Insider’s Guide for Layovers at LAX Airport

lax layover renting a car value rental carLos Angeles is one of the most interesting cities on Earth. It has a great climate, great beaches, and stunning scenery. It’s also home to fascinating industries like movies, television, and music recording. If you’re in Los Angeles for a day or a lifetime, it’s easy to find something interesting to do. But what if you’re stuck in the airport? Never fear. There is lots to do inside the LAX airport, and it’s centrally located in Los Angeles. That puts it within a short distance of all kinds of attractions and amenities. Depending on the length of your layover at LAX, turning a delay into a vacation is as easy as renting a car and poking around the area.

If you find yourself with some time to kill at LAX, or you’re planning ahead for a substantial layover, here’s a handy guide to what to go and what to do:

What’s LAX Like?

Los Angeles is a big, sprawling city. It’s only natural that it would have a big, spread-out airport. LAX is certainly that. Not only is LAX big, it’s also not really a single airport. It has eight different numbered terminals, plus the main terminal, and they’re not all connected together. The level of amenities varies a great deal between terminals. This disconnection is an artifact of the way LAX has evolved over the years. In the past, it was no big deal to walk out of one terminal and catch another flight at another terminal, or visit restaurants or shops.

TSA security makes that difficult now. In order to exit some terminals and enter others, you’ll have to submit to security procedures all over again. That can make it tough to plan excursions between terminals while keeping track of time. The amount of time spent in security lines can vary a great deal.

The good news is that LAX understands that passengers need to be able to circulate freely after they’ve cleared security, and are working feverishly to connect the terminals on the “airside.” The largest terminal, the Tom Bradley International Terminal, is where most international passengers end up during layovers. There’s a lot of amenities inside the TBIT, so it’s possible to amuse yourself for a few hours or a long day. Terminals 4 through 8 are now connected airside, so you can move freely between them to find things to do. If you’re in any of the other terminals, you’ll probably need to go through security additional times if you want something substantial to eat, something interesting to occupy your time, or want to go shopping.

Between Terminals

Whichever terminal you end up in, you’ll probably have to plan ahead to amuse yourself, and you’ll have to be ready to walk long distances to visit other terminals. LAX has a free Airline Connections shuttle that stops in front of every terminal. If you’d rather walk, be aware that the distance between any two terminals can range up to a mile. It’s smart to check the maps of the airport to see how far you have to walk before setting out.

What To Do With Your Luggage

On-site luggage storage can be a problem at LAX. There are companies that offer curbside pickup, storage, and retrieval, but a regular traveler’s luggage might cost $100 for a single day. Yikes.

If your layover in Los Angeles is at least a day, there are several ways to ditch your luggage without emptying your wallet.

Hotels

If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, their day rates might might be competitive with luggage service, and you can take a shower and rest as well as store your luggage. Many local hotels have shuttle services that save steps and money. The Hyatt Regency, the Courtyard Los Angeles, and the Sheraton Gateway are all located within a 2-minute shuttle ride of the main terminal. For a lengthy layover, renting a car and traveling a few more miles will save you a lot of money. There are hundreds of hotels and motels in the immediate area at every price level. You can search for hotels near LAX on TripAdvisor to compare prices and service levels.

Early Check-In

If your layover is simply to wait for a connecting flight, you may be able to check your bags in early. There’s a limit to how far in advance you can check in, but it might be enough time to allow you to enjoy a meal or some shopping without dragging your bags around with you. You can find out more about early check in offers here.

Renting a Car

If you’re staying for a few days, renting a car and locking your luggage in the trunk is a great way to keep dibs on it without lugging it around. There are many car rental agencies inside the terminals. Renting a car from a nearby agency that picks up and drops off at the terminal will save you money, though.

Shopping Inside LAX

The Great Hall of the Tom Bradley terminal has a fantastic shopping mall in it. It’s more like an inside shopping street than a run-of-the-mill airline mall. There’s lots of duty free offerings, and the retail boutiques include some really high-end names. like Bvlgari, Hugo Boss, Hermes, Gucci, Burberry, and others. Most of the other terminals have at least one or two interesting shops, but for the most part, you’ll have to settle for the usual newsstand shopping experience. The company that operates LAX has a list of shopping outlets here.

Dining Inside LAX

Los Angeles has a fantastic foodie culture. LAX features a growing number of first-rate eateries, plus more economical choices for travelers on a budget. The Tom Bradley terminal has upscale dining to go with its fancy shopping selection. Terminals 4 through 8 are now connected on the airside, and between them they have a great selection of food choices for leisurely dining or a quick bite. Terminals 4 and 5 have more affordable, but still adventurous choices. Eater Los Angeles has a current list of eateries at LAX here.

Airport Lounges

If traveling by air is getting the better of you, an airport lounge can turn a layover into a mini-vacation. There are many airport lounges at LAX. Your preferred airline or credit card provider might entitle you to free admission to an airport lounge. Many of the lounges will also let you purchase admission for a single day if you don’t qualify as a frequent flier. Almost every terminal has at least one lounge, and many have several. There’s a great rundown of LAX airport lounges on LoungeBuddy.

The amenities at the lounges at LAX vary a bit. One thin you won’t find is sleeping facilities. It’s fairly hard to catch a nap at LAX. The regular concourses are loud, and the airport has constant construction noise to deal with.

If an airport lounge isn’t enough to chill you out, LAX also has a few spas onsite. There’s a big one in the Tom Bradley terminal, and smaller locations scattered around where you can get a quick massage.

Day Trips

If you have a full day to kill, there’s no reason to spend all your time inside the airport. Public transportation in Los Angeles isn’t great, but renting a car at LAX is easy and economical.

Beaches

There are many beaches located only a short drive from LAX, and most beaches in the LA area have nearby boardwalks and shopping strands to make a side trip enjoyable.

Golf

The Westchester Golf Course is located just north of LAX. It’s a public, 18-hole course that’s fairly affordable for an urban setting. They’re used to serving LAX customers, and have a good supply of clubs for rent, including premium clubs.

Local Tours

If you’ve got at least 4 hours to kill, the Starline Hop On Hop Off Tour of LA is a fun way to see the sights. The service has several different routes depending on your interests. If you have a full day, the trip through Hollywood is lots of fun.

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