Travel Tips

Los Angeles Airport Guide: The Ins and Outs of a Global Hub

Filed Under: Airports, Los Angeles
'Couple skating together at beach, Venice, California'

Like the vast city itself, Los Angeles International Airport, better known simply by its airport code, LAX, can be a bit daunting because of its 3,400-acre size. The world’s fifth busiest airport, it’s also a truly global hub, with travelers from around the world passing through its 9 terminals and many portals 24/7. There are actually plenty of diversions available if you find yourself delayed or pulling an overnighter. Here are some essentials to help you navigate LAX during your next travels.

Coming and Going
LA has a well-deserved reputation for daunting traffic conditions, but with a little planning, you can keep delays (and headaches) to a minimum. Avoid peak travel hours on nearby highways like the 405, famous for its “bummer to bummer” traffic. If you must drive, bring a buddy and use the carpool lanes, which almost always have less traffic. Better options include bargain-priced LAX FlyAway buses available to-and-from Orange County, Westwood, San Fernando Valley and downtown’s Union Station, as well the light rail Green Line, part of the city’s extensive metro system.

On-site, choices are as plentiful as struggling actors in LA. They include buses and vans from a multitude of suppliers including hotels, rental car companies, off-site parking lots, local and long- distance shuttle services and, of course, taxis. All are clearly marked (“Buses & Long Distance Vans,” “Hotel & Parking Lot Shuttles”) when exiting the ground level arrival area. Just look for signs on islands located in front of each terminal. Free shuttles marked “A” are also available to transport you between terminals. Hot tip: Free Wi-Fi is available on Orange County and Westwood FlyAway buses.

Going Mobile
Next to Ambien and a neck pillow, Wi-Fi has become the road warrior’s best friend. We’ll give LAX a thumbs-up for extensive connectivity, but a thumbs-down for charging for Wi-Fi while other airports are trending toward complimentary Wi-Fi. Access is available to anyone, including non-subscribers, through T-Mobile’s secure HotSpot service, which is available in all public areas. Other options include the complimentary Wi-Fi at first and business class lounges, and kiosks featuring desktop computers available for an hourly fee located in all terminals.

New Developments
If you’ve visited LAX lately, you may have noticed more than planes overhead. Sky-high cranes, as well as machinery and large crews, are busy at work on a billion dollar-plus expansion and renovation of LAX. The heart of the project is the city’s largest public works endeavor ever -- the expansion of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Scheduled to be completed on 12/12/12, the project will add nearly 20 new boarding gates, as well as the 140,000-square-foot Great Hall, which will feature top-end dining, shopping and new club lounges.

Food Finds
LAX was in dire need of a dining overhaul, and for the last several years, the options have definitely been on the upswing, transcending the usual fare of fast-food joints and delis to now also include outposts of top LA eateries, such as La Brea Bakery. In 2012 the airport is slated to welcome such established local foodie icons as Cole’s, Campanile, BLD and 8oz. Burger Bar, helmed by Chef Govind Armstrong of Table 8 fame. If you feel like time traveling to a 1960s view of the future, check out the airport’s Encounter restaurant. The early Jetsons architecture, stellar views of arriving and departing flights, and the signature Austin Apple Martini take the sting out of an unplanned layover.

The Overnighter
If you get bumped from your flight and need a hotel, a large fleet of big brands, such as Hilton, Radisson, Marriott and Crowne Plaza, are here in force. All have free airport shuttles. For something a little different, choose the boutique-y Custom Hotel in nearby Westchester 2 miles away. Located in a 1950s building, it features a bistro-style restaurant, poolside bar and sundeck, 24-hour business center and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Day Tripping
Many airports are located in less than desirable environs. Not LAX. The sprawling coastal site sits between several popular beach areas: Marina del Rey and Venice Beach to the north; South Bay cities like Manhattan and Hermosa beaches to the south. If a long layover or overnighter are on the itinerary, head for the beach and rent a beach cruiser, rollerblades or stand up paddle board. Other options include shopping and dining along Venice’s trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, people watching along the Venice Beach Boardwalk, or taking in the vibrant social scene on South Bay streets.

All things considered, LAX make’s it pretty easy to make the best of an airport stay or delay.

Los Angeles-based travel writer and blogger Eric Hiss has spent countless hours in, above and beyond LAX. He is the co-founder of global travel blog Wandermelon.

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