Los Angeles Travel Planning

The Ultimate 12-Hour Long Layover at LAX

Which view do you prefer? The inside of LAX or Santa Monica Beach? A long layover at LAX doesn’t mean you’re confined to the airport’s terminals. Use your downtime to your advantage and get out and explore Los Angeles. You may actually enjoy having a long connection, or like me, you may want to purposefully schedule one.

Long layover view at Santa Monica Beach, USA
Yes, the new Tom Bradley Int’l Terminal is nice, but nothing beats Santa Monica Beach, California

On our way to Australia last year, we purposefully planned a 12ish-hour layover in Los Angeles. The last thing I wanted to do after the 6-hour flight from Miami to LA was get right on a 16-hour transpacific! Our flight from Miami landed around 11am and our flight to Sydney left around midnight.

With 12 hours on our hands, we definitely had enough time to explore a bit of the city. After some research, we came up with this plan, which worked wonderfully! We would start at Santa Monica Beach, have some lunch, walk along the boardwalk, and end our afternoon in Venice for some drinks. This itinerary allowed us to see two spots we wanted to visit while getting back to the airport in plenty of time.

Leaving the airport during your long layover at LAX

If your layover is less than three hours, I would recommend staying in the airport. Why? The rumors are true, traffic in LA is horrendous! If you have more than three hours, you should have enough time for about an hour or more of exploring.

Leaving the airport is pretty straightforward – we requested an Uber to take us to Santa Monica Beach. Given that we were driving in the middle of the day, traffic wasn’t too terrible, but we were still delayed due to some congestion.

Uber was our best option since there isn’t an easy way to take public transportation to Santa Monica from the airport. A taxi would have been much more expensive. The Uber cost us about just over $20.

What about our suitcases? We checked bags for this trip, and our layover was booked as a true layover with both flights on the same ticket (not two separate reservations). Therefore, our bags were somewhere in the airport the whole time, we never needed to retrieve them. We carried our small backpacks with us.

However, if you brought unwieldy carry-ons or are taking your next flight on a new ticket, you can store your luggage at LAX Luggage Storage which is right outside the airport. Make a reservation online and you’ll be bag-free in no time!

Santa Monica Beach

We left the airport around 11:30am and got to Santa Monica just before 12:30pm. After the early flight to LA, we were starving! One of my friends who used to live in LA recommended a sushi place called Sugarfish that was conveniently located in the middle of Santa Monica. Wow… Miami sushi cannot compare. The eel nigiri was like butter. Yum!

Spending our layover eating sushi at Sugarfish in Santa Monica
Delicious sushi at Sugarfish

With our tummies full, we were ready to stretch our legs, so we crossed Ocean Avenue to the beach. The views were gorgeous!! If we had gone to Venice first, and ended in Santa Monica, this would have been the perfect spot to watch the sunset.

Spending our long layover at LAX in Santa Monica
So happy to be out of the airport! Santa Monica, California

Don’t miss these highlights in Santa Monica:

  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Muscle Beach
  • Third Street Promenade shopping
  • One (or more) of these must-try restaurants

Originally, we planned to walk down the boardwalk from Santa Monica to Venice. It’s about 40 minutes away if you keep a good pace, and you can see the original Muscle Beach! But, about 20 minutes in, it was so hot that we opted to hop in an Uber instead. Guess that’s the northern blood in us…

Map showing route from Santa Monica to Venice on foot.
About two miles of boardwalk from Santa Monica to Venice


The Uber dropped us off at the Venice Beach Boardwalk, so we strolled around there for a bit. Then, we wandered through a residential area to get to Abbot Kinney Boulevard. We saw some interesting homes and landscaping and a few cats!

Enjoying turmeric lattes at The Butcher's Daughter during our long layover at LAX
Lattes at The Butcher’s Daughter – turmeric latte for me

We poked into a few stores, then stumbled upon The Butcher’s Daughter, where we stopped for a quick drink and snack. The fresh juices looked delicious too!

After a bit more walking, we met up with a friend at The Tasting Kitchen (also on Abbot Kinney) for a pre-flight drink. Highly recommend for creative cocktails and a lively vibe.

Make sure to check out these top sights in Venice too:

  • Venice Beach Boardwalk
  • Venice’s Muscle Beach
  • Supposedly LA’s first poke bowl spot – Poke-Poke
  • Abbot Kinney Blvd
  • Venice Canals (you’ll see how the neighborhood got its name)

Overall, we had a much better time exploring Los Angeles than if we had sat in the airport all day!

Returning to LAX

Although our flight wasn’t until midnight, we wanted to allow a lot of time to get back to the airport, so we got in an Uber around 8pm and made it back to the airport close to 8:30pm.

Since we had been walking around all day and our Qantas flight to Sydney was departing from the Tom Bradley terminal, we planned to shower off and change in the Korean Air lounge. We get lounge access through the Priority Pass membership that comes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. One of my favorite credit card perks!

In our backpacks, we brought a full change of clothes and some toiletries so we could feel nice and fresh before the long flight.

Qantas A380 LAX to SYD
Our Qantas A380, aka my soon-to-be bed

Before getting on the plane, we realized our day in sunny Los Angeles had a benefit we hadn’t anticipated – we were exhausted! Walking around all day made falling asleep on the plane so easy, in fact, I couldn’t wait for dinner service to end so I could doze off.

Our long layover at LAX turned into a memorable day and became one of my strategies for strategies for surviving long flights!

Have you had a long layover at LAX? Or at another airport? If your travels take you to LAX in the future, make sure you pin this article for later!

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