Nearly 90 million passengers passed through Los Angeles International Airport in 2016, making it one of the busiest airports in the world. Located about an hour’s drive from Downtown in the South Bay, the airport, for now, doesn’t have a direct transit connection. That means LAX can be a gnarly headache for travelers and friends and family kind enough to pick them up and drop them off.
But navigating it can be painless—if you know how to do it right.
That’s why we’ve created this simple, easy guide full of advice and tricks, from the best ways to get there to where to park to what to eat. For visitors to Los Angeles, we’ve even included some recommendations for what to do as soon as you land (go to the beach, obviously). We kick it off with hot tips fit for seasoned travelers and newbies alike. Without further ado:
When you land/before you take off
Better beaches can be found farther away from the airport, but if you’re eager to put your feet in the sand for the first or final time, scurry over to El Porto Beach, El Segundo Beach, or Play Del Rey Beach. They aren’t the most beautiful in LA, but they’re usually crowd-free, and, if you time it right, you might catch one of our magical sunsets.
Alternatively, if you need a sugar fix, there’s Randy’s Donuts, a Los Angeles food icon. It’s about 2 miles away, and it’s right next to the 405 freeway.
For more LA inspiration, click over to our seasonally-updated map of favorite cultural institutions, venues, and outdoor spaces, most of which are free or low-cost.
How to get there
Take the FlyAway shuttle. It can’t be stressed enough how easy this option is. You don’t even need a ticket or a reservation, just pay with a debit or credit card when you board. The shuttles pick and drop off on set schedules from every terminal and from Union Station, Van Nuys, Lake Balboa, Hollywood, Westwood, and Long Beach, with one-way fares from $8 to $10. At the airport, the pick-up locations are directly outside of baggage claim at the center medians; just look for the green signs that say, “FlyAway, Buses, Long Distance Vans.” But be advised that some of the shuttles only pick up and drop every hour, so you might have to wait a bit.
You can use either Lyft and Uber to get to and from the airport. The fares vary, but, for example, the Uber fare from the Grove is $23-32 and the Lyft fare from Downtown LA $23-32. Cautionary note: If you’re getting picked up from the airport in an Uber or Lyft, make sure you’re waiting in the right area. Here are guides from Uber and Lyft on where to find your driver.
If you’re coming from the South Bay or Long Beach, Metro’s Green Line is a solid, low-cost option. The light rail line doesn’t connect directly to the airport, but you can get pretty close. Hop off at the Aviation/LAX station, then board a free “G” shuttle to the terminals. You’ll need a TAP card to ride the Green Line (you can purchase one from a vending machine at every station); a one-way fare is $1.75.
Best places to park
Generally, the closer you get to the airport, the more expensive it is to park. An excellent economical choice is 105 Airport Parking. Located just south of 105 freeway, the parking is covered, and you can reserve a space online in advance at a discounted price. Right now, it’s $9 for self parking and $11 for valet.
To get closer to the airport, choose Lot C. The daily rate is $12, but it’s first-come, first-serve. A shuttle runs every 15 to 25 minutes.
Where to eat and drink
The dining options have vastly improved over the past few years. Here are three of our favorites, from our friends at Eater LA:
1. 800 Degrees in Tom Bradley International Terminal / Great Hall: A reliable choice for those looking for a pre-flight meal, this pizza place brings the best qualities of their original Westwood outlet and simplifies it for the airport.
2. Cole's in Terminal 4: Although they may not have been the true originator of the French Dip, Cole's is still an iconic addition to LA's dining landscape, making it a great stop before departing to other cities. You can also grab a well-made cocktail before flying out, something of a rarity at airports.
3. The Border Grill in Tom Bradley International Terminal: Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken's food truck inside LAX may have closed, but the original counter-service restaurant is alive and well at Tom Bradley. It's a nice place to get one last taste of LA before jetting off to cities with presumably inferior Mexican fare.
Take it from the professionals
“Most LAX terminals are a mess—but there's an exception, the new $2-billion Tom Bradley International Terminal, a gorgeous, airy building with luxury shops and snazzy restaurants. You don't need to fly internationally to visit it. If you're departing from Terminals 4 to 8—you'd likely be flying United, American or Alaska—you can walk to there without going outside of security. You may need to navigate through a couple of underground tunnels, but the journey is worth it for a surprisingly pleasant airport experience.” — Brian Sumers, airline business reporter, Skift
“Treat LAX like a dive bar. Skip the wine and grab your go-to cocktail. Also, take advantage of the lounges. Many credit cards offer entry, and there are even apps to find lounges you can buy admission into. While it's not free, it's not any more expensive than buying a few round of drinks and a shitty burger downstairs. Not only do you get cocktails in lounges, you can also rage with small buffets, snacks, and electrical outlets.” — Marissa Ross, wine editor, Bon Appétit
LAX in 2023
LAX is embarking on a wide-ranging, expensive overhaul that’s aimed at reducing punishing traffic in and around the airport, and generally making going to the airport a more pleasant experience. The upgrades are expected to be complete in six years.
Four of the most highly anticipated elements of this immense makeover at LAX are:
- The driverless people mover train, which will bring three new stations to the congested main terminal loop and three more throughout the airport
- A direct connection to the Metro rail network via a new station at 96th Street and Aviation and the people mover
- Two huge new transportation hubs that will serve as centralized locations for pick-ups, drop-offs, parking, and connections to the people mover
- A centralized location for rental cars (no more hopping on a shuttle to go to a far-away lot)
— Curbed editors Bianca Barragan and Elijah Chiland contributed to this guide.