Adventures in Layover Land: Los Angeles

The Manhattan Beach Pier in Manhattan Beach, California

My home is in Los Angeles, so believe me when I say that I’m familiar with the hallowed halls of its major airport, known to just about everyone as LAX.

It’s a huge, sprawling place without much commerce (or beauty) to recommend it, which I’ve always found bizarre; L.A., after all, is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and we’ve got just about everything here.

Including, of course, the Pacific Ocean…a whopping 12 minutes from the airport. You do the math.

At the tail end of a recent press trip, one of my fellow travelers had to stay behind at LAX with a whopping seven hours until his next flight.

My poor friend didn’t end up leaving LAX during his layover; he tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to the US Airways Lounge (Terminal 1 [adjacent to Gate 2] 310-348-7914); it costs $40 US to get in, and the sandwiches, booze and internet access aren’t free, either. Instead, he spent several hours at the Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. in Terminal 1, enjoying some wi-fi access and, well, it’s not important how many beers.

If you only have a few hours to spare or would simply rather not leave the airport, here’s what I’d suggest:

Head over to the reLAX lounge (310-417-3848) on the departure level between Terminals 3 and 4. Open 8am to midnight with no reservations needed, it costs $10 an hour, $25 for three, or $50 for the whole bleeding day; the latter comes with a complimentary glass of wine or a beer. Internet is free, and you can get a massage (not free), use a laptop at a desk station, or just take a cozy seat and watch the runway action.

Note: This lounge is also open to non-travelers, so the next time your flight’s late and your loved one awaits, you can arrange to meet here.

Roll yourselves over to Encounter Restaurant, a Jetsons-style flying saucer located outside Terminal 2 at arrivals level, across the street and right beside the control tower. (The building, by the by, was designed by the good folks at Walt Disney Imagineering back in 1961. See photos of the restaurant’s interior here.) You’re asked to keep your luggage with you at your table, but I’ve heard tell the California cuisine is quite tasty. However, I’ve also heard that service is extremely efficient, so be sure to let your server know if you’d like to linger rather than rush off.

If you’d rather flee LAX and see the great outdoors, it’s important to know one thing:

LAX doesn’t offer on-site luggage storage.

So, hop in a cab and head two minutes away to LAX Luggage Storage [(310) 670-4186, 8911 Bellanca Avenue]. You can store your luggage here on an hourly basis for about $7 per bag. If you have flip-flops handy, take an extra minute to switch your shoes.

If you have more cash than time, make a reservation ahead of time to have them meet you and pick up/drop off your luggage for $5 additional per bag.

Have the same cab take you to Manhattan Beach Boulevard in Manhattan Beach, the closest beach community to LAX. (Be sure to get a card or a number from the cabbie so you can easily get a ride back to LAX.) This is your chance to put your feet in the Pacific, feel the breeze on your face, see surf culture in action and tell people you’ve seen something of L.A.

(Sure, L.A. proper is actually about 20 minutes north…but no matter.)

Restaurants with an ocean view are nearly impossible to come by here, and the closer you get to the Manhattan Beach Pier, the more expensive and mediocre the food. Just go for a walk along the Pier, delighting in the Pacific, the fishermen, and the ocean education center at the end. Head down onto the beach itself, too; the water is always cold, but the sand here is very soft.

If you’re hungry and it’s breakfast time, head over to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House [(310) 545-5177 – 1305 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266]. They open at 6am on weekdays, 7am on weekends, and are open all week long ’til 3pm. Fun, laid-back surfer vibe, with delicious pancakes and omelettes.

If it’s lunch or dinner time, go to one of my favorite restaurants in Southern California, a beautiful Greek place called Petros. Set within a courtyard at a small mall, there’s a fun neighborhood scene here — kids playing in the courtyard fountain, older folks kibbitzing, dog people and their dogs, etc. On the menu, Adam and I love their authentic yellow split-pea dip known as fava (hard to find in California, but found everywhere we went in Greece) and the Nikos Saganaki, a heavenly slab of sesame-crusted feta drizzled with Greek honey and golden raisins.

Or, if you find yourself here on a Tuesday between 11am-4pm, go check out the county at the Manhattan Beach Farmer’s Market (13th street between Valley & Morningside Drives). You can snack your way through the market, see some gorgeous fruit and vegetables, and do a little people-watching all the while.

Either way, if you find yourself with a little time after a pier wander and a meal, know that the shopping on Manhattan Beach Boulevard is pretty fantastic. Check out this list for a full accounting.

Be sure to leave two hours before your flight, especially if you’ll need to return for your luggage; you will need to go through security again.

Now, I’m not insinuating that this is the only adventure you can have on an L.A. layover. Given seven or eight hours to play with, you could probably make it to (sexier) Santa Monica or even Venice Beach…but traffic between those beaches and LAX is often unreliable and could prove stressful.

Consider Manhattan Beach a safe bet, but other beach areas a calculated — and quite possibly fabulous — risk.


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