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Driving to LAX--dealing with traffic and logistics.

We will be dropping off our sons at LAX toward the end of a family vacation, mostly in the San Diego area. One is going on an international flight with American Airlines. The other son is going on a domestic flight with Alaska.
We have never driven in LAX before and are wanting any tips. Our general plan is to stay in Seal Beach the night before, drive up and possibly do something interesting closer to LAX, then drop off the son flying internationally at 4:30 p.m. for a 10:30 p.m. flight, while also dropping off the other son at 4:30 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. flight.
Any ideas or tips for minimizing the traffic congestion, improving the timing, or other ideas would be of interest.
Thanks

Posted by
1023 posts

There are different terminals for domestic airlines and for international flights. The departure loop is beastly, with folks dropping off people double parking two or three vehicles deep. It is one of the most unpleasant aspects of LAX. Consider a shuttle service to take care of this. I am sure there are Los Angelenos on this Forum who can assist you. If you decide to brave the traffic at the airport, definitely drop of the 7:30 departing son FIRST, so you have time to make the loop to do the other dropoff at the other terminal.

Posted by
8829 posts

Will this be happening on w weekday, weekend or holiday?

Posted by
6876 posts

I would spend some time in either Santa Monica or Venice right before the drop offs because those areas are quite close to the airport and are a great way to spend some time. You can just drive up PCH (Highway 1) from Seal Beach to get to Santa Monica if you want to avoid the freeways. It sounds like you're giving your sons plenty of time before their flights (3 hours is a lot for the domestic flight, and 6 hours is even too much for the international flight) so I don't see any issue. Traffic would be much more concerning if you were coming from San Diego, which would be unpredictable and a slog...but coming from Seal Beach, Santa Monica, etc. will be fine. LAX can be a crazy busy airport, especially around the holidays and peak traffic times. I used to live in SoCal for 20+ years and visit parents often, so I've had my share of LAX.

My only advice to avoid stress is to be as close to LAX as you can before and after the drop-offs. Luckily, there is plenty to do not far away: Santa Monica, Venice, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marina del Ray.

The other relevant question is where you're planning to drive after you've dropped off the sons? At 4:30 pm you'll be hitting a lot of traffic. So again, I'd head to Santa Monica or nearby and kill some time before you're on the road again (unless you want to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic at 4:30pm).

Posted by
6451 posts

Hope you aren't talking about today, the day after Thanksgiving. Living hell LAX would be as would the majority of airports in the US.

Seal Beach is MILES away from LAX. Why aren't you considering something closer? Culver City or Redondo Beach for example.

Me, I'd stay at the Double Tree on Centinella, walk over to the venerable Dinahs for breakfast and then I'd drive about a mile to the Holy Cross Cemetery and search for the graves of Bela Lugosi, John Candy, Jack Haley (Wizard of Oz Tinman), Sharon Tate, Ricardo Montalban, and Bing Crosby.

But I like cemeteries.

LAX is a straight shot down Sepulveda from Dinahs to the entrance of the "beastly" departure loop.

The international Tom Bradley terminal is at the center of the big U that is LAX.

If you know what airline the domestic flight is on then look up which Terminal to drop the other son off at on the LAX Terminal Map.

There's no secret about dealing with LAX other than patience.

Posted by
3159 posts

Claudia, patience and nerves of steel. I’d prefer the area to the north of LAX (Marina del Rey or Santa Monica) or if south, something closer like Long Beach. We’ve often stayed at a convenient hotel on the north side of the airport that has a shuttle the boys could take at their leisure. A lot depends of course on when and where YOU are planing to make your escape afterwards.

Posted by
231 posts

What Claudia said, or something similar. My son and daughter-in-law did this last month when we all attended a late afternoon wedding in Hollywood and they had an early flight to Miami the next day. They stayed overnight near the airport at a hotel that had a shuttle to take them into LAX. We live near Disneyland and take the Disney Resort bus whenever we have a flight out of LAX. I'd rather spend the money, be there early, and hang around the terminal than roll the dice with traffic--especially with an international flight.

Posted by
6950 posts

I agree about stopping off in Redondo Beach or Manhattan Beach--south of the airport. You could also drive up the coast to LAX.
You'll be coming into LAX during rush hour, but you may be hitting less traffic coming north versus going south from Santa Monica toward the airport. Last time I was in the area, I was fortunate to hit it on a slow traffic day--if there is such a thing.

