Inside LA - The Los Angeles Lowdown

Los Angeles On A Layover

Los Angeles Layover
Where are the beaches? 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.

This article only covers layovers at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport), since it is by far the busiest regional airport. And believe me, you don’t want to spend any more time at LAX than you have to.

Why Have a Stopover in LA?

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?

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 or visit some world-class museums. The list is endless, but think of your layover as the moment for you 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?

How Much Time Do You Need?

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.

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 two hours before your flight – believe me, you don’t want to be rushing. So if you have less than that unfortunately you’ll have to forget about leaving the airport. Sorry!

Better still is to have ten to twelve hours or more, then the options open up and you can think about having a great experience of the city.

How Do You Leave the Airport?

The first thing you’ll need to know is how to exit – and get back to – LAX.

Of course there are tour companies that will pick you up at the airport and drive you around the city, and that has it’s advantages, but the cost is high, the experience can be less than stellar and, anyway, do you want a real experience of the city or to spend more time in a cramped air-conditioned space?

Getting to and from the airport is relatively easy these days. There are two main ways:

  1. LAX Flyaway – this coach service operates regular services to Union Station, Hollywood and Vine, and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Tickets are around $20 return. There are pick-up points for the bus at regular intervals at the terminals curbside. You can pay the driver or purchase in advance (more information here).
  2. Ride-Share (Uber, Lyft etc) – there are several convenient taxi pick up points at LAX and the response time is usually reasonably fast. There’s a free shuttle bus from the terminals curbside to the main airport pick-up point, from which all the taxi and ride-share companies operate.

Out of these two possibilities the fastest and cheapest option, believe it or not, is the LAX Flyaway.

Options for Los Angeles Layovers

Now that you know that it is easy to exit LAX under your own steam the next question to consider is where you’re going to go.

To a large extent this depends on how much time you have. Just a day, or less, in LA or even a whole day here. This will dictate how much you can reasonably hope to do.

Okay, that’s great, but what am I going to do during my short Los Angeles layover you ask.

1. LESS THAN A DAY IN LA

There are three options for a short layover in LA of less than a day: 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.
  • Hollywoodthis 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. How about walking to the Annenberg Beach House? Its huge heated pool is right by the beach and has showers and changing rooms. Read our guide for more info on SaMo.

2. 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. It’s designed to give you the overview of the city that you need.

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.

Cycle the beach.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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. (home of the Hollywood Sign). We have a daily hike to the top of Mount Hollywood and down to the Griffith 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. Use our free self-guided tours to really get to know DTLA. From there it’s a fairly quick 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. The choice is yours, the city awaits.

Make the Most of Your Los Angeles Layover

Either way, don’t waste time checking your social media feed at the airport or, even worse, doing some work on your laptop. Your layover in LA has taken you to one of the greatest cities in the world. Get out and experience it!

Also read our helpful guide to using public transport in LA, so you don’t rent a car for the short time you’re here, you probably won’t need it.

If you have any feedback on Los Angeles On A Layover please email us or reach out on social media, we’d love to hear from you..

– By Damien Blackshaw (Twitter)

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