8 Things To Do During A Long Layover At LAX, According To A Pilot

Sometimes I pinch myself because I am so lucky to be based at Los Angeles Airport. I get to fly the mighty Boeing 777 in and out of the City of Angels. The best part of Southern California is the weather. If you too are lucky enough to spend time here, you can turn a long unproductive layover into a few memorable hours spent with Tinsel Town as the backdrop. There are many activities that can be experienced; it’s so hard to pick just one! 

1. Stay Or Leave

Choosing to stay at the airport or leave can be a tricky conundrum to have. So many variables go into answering the question of whether to stay or leave the airport, specifically the secured area. The time of day, how long your layover is, and what terminal you depart from can alter what is desirable and what is feasible. Los Angeles is a really great jumping-off spot to many areas of Southern California. Choices range from Disneyland, Hollywood, movie-themed Universal Studios, or a gorgeous Orange County beach; choosing one can seem daunting. Picking one destination close by ensures a great layover while at LAX.

2. The Bag Drag

Hauling your luggage around town can be a real drag! If you decide that you are going to leave the airport and haven’t checked your bags through to your destination, there is a service that will pick up and return your luggage, curbside, for a small fee. LAX Luggage Storage offers this service; just pre-book, and this service can help simplify your layover. Another option is to contact your airline regarding early check-in of your luggage. Sadly, TSA no longer allows self-service lockers at airports within the U.S. since 9/11. As an airline employee – whether I am working or on holiday – I always have my roll-a-board with me. I use a sturdy suitcase, with in-line skate wheels, perfectly balanced and almost effortless to pull. I need the flexibility and am not always assured I will get on the flight as a non-revenue passenger!

Photo Credit: Christy Karsten

3. Time Marches On

If you have decided you want to stretch your wings and leave the airport, there are great places from which to choose. Do you want to head to the wacky beach town of Venice, or visit the beautiful promenade of the Santa Monica Pier? Would you rather zip over to movie star-filled Hollywood, or lighten your wallet on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills? Or, do what most avgeeks (aviation geeks) do at LAX and head over to the famous In-N-Out burger restaurant around the corner on Sepulveda and watch jets while you munch on a double-double burger?

Pro Tip: Across the street from In-N-Out Burger is a park aptly named Airplane Landing View Park with up-close views of the action on runway 24R. 

The Chinese Theater (Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com)

4. Lights, Camera, Action

Getting to Hollywood Boulevard from LAX is easy. Uber is the fastest way, but the public bus is more economical. Take the Flyaway bus to Union Station, transfer to the Metro Rail, then hop on the Metro Purple or Red Line and exit at the Hollywood and Vine Station. Most of the attractions in the Hollywood Entertainment District are located nearby. Snap a great shot of the Hollywood sign as a souvenir. Give yourself a few hours to walk around and see the handprints at the Chinese Theatre and the stars at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then grab something to eat and travel back to the airport. The area is flat and easy to navigate; wear comfortable shoes and layer clothes suitable for the time of year you visit. Winters can be chilly and gray, and summers can be bright and hot. Plan on 60 to 90 minutes to get to Hollywood and build in time for unforeseen traffic delays. 

Pro Tip: Check the Waze app to plan ahead for traffic and return to the airport in time for your flight. It uplinks current traffic conditions and calculates a realistic arrival time. 

Santa Monica Pier (Dogora Sun / Shutterstock.com)

5. Sand, Sunscreen, And Salt 

I am definitely a beach person and a bit biased, but our California Golden Coast is gorgeous. Head due south of the airport, inhale the clean smell of salt in the air, feel the sand between your toes, and listen to the waves crashing on the sand. Take a quick 15-minute Uber ride and head over to Marina Del Rey, an area of retail shops, sightseeing, skating, and biking next to the Pacific Ocean. A quick 30-minute Uber ride from LAX will take you to Santa Monica Pier, where there are so many sites to see! There is an outdoor shopping district, street performers, a shopping mall, loads of restaurants, and a small amusement park at the end of the pier. South of the pier is Venice beach, an easy 30-minute walk along the famed boardwalk, with too many characters to list along the way! Cover more ground by renting bikes or scooters, helmets included. 

Pro Tip: Be a movie star! Be sure to take an Instagram pic at the end of the Santa Monica Pier and replicate one of the many 50 films shot at this landmark location.

Tom Bradley International Terminal (ssray / Shutterstock.com)

6. Terminal life

LAX consists of nine terminals in a “U” shaped layout. In the middle of the loop is the Tom Bradley International Terminal, commonly referred to as “TBIT.” Depending on your airline, getting from terminal to terminal can be challenging. Terminals 1 and 2 are connected by shuttles to TBIT but not to terminals four through eight. Food and shopping are very limited within Terminals 1 and 2, but TBIT has many options. If you are fortunate enough to depart through Terminals 4 through 8, you have access to more than half of the airport inside of security, plus access to TBIT. These terminals are connected by tunnels and walkways. 

It can be quite a walk, so plan on 10 minutes from terminal to terminal. There are more food options and shopping available in these terminals. For planning purposes, give yourself 40 minutes to casually walk from Terminal 8 to TBIT. A faster way around the loop is the free terminal shuttle bus outside of security. It runs every 10 minutes in a counter-clockwise loop stopping at each terminal. The airport offers free Wi-Fi throughout the building. Be sure to hydrate at one of the many water-bottle filling stations in each terminal. There are over a dozen airline lounges available for passengers with premium tickets or elite status for entry. 

Minute of love / Shutterstock.com

7. Trendy Traveling Threads 

Los Angeles is a shopping mecca and LAX offers a sampling of great styles for sale. The Great Hall in the TBIT has many options within its Rodeo Drive-inspired retail boutique and duty-free shopping area. There are over 70 stores to drop some serious cash or pick up something small as a souvenir. Peruse the many duty-free stores and consider sampling perfumes. 

Pro Tip: Want to see a movie star? Just beyond the main entrance to Terminal 4 is American Airlines’ private Flagship entrance. Paparazzi hang out here just beyond the red carpet (yes, as in real red carpet) hoping to catch a shot of the current “it girl” getting out of a car. I like to say, tongue in cheek, “It’s an LA thing!” The funny thing is, I once asked a paparazzi, “Who are you waiting for?” The cameraman told me that the star’s publicist calls them, they show up, take a picture, and sell the pictures to magazines and websites. I giggle to myself now when I see the paparazzi lined up and waiting. Just like in the movies, it’s all staged.

Photo Credit: Christy Karsten

8. Encounter Of A Third Kind

The big white, leggy space-aged building in the center of LAX: locals call it the “Spider,” but when you see it, you know exactly what it is. Opened in the early 1960s, the “Encounter Building” is an iconic landmark that exudes Mid-Century Modern architecture. The building is situated in the middle of the loop between terminals. Sadly, a very cool Disney-inspired restaurant closed in 2013. Although the second-floor restaurant is closed, you can still walk around the building. For photographers, this is a great place to shoot abstract images and angles. 

Pro Tip: For avgeeks who just can’t get enough of airplanes, head up to the observation deck that is open on the second weekend of each month (Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). 

Plan To Stay

Oh yes, when it comes to Southern California and LAX, I admit I am biased! Hopefully your layover will give you a glimpse of sun and fun. Sometimes when I leave the terminal jet bridge and walk down to the ramp around the jet, I am reminded of many things. Typically, it’s the sensation of how wonderful the sunshine feels and how lucky I am to be here, followed by an exhale. Come to LAX and see for yourself!

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