Los Angeles International Airport things to do: Best ways to spend LAX layover

A mind-boggling behemoth, LA's major airport – the third busiest in the US – drives fear into the bravest of souls.

And with most departures to Australia and New Zealand leaving in the late evening, passengers will have to ride the wave of peak hour traffic – and some of the most notorious traffic jams in the history of the world – to get to the airport three hours before departure time.

But there is a stress-free way to handle your layover at LAX – by not leaving the airport at all.

LAX is increasingly becoming an airport you no longer have to dread passing through. Gone are the days pre-2013 where passengers had to pass the time in alarmingly amenity-free terminals when the comforting confines of a bar was what was needed to recover from the heart-attack inducing trek to get there.

Most flights coming to and from Australia and New Zealand pass through the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) – the "Rodeo Drive of LAX'' – that is constantly being updated with new ways of entertaining time-rich passengers.

Changes are being made across all seven of LAX's terminals, with new and exciting restaurants, bars and entertainment options opening constantly.

And there will also be a new concourse to explore from Tom Bradley International in 2020, plus an automated people mover pegged for 2023, which aims to move LAX's traffic issues out of the airport.

So for those who have about five or six hours to spare during a layover, or those who would prefer to beat LA's peak-hour traffic and pass some extra time at LAX before boarding their flight, here are a few ways to pass the time.

1. You can move from terminal to terminal without having to go through security

Completed in 2016, arrivals with connecting flights can access a special walkway before you exit the airport that allows you to walk all the way through from Tom Bradley to Terminal 7. This means you do not have to leave the terminal, and go through the painful process of security again. From Tom Bradley, you can catch a special shuttle bus that will take you to terminals 1, 2 and 3. This is a key feature of the airport set-up for those with connecting flights – but it's a handy thing to know for moving from terminal to terminal to explore some of its new operators, such as Shake Shack in Terminal 3. You don't even have to have a connecting flight – just a hankering for Shake Shack – and you can then exit the terminals at 3.

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2. You can go wine tasting at Vino Volo

With 60 outlets across airports in the US, this wine bar specialises in providing wines from the region it is based – in this case, California. And this is a good thing. Grab yourself a stool and choose a wine from a particular region of California, such as Sonoma, where a percentage of the proceeds assist the regions devastated by fire in 2017. Snack on tapas-style food or have a larger plate of Mediterranean-inspired fare. You can also purchase three bottles of wine to take back to Australia (note: they are not duty free but you can get 10 per cent discount with three bottles). If time permits, you can also check out Starbucks' first bar, offering craft beer and wine, now open at Tom Bradley.

3. Get your Mexican food fix before heading home

California has some of the best tacos outside of Mexico, and you can get your fix here from Border Grill, whose chefs reputedly bought Mexican food to California. Popular meals here include burritos and the chile relleno burger, taco plates served with beans and rice, and cheesy empanadas with a sweet chutney. Where cocktails are usually an utterly overpriced failure at most airports, the margaritas here come big, strong, and salty. The fish tacos at James Beach – the only outlet of the original restaurant in Venice Beach, a few miles down the road – are also highly recommended. (TBIT)

4. Go shopping

Apart from the usual souvenirs, T-shirts and Donald Trump paraphernalia, there's a couple of standout retailers at Tom Bradley that are also unique to LA. Fred Segal has a small outlet here for some last minute, high-end but casual clothing; Sunset Strip's famous bookstore Book Soup has a store here; and See's Candies, another local – has numerous outlets around the terminal for last-minute gift shopping (or plane snacks).

5. Get a massage

With the stress of getting to the airport behind you, and a dreaded overnight flight in front of you, the one way you can ensure to get some sleep is to get a full body massage before you board – I was out before the first dinner service on my last late-night flight to Australia. Xpress Spa – which is close to the Qantas departure gate at Tom Bradley – offers excellent full-body massages until 10pm. It also offers shorter 30-minute services if you run short on time. Its shop sells lots of knick-knacks to help your flight be more comfortable, such as pillows with inbuilt massagers, flight socks, slippers, and travel-sized skincare packs. Service is also friendly. Find Xpress Spa on the South Concourse at gates 156-159.

