Inside LA - The Los Angeles Lowdown
Los Angeles On A Layover
If you’re booking a flight and the chance presents itself to visit Los Angeles on a layover, or stopover, you probably aren’t going to refuse the opportunity, especially if you’ve never been here before. LA is a place that most people would like to visit, at least once, in their lives. And why not? Forgetting the sense of achievement that one gets from simply ticking one of the great world cities off your list, there are so many options you HAVE to be able to find multiple things here to make the stay worthwhile. Depending on the time of year, and how much time you have, you can experience the beach, see some amazing theatre, watch a world-famous sports team, hike in amazing parks, go to world-class museums… you get the idea. Think of this as your moment to really get a true flavor of this mythic place. If you’re time poor, you need to plan and prepare – even if you just have a day here it’s enough to do a LOT!
So what are those must do Los Angeles activities and experiences, so that you can make the most of this layover opportunity? Let’s first of all consider how long you have – because that will obviously determine how much of the city you can see. For that reason we’ve broken down our suggestions, to look at layovers of less than a day and stopovers of one to two days. There are a lot of options, as you will see, but consider – this might well be the only time you visit Los Angeles, so are you going to allow tiredness and jet-lag stop you from making the most of it? This article only covers layovers at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), since it is by far the busiest regional airport.
LESS THAN A DAY IN LA
To do anything during your layover you’ll need at least six hours between flights. Why? Well, it ALWAYS takes at least an hour to get anywhere in LA and you need to get back to LAX at a minimum an hour before your flight – believe me, you don’t want to be rushing – so if you have less than that forget about leaving the airport. Better still is to have ten to twelve hours, then the options open up and you can think about having a great experience of the city.
First, you need to decide how to exit – and get back to – the airport. Of course there are tour companies that will pick you up at LAX and drive you around the city, and that has it’s advantages, but the cost can be high, the experience can be less than stellar and, anyway, do you want a real experience of the city or do you want to spend more time in a cramped air-conditioned space? Getting out and back to the airport is relatively easy these days.
- LAX Flyaway – this shuttle bus operates regular services to Union Station, Hollywood and Vine and Third Street Promenade, in Santa Monica. Tickets are around $20 return. Believe it or not, but the Flyaway is one of the fastest ways to get to and from the airport.
- Ride-Share (Uber, Lyft etc) – there are several convenient taxi pick up points at LAX and the response time is usually reasonably fast.
Okay, that’s great, but what am I going to do during my short Los Angeles layover you ask. There are three options: downtown, Hollywood or Santa Monica. Why those three? All of them can be accessed relatively easily from LAX and they represent the three main types of experience that most visitors want to get out of Los Angeles.
- Downtown – Known here as DTLA, this neighborhood is the historical heart of Los Angeles. It’s not what many visitors first think of when they picture LA, but it’s actually the largest historic downtown in the US. The Flyaway to downtown will drop you at Union Station, which was the main venue for the Oscars in 2021. The station’s a wonderful place to hang out and it’s only half a block from the Los Angeles Plaza, birthplace of the city. There’s a market, several free museums and some great restaurants from which to choose. We have a self-guided tour of the area that you can use here.
- Hollywood – this neighborhood needs no introduction. It’s the biggest reason for most people knowing LA. Remember that there are two “Hollywoods” – the neighborhood and the industry. The Flyaway Bus stop is at Hollywood and Vine, right in the heart of the area. From there you can walk along the Walk of Fame and see many historic sites. Use one of our free self-guided tours of the neighborhood to make the most of your time.
- Santa Monica – you may be aware that we have some great beaches here and you have enough time to enjoy them. The Flyaway to Santa Monica ends near Third Street Promenade, which has some great shopping and dining, or you could rent a bicycle and cycle the beach. Or, how about walking over to the Annenberg Beach House? It has an enormous heated pool, right by the beach, with showers and changing rooms.
1. ONE OR TWO DAYS IN LA
If you have enough time a guided walking tour really is the best way to get orientated and do more than scratch the surface of this storied, complex – and huge – city. Our LA in a Day tour is ideal if you have limited time here, since we’ll take you to Hollywood, downtown and Santa Monica on the experience itself. Without doing something like this, there’s always a danger that you’ll miss a lot of the stories and history that really make LA come alive. Everyone has their own theories about this place – probably even you do – but many of them are dead wrong. Los Angeles is almost certainly NOT what you think it is – and a local expert will give you the lowdown and show you the true face of the city. I can guarantee you that you will experience and learn far more about LA than most visitors, even those who spend way more time here.
If the timing of our tours don’t work with your Los Angeles layover, or you just want to explore the city on your own, remember that it IS huge, so don’t try to do too much. Better to concentrate your time and energy on one or two neighborhoods, that aren’t too far from each other, rather than try to criss-cross LA and see everything. Which will likely mean that you actually won’t see much and won’t have a great time. Read our helpful guide to using public transport in LA, you don’t have to rent a car for the short time you’re here.
- Beach Cities – Why not spend a morning visiting the Getty? It’s in a magnificent complex in the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the west-side and Pacific Ocean. It’s also free. From there you can go to Santa Monica for the afternoon and do some shopping or cycle down to Venice Beach.
- Hollywood and Griffith Park – Take the morning to explore the fabled neighborhood of Hollywood, then have lunch at either 25 Degrees (at the Roosevelt Hotel, birthplace of the Oscars), Musso and Frank’s Grill or Mel’s Drive-In. After that visit one of the greatest urban parks in the world, Griffith Park. We have a daily hike to the top of Mount Hollywood and down to the Observatory, which is an amazing free museum with great views of the city.
- Downtown and Miracle Mile – downtown is in many ways a hidden jewel of Los Angeles. It’s not on the radar of most visitors, which is a great shame. It’s easily the most tourist-friendly part of LA. Most of the Metro rail lines radiate out from here, so it’s easily accessible, it contains City Hall and is the civic heart of the city, there are some great free museums, it’s eminently walkable… This is close to a must-do here. Use our free self-guided tours to really get to know DTLA. From there it’s a fairly short bus-ride to Miracle Mile, home to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, LACMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the brand new Academy Museum. After that it’s only a short walk to the Grove, with all its shopping and dining options.
It’s possible to mix and match from the menu above, for example you could visit Hollywood and downtown quite easily, or downtown and Santa Monica or downtown and Griffith Park.
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– By Damien Blackshaw (Twitter)