Los Angeles International – LAX: the big review, part 1

Arriving at any US airport can be a daunting task for International passengers. Not so at Los Angeles International Airport (IATA: LAX) where travelers arrive at the newly refurbished Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) with customs procedures well organized and therefore being fairly efficient. After you collected your luggage, the arrival lounge then presents itself nice and modern. It is fitted with colour changing lights, you’ll find a cafe (“Daniel’s Bistro”, we wrote about it during our pre-trip research) and a place where greeting visitors can buy fresh flowers (what a great idea!). You will even find an art installation featuring a film strip with work from 17 artists.

So far so good.

But what about if you had a lengthy layover at the airport? Is there anything you can do?

I’m glad you ask: There actually is a lot to do. Let’s start with some things that don’t take up much time but are well worth exploring. First of all, head upstairs to the departure level of the International terminal. There you will find a new duty free section (hint: if your flight departs from this terminal you can shop here and get your goods delivered directly to your gate) and a well stocked ‘Oscars’ store providing you a first opportunity to shop for souvenirs. One more level up and you reach the food court which features my first must-do: an outlet of the LA institution “Pinks Hot Dog”. It’s very famous!

Of course Los Angeles is also famous for its celebrity scene and the airport provides you probably with one of your better chances to spot one. I was told that your best bet is to wait for the arrival of any British Airways flight or to try to spot one of the airports regular Paparazzi and follow their lead.

What if you wanted to get away from it all?

If airports aren’t your favourite places, don’t worry, you have a number of other options: On a nice, warm day, you might want to hit the nearby beach. Catch a cab to the Dockweiler State beach. It won’t break the bank (about $15 one way) and is only 5 minutes away plus has toilet and shower facilities – a perfect getaway for a few hours!

But my favourite “excursion” is actually going to Hollywood. It can be done if you have at least 4 hours. And no, you don’t have to spend a lot to do that either: Catch the ‘LAX flyaway’ bus (it departs every hour in front of every terminal) to Union Station ($7 and 40 minutes). Then catch the underground to “Hollywood & Highland” ($1.50 and 15 mins). Make sure you inquire with the bus driver about the return times back to the airport so that you won’t miss your connection. Then enjoy the thrill of being at Hollywood Boulevard!

How about staying within the airport?

Sure, there’s plenty to do without having to leave the area too. For all of you who like icons as much as I do, a visit to the famous LAX sign (see photo) is a must. You can reach it within walking distance: walk to terminal 1 and then towards the Radisson hotel; there it is!

If you happen to be at the airport on a weekend, then head to the theme building that looks like a space ship in the middle section between all terminals and get to the top floor, the observation deck. From there you have the best view to all the airport runways and surrounding areas. You should even be able to spot the Hollywood sign and downtown LA from there providing it’s not one of those smoggy days. This spot is also the preferred location for any plane spotter. Should you arrive during the week or if plane spotting isn’t your thing, then you can still enjoy a good view together with some delicious food at the Encounter restaurant in the same building. It even got featured in a Frommer’s recommendation as one of the 10 best airport restaurants in the US.

Finally there’s something that’s probably unique to the United States with access only granted to very special people. No, it’s not another private, luxury lounge, it’s the airport’s military retrieve called the Bob Hope Hollywood USO. Located in a building right next to the Encounter restaurant it provides a relaxation area for US military personnel and their allies. It is managed by friendly volunteers and provides about everything a business lounge does too. How did I get in? Well, they made an exception and let the neutral Swiss have a look around this time.

Next week, in part two, I’m going to show you what you can do if you are the active, sporty type. I will also highlight you some other jewels of this massive airport and, of course, I’m going to wrap it all up in the usual fashion by providing you my top picks for the airport overall.

[Update] Part two can now be found here.

[Picture from Los Angeles World Airports – all rights reserved]