LAX Layover: Go Have Some Fun

Maximize every sunshine-filled hour in Los Angeles

Venice Beach at sunset | Photo courtesy of Eric Demarcq, Discover Los Angeles Flickr Pool
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Since Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the fourth-busiest airport in the world, and second-busiest in the United States, layovers at LAX are common. Travelers can maximize each sunshine-filled hour with this helpful guide. The hardest part will be boarding the flight to the next destination.


Double-Double Animal Style with Animal Style fries at In-N-Out
Double-Double Animal Style with Animal Style fries at In-N-Out | Photo courtesy of sota, Flickr

Right after you land or before you board your flight, it's an L.A. tradition to stop at the In-N-Out Burger next to the airport for a Double-Double Animal Style, chocolate shake and Animal Style french fries. The late, great Anthony Bourdain famously said it's the best restaurant in L.A. You might see students from the nearby Otis College of Art and Design, or hungry guests of the Westin LAX and Custom Hotel. Diners seated at the outside tables have an unparalleled view of jets taking off and landing on the nearby runways.

Two- to Three-Hour Layovers

Drink LA at LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal
Drink LA at Tom Bradley International Terminal | Photo courtesy of Westfield at LAX

Renovated terminals and new dining/retail locations at LAX offer travelers a chance to sample the tastes and sights of Los Angeles, even on short layovers.

A $332-million renovation of Terminal 2 features a new design theme that reflects the energy of L.A.'s on-the-go culture, with nearly 20 retail and dining concepts as well as lounge-style seating with more charging stations. Stop by Virgin Atlantic’s first-ever Clubhouse, inspired by the West Coast way of life. The Clubhouse offers a stylish, luxury experience along with healthy dining options for Virgin’s Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members.

With the December 2017 additions of new super-local L.A. restaurants at Terminal 3, foodies can enjoy the flavors of the city without even leaving the airport. Ashland Hill, a Santa Monica gastropub with a focus on craft beer, burgers and other casual fare, joins healthy EarthBar, tequila spot La Familia as well as globally-inspired Blue Window and Shake Shack.

Travelers can enjoy Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT)’s "Great Hall," featuring 150,000 square feet of premier dining, retail shopping and an Integrated Environmental Media System designed to entertain waiting passengers. Five new business class and first class lounges await those with access.

Art aficionados should reference LAX’s handy online guide to its impressive collection of public art and take a self-guided tour. As part of its expansion and renovation, LAX has transformed many of its public spaces into art spaces by featuring temporary art exhibitions and installations throughout the airport. Presented in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, LAX features 11 exhibition sites located in Terminals 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and TBIT.

Four- to Six-Hour Layovers

The Strand House
Photo courtesy of The Strand House, Facebook

Visitors eager to put their toes in the sand don’t have to go far from LAX. Some of L.A.’s best beaches are a quick drive away.

Located about five miles from the airport, Manhattan Beach is renowned for some of the best surfing waves in Southern California and regarded as the birthplace of beach volleyball. This beach neighborhood can be explored on foot via the self-guided walking tour itinerary. Or, take a break from the beach and grab a cocktail at The Shade Hotel’s Zinc@Shade or enjoy a meal at the stunning oceanfront restaurant, The Strand House.

Afterward, head down the coast about two miles to Hermosa Beach and jump on a beach cruiser to explore with Beach Cities Bike Tours.

The Marvin Braude Bike Trail in Marina del Rey
The Marvin Braude Bike Trail in Marina del Rey | Photo by Joshua Johnson

Another nearby waterside community that is less than 10 miles from LAX is Marina del Rey, one of the largest constructed small boat harbors in the world. Visitors can take a stroll at the quaint Fisherman’s Village along the Marina. Travelers can also bike on the Marvin Braude coastal bike trail, tour the Ballona Wetlands, or set up a picnic with an outdoor movie at Burton Chace Park. For those who have extra time, enjoy a sunset dining cruise aboard a Hornblower Cruise luxury yacht.

Located about 10 miles from LAX, Venice Beach is famous for street art and commissioned murals, Venice Beach Boardwalk, Abbot Kinney and creative California cuisine. For a refreshing drink and uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean, visitors can stop at the High Rooftop Lounge at Hotel Erwin.  

Santa Monica Pier at sunset
Santa Monica Pier | Photo courtesy of Shabdro Photo, Flickr

Named one of the "Top 10 Beach Cities in the World" by National Geographic, trendy Santa Monica is a bit farther out, located about 15 miles from LAX. The iconic Santa Monica Pier is a must-see featuring an amusement park, ferris wheel and The Looff Hippodrome, home to the iconic Carousel. In addition to the numerous dining options, shopping ranges from the sleek outdoor Santa Monica Place to quaint boutiques along Main Street and Third Street Promenade that include an outdoor collection of stores, movie theaters and cafes.

Eight-Hour-Plus Layovers

Union Station
Union Station | Photo courtesy of C. Strife, Flickr

For travelers with eight-hour or longer layovers, take advantage of L.A.’s ever-improving public transit system. A great option to kick off the car-free journey is by using the FlyAway bus service, which provides frequent non-stop transportation between LAX and locations throughout the city. Find the bus on the Lower/Arrival Level underneath the green “FlyAway, Buses and Long Distance Vans” signs.