6. Take a nap

For those of you looking for a nap, the quietest part of LAX is where the shuttle buses depart to take passengers to terminals 1, 2 and 3. It's a huge, high-ceilinged part of the terminal that has not yet been refurbished, so take advantage of its huge expanse and low traffic to get in a couple of hours sleep if you're in between flights. (TBIT)

7. Check out the new-look terminals

Allow yourselves an hour for a round trip to terminals 1, 2 and 3. The shuttle buses depart every 10 minutes.

Terminal One (South-west) is undergoing a $508 million upgrade, recently having members of KISS on hand to open Rock and Brews, the new bar, and cult LA taco joint Trejo's Tacos is on its way. Terminal 2 has Barney's Beanery, a bar with decent diner-style food that Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin used to frequent in West Hollywood as well as classic SoCal winebar Sealegs from Huntington Beach. Terminal 3 has DTLA brewers Angel City Brewery, upmarket eatery and wine bar Ashland Hill from Santa Monica and juice bar Nekter. Terminal 3 has a new outlet of New York's cult burger chain Shake Shack.

Terminal 7, the last stop on the walkway, is a solid 30-minute walk away from Tom Bradley, but it takes in Terminals 4, 5 and 6 along the way. Terminal 4 has a branch of Coles, home to the original French-dipped sandwich; Terminal 5 has an outlet of cult Mexican eatery Loteria Grill (as does Terminal 7). Westfield led a redesign of Terminal 6 called "the Boulevard", which represents the experience of riding west on Sunset from downtown LA to the Pacific Coast Highway. You'll find a restaurant, pizza and wine bar from Wolfgang Puck here plus some more shopping options.

The new Midfield Satellite Concourse will serve the Tom Bradley terminal, the "Rodeo Drive" of LAX, adding 12 extra gates via a 300-metre-long walkway. It will host a number of new dining and shopping options, and also include a gym. The airport is also talking about putting a gym in place in one of the existing upper floors of Tom Bradley.

8. Enjoy art exhibitions and live music

There is now live music playing six nights at week at Tom Bradley, directly over the food court area. The bands change nightly and represent a wide variety of LA's cultural melting pot. Keep an eye out for art exhibitions from local artists around the airport, including video installation Xing LA: From Altadena to Long Beach featuring at Terminal 6 and Lost in Los Angeles in the customs hallway of TBIT.

What you'll need to 'pack' in your carry-on for a layover

1. Comfortable shoes.

2. Change of clothes

3. Toiletries

4. Mobile phone, laptop and chargers

5. Spare bags for gifts

How to spend longer layovers at LAX

A layover of more than six hours

If you have more than five hours up your sleeve, you would be better off spending your time at one of LA's beachside suburbs. Manhattan Beach is about eight kilometres away, a 25-minute trip on Uber will cost you about $US12 or to Venice Beach it's $US15. Santa Monica will cost you a cool $US20 and take about 25 minutes.

A layover of 10-hours-plus

Arriving early in the morning and leaving late at night will give you a solid day to do something fun in LA. You could head out to Universal Studios, hiring a car from Alamo and self-driving or Uber to North Hollywood.

You could also hire a car and day trip up the Pacific Coast to Malibu, or spend the day at any of its popular beaches such as Venice or Santa Monica, doing a bit of shopping as well as taking in the sites and restaurants.

There's also public transport from the airport to Westfield Culver City, and Westfield Century City, home to the new Eataly, is about 50 kilometres away and best accessed by car.

MORE INFORMATION

  • For information about what's available at all terminals, got to flylax.com
  • LAX has unlimited, free Wi-Fi throughout the airport
  • Maps are also readily available around the terminal to help guide your way. There are plenty of airport staff around who can assist with your queries.

The writer visited LAX courtesy of Westfield and Discover LA.

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