The Ultimate Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Killing Time at LAX Airport

Fuel up and find something fun before you take off for holiday travel—you're going to need it.

There are many joys to be found in flying out of LA for the holidays, things like real winter weather, small-town charm, and your family back home—or, if you’re a native Angeleno, an escape from the family you have here. But before you get to any of that, there’s the necessary evil of LAX (unless you’re lucky enough to fly out of a different airport). LAX is crowded and complicated at the best of times, and it only gets more so as the holidays approach. But that doesn’t mean your experience there has to be miserable—there are plenty of fun things to do in every LAX terminal.

If you get to the airport early, have a long layover, or if you have the bad luck of a flight delay, you may find yourself with an hour or two to waste on the other side of security. Luckily, there are decent to surprisingly good options to fritter away some time before you board, including silly shops, spa treatments, and satellite outposts of some surprisingly solid LA restaurants. We’ve put together a list of our favorite spots to fuel up in the airport, organized by terminal, to help you make it to your destination in one piece:

beer at lax airport
Flickr/Jorge Gonzalez

Terminal 1

Closest gate: 15
This offshoot of the WeHo Irish pub and sports bar is a solid sandwich spot with options like a Short Rib Grilled Cheese, Grilled Chicken Sliders, a Turkey Wrap, and a breakfast sandwich on brioche. They’ve got salads like a Chicken Cobb and the Quinoa and Kale Superfood Salad. There’s also a proper bar with plenty of beer on tap—including sampler flight offerings—and a rather impressive whiskey selection, considering the setting.

Closest gate: 16
Airplanes are dry, smelly, and just generally gross environments in which to spend several hours. So if you’re going to be doing a little pre-flight shopping, why not fight back against all of that nastiness with some luxury skincare products? Kiehl’s has all sorts of oils and creams and mists and such, and most of it comes either fragrance-free or in pleasant natural scents like citrus or menthol. A little boost of aromatherapy is always nice, as long as you’re not assaulting your seatmate with it.

terminal 2 gates at lax airport
Flickr/Daniel Ramirez

Terminal 2

Closest gate: 23A
If you can’t stomach one more $18 breakfast sandwich of the kind served at every single outlet in the airport, you can mix up your morning meal with options like Shrimp and Grits, Lobster and Egg Tacos and a Smoked Salmon Bagel. Later in the day try the Lobster Roll or New England clam chowder—unless you’re flying to New England. In that case, just wait until you get there.

Closest gate: 21A
You’re not always getting the best deal by shopping at duty free, but it is always fun to poke around the rows of fancy things. If you need a last-minute gift for someone who might be picking you up on the other end, this is a pretty great option. And if you’re headed to or from someplace where tobacco or alcohol are highly regulated or taxed, it’s definitely worth a stop. If you’re just a regular old American traveling within America, though, there are still some fun things—a bottle of bourbon at a particularly good price, or a duty free exclusive Scotch, perhaps.

gameway video game lounge in the airport
Flickr/Sharon Hahn Darlin

Terminal 3

Closest gate: 30B
Cell phones transform into all sorts of entertainment these days, from books to tv screens, but—your aunt’s decade-long affair with Candy Crush notwithstanding—they still can’t compete with legit console gaming. So if you have time to burn in Terminal 3, pop over to Gameway, where they have a full suite of retro arcade games like Mario Bros. and Pac-Man, and a set of modern arcade consoles, fast wifi, and plenty of charging stations for all of your devices.

Closest gate: 33
For now, the food options at Terminal 3 remain a little sparse, but it’s already got one of your better bets in the airport—an incarnation of Chef Nyesha Arrington’s dearly departed Native. The LAX outpost features her Southern California perspective, incorporating multicultural influences in dishes like a Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich, Cauliflower Curry, and Heirloom Tomato Salad.

hudson booksellers at the airport
Flickr/brewbooks

Terminal 4

Closest gate: 43
There’s something magical about the isolation of airplane travel; it’s one of the few places left where you can justifiably claim a total inability to text, email, or call people back—even if you buy the always-unreliable wifi. And one of the best things to do with an extended stretch of solitude is to read. Airplanes are one of your best chances to burn through a book, especially a gripping, lightweight page-turner. So take a few minutes before your flight and pop into Hudson Booksellers to snag the latest from M.R. Carey, Freya Marske, or Colson Whitehead.

Closest gate: 41
You probably already know about this bakery that does society good. It’s part of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program that helps former gang members and incarcerated people receive new training and job skills. At the LAX location, you can try breads and baked goods, perhaps the best of which are on the menu of egg and cheese sandwiches on bagels and croissants. Their wraps and deli sandwiches on Homeboy bread are also very solid, and surprisingly affordable for the airport.

Terminal 5

Closest gate: 55A
Ford’s Filling Station holds a special place in the hearts of Angelenos who were catting around Culver City way back when. Ben Ford’s big-deal gastropub was a landmark restaurant in the area, and while that location (along with a short-lived DTLA one that came after it) is long gone, you can get a taste of Ford’s original menu at the airport outpost with signature stuff like the Pub Burger, Crispy Chicken Sandwich on brioche, Smoked Pork Taquitos, Deviled Eggs, Bread Pudding, and fresh-baked cookies.

Closest gate: 51B
LA is a low-key great sports city, full of teams that have championship traditions and lovably cursed franchises alike. To celebrate the highs and the lows, pop into Magic Johnson Sports, an apparel and memorabilia store named for and endorsed by one of the greatest LA athletes of all time. Pick up a purple and gold jersey or a Dodger hat as a souvenir, or go a little contrarian and grab one of the store’s scant few Clippers jerseys to show off your very singular taste for streetlights over spotlights.

Terminal 6

Closest gate: 68A
Well-known LA chef and restaurateur David Myers’ space age-style eatery near the Alaska Airlines gates offers a seafood-focused menu including a Poached Shrimp Salad with cucumber and arugula and Smoked Salmon Flatbread. The circular bar with groovy hanging light fixtures overhead is also a fine spot to get a pre-flight cocktail, but it’s the airport, so expect sky-high prices.

miniature randy's donuts sign
Flickr/lazy fri13th

Terminal 7

Closest gate: 74
Two LA legends teamed up in the airport over the summer to open a quick-service location for United travelers in Terminal 7. The pairing of coffee and donuts is perfectly natural, and a great way to get yourself a little something nice to prep for a long flight—just careful not to overdo it on the coffee, unless you’ve got an aisle seat.

Closest gate: 72B
20 years is a long time in the restaurant industry, and Loteria has taken many forms since its founding in 2002. At various points they’ve had a stand at the Original Farmers Market, a series of taquerias around town, a pop-up, and a catering operation, and though things have scaled back a little since their heyday, Loteria’s two LAX locations remain a boon for hungry travelers. Their menu of taqueria staples with Carne Deshebrada or carnitas is a reliable standby, and their vegetable taco and burrito options with fillings like squash and corn or potatoes and poblano peppers are a relief for vegetarian travelers.

Terminal 8

Ashland Hill
Closest gate: 38
While you can’t get the Santa Monica-based gastropub’s full menu at its LAX satellite location, you can get many of its healthier options including a superfood salad, a hummus and veggies combo, and a fruit cup along with lots of sandwich offerings. The space is notably stylish, and in case there was any doubt—yes, the hanging-plant trend has reached LAX, which means it has fully taken over restaurant decor in LA.

exterior of tom bradley international terminal at lax airport
Flickr/Thank You

Tom Bradley International Terminal

The Great Hall
Closest gate: 148
This 15,000-square-foot dining and retail behemoth is one of the best things to come out of the major renovation of this terminal—it finally looks like it belongs in a major international airport for the country’s second largest city. There are lost of fast-casual versions of LA restaurants you know and love (or in some cases loved), including Neapolitan brick-oven pizza go-to 800 Degrees and Chaya Sushi. You can also grab tacos, chiles rellenos, and tortilla soup at the city’s last-standing Border Grill; and sandwiches galore at Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack. For one of the best wine lists at the airport (the competition may not be all that steep, but still), sidle up to the sleek bar at Vino Volo, which also offers wine flights you can pair with pizzetta, cheese and charcuterie plates, bruschetta bites, and a smattering of salads. And don’t forget to pick up a little something from Gucci or Hermes afterwards.

airplane over in-n-out burger near lax airport
Flickr/Glenn Beltz

Other things to do near LAX

If you end up with a truly massive amount of time on your hands—a long layover, an extended flight delay, or maybe your friend would only pick you up at the airport on the condition that you do something cool nearby—you have a few fun options for things to do near LAX.

LAX is conveniently close to some of LA's many great beaches. On the north side of the airport you can head to Playa Del Rey to check out the Ballona Wetlands and pop in to Playa Provisions; or cruise over to El Segundo on the south side of LAX, a charming small town on the sea with great pizza and craft beer.

If you want to quickly hit an LA icon, the In-N-Out on Sepulveda is a perfect way to get a classic California experience without leaving the immediate vicinity. A double-double just tastes better under the sound of jet engines on close approach.

To stretch your legs a little bit, dip over to Westchester Park, where they have basketball and tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a skate park, a playground, and—if you really have a ton of time—a public golf course right next door. If you’re the type who likes to break a mental sweat, too, there’s also a lovely branch of the LA Public Library attached to the park.

And if you just can’t get enough airplane stuff, check out the Flightpath Museum, a small museum that’s jam-packed with facts, info, and exhibits about aviation history, including commercial, military, fire fighting, and space exploration. If fashion and clothing design give you any sort of lift, they have a particularly large and compelling collection of aviation crew uniforms, too.

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Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA TimesLitroMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyLos Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.
Lizbeth Scordo is a food and lifestyle writer and yes, she will take the 9-ounce pour for three dollars more. Thanks for asking. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.