 7, occupies two concourses.

LAX Parking

Parking structures are located at the center of the horseshoe across from each terminal. These can be accessed from both levels of the airport and offer free parking for 15 minutes. They cost $5 for the first hour (or fraction thereof) after that, then $4 for every 30 minutes after that (up to $40 for the day). The central garages are convenient for quickly parking to send off and receive passengers, but are not exactly a budget-friendly long-term parking solution. The LAX website features an interactive map with real-time availability. The more remote Economy Parking Lot C is slightly cheaper ($4 per hour or $12 for the day) and offers a free shuttle service to the terminals. Considering the loop takes so long to drive, many who are retrieving guests wait at the nearby Cell Phone Waiting Lot on the outskirts of the airport.

Driving Directions

From Downtown LA, follow I-110 South to I-105 West, then take Exit 1C to CA-1 North/South Sepulveda Boulevard. LAX (1 World Way) is 1 mile after the exit. From Santa Monica or other beach towns north of the airport, take I-10 East to I-405 South, then follow it to Howard Hughes Parkway. Turn left at the fork on Sepulveda Boulevard and follow signs to the airport. From San Diego or other beach towns south of the airport, take I-5 North to CA-73 North, then merge onto I-405 North and exit at Sepulveda Boulevard. The airport is a mile down this road.

Public Transportation and Taxis

When it comes to public transportation in Los Angeles (which is surprisingly limited compared to other cities of its size and caliber), the Metro Bus reigns. The public bus runs 15 routes to and from LAX—going to all the different neighborhoods: Culver City, Downtown, and beach cities to the north and south—but its most common is the FlyAway bus, specifically designed for travel to and from the terminal. Routes go to Hollywood, Long Beach, Union Station Downtown, Van Nuys, Westwood, and beyond. Fares depend on the starting point and end destination but begin at $8 per person. The buses are labeled by destination and can be accessed in front of each terminal on the lower level. Look for the green signs.

The Metro Rail is also available, but perhaps more difficult to navigate. There is no rail station at LAX (although a closer station is currently in the works), so passengers must board a free shuttle to LAX Station at the corner of Aviation Boulevard and Imperial Highway. They can then take the Green Line, which runs east to west between Redondo Beach and Norwalk.

Taxis line up under the yellow signs at each terminal on the lower level. Only authorized taxis—marked by the official seal of the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation—are allowed at LAX. They can cost about $50 to get to Downtown. Beware of rush hour traffic, which can add time and money to the meter. Uber, Lyft, and other rideshare apps are also an option. Passengers should meet their drivers curbside on the departures—not arrivals—level.

Where to Eat and Drink

LAX offers more than just the standard airport fare for hungry travelers passing through its gates. The city is a destination of culinary excellence in itself, so these nine terminals are overflowing with all those world-famous foodie delights that Southern California is known for: fresh seafood, over-the-top deli sandwiches, plenty of tacos, and, of course, no shortage of vegan and gluten-free options. Southwest passengers are treated to Cassell's Hamburgers, Trejo’s Tacos, Urth Caffe (a local favorite for breakfast, espresso, wraps, and salads), and Rock & Brews Concert Bar & Grill in Terminal 1. Highlights in Terminal 2 include Slapfish Modern Seafood Shack and the iconic Barney’s Beanery. In Terminal 3, you'll find Ashland Hill (an outpost of the popular Santa Monica gastropub), La Familia (tacos and tequila), and The Parlor (a West Hollywood staple) and in Terminal 4, Real Food Daily, the first plant-based airport restaurant in the world. Terminal 5—home to Allegiant Air, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, and part of American Airlines—is a culinary haven, boasting Lemonade (a cult classic serving up innovative salads), Monsieur Marcel (better known as the Original Farmer's Market stall), and Ford's Filling Station. The Habit Burger Grill and Wahoo's Fish Tacos make for great quick eats in Terminal 6, while B Grill by BOA Steakhouse offers a more elevated sit-down environment in Terminal 7. Terminal 8 only has five eateries, but Engine Co. No. 28 is a good bet for classic American fare. Those who are traveling internationally have the most variety in terms of dining. The Tom Bradley Terminal has ink.sack (a sandwich bar by chef Michael Voltaggio), Umami Burger (burgers with a modern twist), Vino Volo (a wine bar), 800 Degrees (build-your-own pizza), Chaya Sushi, and if you're feeling particularly fancy, Petrossian (a French caviar and champagne bar).

How to Spend Your Layover

If you have a couple of hours to kill at the airport, you could pass the time by getting a massage or facial at XpresSpa, located in the South Concourse of the Tom Bradley International Terminal and airside in Terminals 1 and 5. This spa also offers nail and waxing services, and in the International Terminal, a full-service hair salon, too.

There are no designated rest zones or on-site hotels, so if you have several hours between flights, you might consider making the 10-minute journey to the nearby beaches. The weather is notoriously sunny—even in the winter—so you might as well take advantage of vitamin D before boarding your connection. While LAX, itself, doesn't offer luggage storage for safety reasons, third-party LAX Luggage Storage will pick your bags up at the curb so you can go out and enjoy your day suitcase-free. It's open 24 hours and charges $12 to $18 per item, plus the $5 pick up and $5 drop off fees.

Airport Lounges

There are more than a dozen lounges offering a nice respite from the chaotic terminals outside their doors. American Airlines Admirals Club and Delta Sky Club have the most locations of any, each with three. American's members-only lounge is located in Terminals 4 and 5 as well as the American Eagle Regional Terminal, which is in a separate building from Terminal 5. If not a member, you may pay at the door with proof of an American Airlines ticket. Delta's members-only lounge is located in Terminals 2 and 3, with two locations in the latter. Showers are available at both American and Delta's lounges.

The KAL Lounge and Qantas Club are located in the Tom Bradley International Airport. The United Club has two locations in its domain, Terminal 7, and the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is the only lounge in Terminal 2. Terminal 6 is home to Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge and the Alaska Lounge. There's also a USO Lounge for active members of the military and their families across the road, between Terminals 1 and 2.

Wi-Fi and Charging Stations

Wi-Fi is available and free in unlimited 45-minute increments. You must watch a 15- or 30-second advertisement at the beginning of each session. There are mobile charging stations in each terminal and additional power outlets dotted around in random places: Look under seats, along the hallways walls, and at work stations.

LAX Tips and Tidbits

  • If you're lucky, you might pass by one of LAX's own therapy dogs—dubbed the LAX PUPS (Pets Unstressing Passengers)—that are marked by red vests adorned with the PUP logo. The dogs are there to create a more calming environment.
  • The LAX Observation Deck (that spaceship-looking thing in the center of the horseshoe) is open for brilliant views from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but only on the second weekend of each month.
  • Every terminal has a pet relief room, but Terminals 3 and 6 offer grander outdoor atriums for four-legged travelers.