The FlyAway goes to Union Station in Downtown L.A. Tickets are priced at $8 for a one-way fare. From there, visitors can take Metro buses and trains to various points throughout the city. The free Go Metro Mobile App shows arrival times, maps, alerts and more. Bus route maps are also available at the airport. Across the street from Union Station is historic Olvera Street, home to authentic and delicious Mexican restaurants, the Chinese American Museum, street vendors and much more.

Other highlights in Downtown L.A. include exploring L.A. LIVE, the sports and entertainment district that surrounds STAPLES Center and Microsoft Theatre. This district is also home to restaurants, bars and the Grammy Museum.

Entrance to third-floor galleries at The Broad
Entrance to third-floor galleries | Photo courtesy of The Broad, Facebook

About a mile and a half from L.A. LIVE is The Broad, a stunning contemporary art museum that offers free admission to its world-class collection. Adjacent to The Broad is the world-renowned Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry, which offers free docent-led guided tours. Across the street from The Broad is the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). This is L.A.’s first museum solely dedicated to contemporary art.

Bar at 71Above in the U.S. Bank Tower
Photo courtesy of 71Above, Facebook

For f oodies, Downtown L.A. is home to many notable culinary offerings including Grand Central Market, Patina and 71Above which not only offers diners a delectable menu, but gorgeous views of L.A. from the 71st floor at the US Bank Tower.

Visitors who want to take in views of L.A.’s skyline while enjoying a drink can stop at hotel rooftop bars located at The Standard, Ace Hotel, The NoMad and Broken Shaker at the Freehand

The Public House at Angel City Brewery
The Public House | Photo courtesy of Angel City Brewery, Facebook

The Arts District is another area to enjoy while in Downtown L.A. It is a creative hub with community spaces catering to the young, creative, and inspired. It is also home to breweries, independent coffee shops, museums, street art murals, restaurants and retail.

Hollywood Sign viewed from a helicopter
Photo courtesy of Renee Silverman, Flickr

Travelers who have their eyes set on Hollywood have two car-free transportation options. The FlyAway offers a comfortable bus service for an $8 one-way ticket. The bus drops off one block south of Hollywood Boulevard. Or, if coming from Downtown L.A., the Metro Red Line from Union Station to Hollywood is about a 20-minute ride. Visitors can get off at the Hollywood and Highland station and be in the heart of Tinseltown.

TCL Chinese Theatre interior
Photo courtesy of TCL Chinese Theatre, Facebook

Explore TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, get a picture with an Avenger or Darth Vader and explore the theatre’s courtyard with its famous cement footprints and handprints of Hollywood’s favorite celebrities from Marilyn Monroe to George Clooney. Just around the corner is the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland, which is the home of the Academy Awards. Visitors can take pictures of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then walk over to Madame Tussauds wax showcase of celebrities.

Classic Martini at Musso & Frank Grill
Classic Martini at Musso & Frank Grill | Photo by Daniel Djang

For those who get hungry along the way, restaurant options in Hollywood include Paley, located at Columbia Square, the birthplace of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the meat-centric Gwen by Chef Curtis Stone. Visitors can also stop at Yamashiro—a Japanese restaurant tucked away on Sycamore Avenue that offers unbeatable views or Musso & Frank Grill, the oldest restaurant in Hollywood known for its killer Martinis. 

Rooftop at Mama Shelter Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of Mama Shelter Los Angeles, Facebook

For another stunning view of the city, visitors can walk to Mama Shelter and check out their rooftop lounge featuring a 360° view of Hollywood, Downtown L.A. and the Westside.

Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park
Hollyhock House at Barnsdall Art Park | Photo courtesy of Omar Omar, Flickr

Visitors can also explore with L.A. City Tours, which offers specific LAX Layover excursions that show off movie stars’ homes, Hollywood and other L.A. iconic sites and include pick-ups from LAX. Other not-to-miss iconic architectural gems include the Hollyhock House and the Stahl House, which also offer tour options.

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Universal Studios Hollywood
"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™" | Image Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

For those with a few hours to fill, hop back on the Metro Red Line from the Hollywood and Highland Station for one stop north to Universal City. Experience how movies are made on the Universal Studios Hollywood tour and see the backlot of movie sets, not to mention exciting attractions such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™.

Overnight Layovers

Costero Bar and Bistro at Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel
Costero Bar and Bistro | Photo courtesy of Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel

For layovers that creep into the wee hours of the night, travelers can rest in comfort and style at Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles. The hotel completed its second phase of multi-million-dollar renovation with sophisticated upgrades to their 802 guestrooms and suites as well as the hotel lobby area and Sheraton Club. Travelers who upgrade to the Sheraton Club have access to the lounge 24/7 and are provided with complimentary continental breakfast, evening hors d’oeuvres and panoramic views of LAX.

Discover LAX

LAX time-lapse photo
LAX | Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley