The Best SoCal Airports That Are Not LAX

LAX is the worst, but luckily it’s not your only option to fly out of Southern California this holiday season.

Travel is magic, a way to broaden your experience, refresh your spirit, and find new appreciation for the world at large. But traveling sucks, especially if you happen to be flying out of LAX, and even more so if you happen to be flying out of LAX around the holidays. LA’s major airport is crowded and inconvenient, with inadequate public transportation, expensive parking, long lines, and endless construction mucking everything up. Luckily, LAX isn’t the only option—there are several other great SoCal airports for flying out of LA.

The other airports are scattered around the Southland, mostly within easy driving range of LA, and each of them is smaller, cuter, and more manageable than the main hub of LAX. To help you figure out which one best fits your needs, here’s everything you need to know about the other airports around LAX. And if you’re willing to go all the way to San Diego International Airport, we’ve got you covered there, too.

Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) (Hollywood Burbank Airport)
Hollywood Burbank Airport | Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

Adding Hollywood to the name in 2017 may have been a gently misleading marketing move on Burbank’s part, but the airport also known as Bob Hope remains the region’s most pleasant. It’s tiny, with just two terminals and fewer than 15 gates, and Burbank’s location at the mouth of the Valley makes it a convenient airport for a large swath of the city—and maybe the only airport where asking for a ride from friends is easier than asking them to donate a kidney.

It’s a great airport for flying around the West, and there are usually one or two non-stop flights per day to the East Coast. If you want good people watching, though, hop on the Friday afternoon jaunt to Vegas, an eclectic crowd united by a desire to cut loose. Food and drink options at Burbank airport are scarce, but Bob Hope Airport happens to be the official LA embassy of Flavortown, with four Guy Fieri-branded establishments, serving Sammiches, Burgers, Highballs, and more.

Long Beach is a hike from the northern parts of LA, but coming from the east or south side it may not be any farther than LAX. The airport itself is charming and quaint, with a vintage nautical main terminal framed by palm trees. It’s even smaller than Burbank, with just one terminal and 11 gates, so it makes for a particularly easy pick up or drop-off. This is a theme among these airports—it’s best for getting around the West. But there’s one fun extra for LGB: it tends to have more flights to Hawaii than other comparable airports, including direct flights to Kahului and Honolulu via Hawaiian Airlines.

Food options within the terminal are not ideal, but if you make it to the area with some time to spare, there are good spots nearby, including two of our favorite food hallsSteelCraft just to the west, and The Hangar, which is built into a former aviation hangar just outside the airport.

If you live in the Inland Empire, ONT is an easy winner, but it’s also underrated for people who live closer to central LA, or folks headed up to our local mountains for some snowy fun. The airport is more manageable than LAX but not as tiny as Long Beach, and it’s typically under an hour’s drive from downtown, which isn’t much farther than LAX even if the area code is different.

Ontario is a particularly great airport for connecting flights to the East Coast, and it’s also an international airport, with nonstop flights to Guadalajara on Volaris, and direct flights to San Salvador and even Taipei, in case you’re looking to get a little farther away.

Orange County’s only commercial airport is also the second-busiest in the region, and yet it remains relatively easy to manage. John Wayne Airport, which gets the confusing code SNA for Santa Ana, is a great choice for the Disney-bound, and it’s also a good airport for visiting or leaving from OC’s beach communities like Newport, Huntington, or Laguna Beach. With a higher flight volume comes a little more diversity of destination, including Newark, Chicago, and Nashville. It’s also an international airport with flights to Mexico and Canada, including daily direct flights to Puerto Vallarta and Vancouver.

SNA has a fine-enough set of restaurants, including California Pizza Kitchen, Jamba Juice, and several full-service bars. But if you have the time, the airport is quite close to a lot of great food and drink options, particularly if you like Japanese food—udon and soba specialist Meiji Seimen, tonkatsu legend Kagura, and the excellent food court at Mitsuwa are all extremely close by. If you’ve got more time to kill, nearby Green Cheek makes some of the best beer in the country, particularly if you're an IPA drinker.

It would almost never be worth the drive from LA to fly out of Palm Springs International Airport, but it’s important to remember that it exists—if you have friends coming in for a desert getaway or Coachella next spring, you may want to gently suggest PSP over LAX. Because travel to and from PSP is largely driven by tourists, the destination map is broader than you might expect for an airport of its size. There are regular flights to the Midwest and the East Coast, and to international destinations across Canada.

There are a couple of standard full-service restaurants if you want somewhere to sit and have a drink before your flight, most of which are located in the open-air Bono Courtyard. There’s also an official PGA Tour Golf Shop—this airport knows its audience. If you want to eat elsewhere before your flight, all of Palm Springs is within an easy drive.

Ben Mesirow is an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in TheLA TimesLitroMcSweeney’s Internet TendencyLos Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.