Posted by
144 posts

We are dropping them off on Jan. 2nd, so this is very close to a holiday. We don't really want to sit in bumper to bumper traffic.
Our flight is out of LAX the next day, on Jan. 3, and we were planning to drive back to Seal Beach and stay there and come back to LAX for our 6:00 p.m. flight (arriving at LAX with a rental car to return at 3 p.m.).

I think there may be a better way to do this. Is there a somewhat relaxing place to stay overnight near LAX, that would avoid some of the traffic coming and going to Seal Beach. We just picked Seal Beach because it sounded somewhat relaxing.

The reason we are not going back on Jan. 2 was in case there was some problem with our son's international flight. Anyway, that is the reason why we booked the tickets this way.

Posted by
262 posts

You are in the wrong place if you don't want to be in traffic, it's LA and almost all the time. The good thing is that you have left yourself plenty of time for flights. You can also put them on a shuttle, quite easy and reasonable. It's the only way I travel to LAX from home, never take my car!

Posted by
8491 posts

If you stay to the north of the airport, which is what I’d do: I used to take Sepulveda Blvd south from Venice, Santa Monica or Culver City and avoid the San Diego and Santa Monica freeways. This was quite a few years ago. Maybe some current Angelenos can tell you if it’s still a valid workaround.

Posted by
800 posts

January 2nd is going to be a major work day in L.A. Unless you really need to be in Seal Beach I wouldn't stay there. I'd get north of LAX into Santa Monica / Brentwood. From Seal Beach north you're going to hit all the Port of Long Beach traffic which is going to be insane after the holiday. (I work ports so trust me, I know.) You'd also have to deal with the congestion around the 405/105 interchange. From Venice to Long Beach pretty much sucks.

I also used to work and live in that area, and was just down in LB with family. Santa Monica is where you want to be. You can easily go against traffic to LAX from there and it's a much shorter route. You also have a lot more to do in and around Brentwood/Westwood/ PCH.

One thing I'd add, get yourselves and sons on the TSA Pre-Check ASAP. You ' don't want to stand in the other lines.

Posted by
6876 posts

The Fly Away LAX Bus serves LAX from various locations, you may want to check it out in case it's an option for your sons (https://www.flylax.com/-/media/flylax/pdfs/flyaway/flyaway-brochure.ashx). The traffic in LA is bad and unpredictable but, honestly, it can be managed just by giving yourself ample time (my parents live 25 miles east of the Los Angeles and somehow I always manage to get to LAX on time when visiting - caveat: I always try to arrive or depart in off-peak hours). I don't see anything wrong with staying in Seal Beach as long as you build in enough time to get to the airport. Of course I'd rather stay in Santa Monica but it is quite pricey (probably the same in Westwood or Hollywood area as well).

Posted by
1805 posts

Hopefully, someone else can help with this, but at some airports it’s easier to drop of departing passengers in the arrival area. I’m not sure if LAX qualifies, but my impression is that arrival area is a little easier to navigate than the departure area. I’m assuming you’ve already looked at the airport map, so that you know LAX has a “u” shape and that the international terminal is in the middle of the “u” and that Alaska is at Terminal 6. There are places to cut across and miss some of the traffic, but your terminals don’t really work for that. We’re usually coming from Redondo Beach, using 405 to 105.

Posted by
5697 posts

We are currently staying in a Super 8 in Culver City (not overly expensive, 6 miles to LAX) for Thanksgiving weekend, will be driving DD to LAX on Sunday evening (!) taking surface streets. Have also stayed at the above-mentioned Double Tree down the block from Dinah's (great breakfasts!) Agree with others that close to the airport beats trying to negotiate LA freeways.

Posted by
800 posts

One thing you should seriously consider is that many hotels in Santa Monica have shuttles to LAX. That alone is the best way to send the kids off, and your one son won't have to spend 6 hours kicking around in a airport terminal. I know the Marriott and Hilton properties do. I can easily recommend the Marina del Rey Marriott.

Posted by
144 posts

Thank you so much for all your replies. I am slowly starting to get an idea of what travel to LAX might be like on Jan. 2, and also on our return on Jan. 3. I will check out hotels in Santa Monica, to see if that might work. One caveat is I have a hard time with hotel room smells, so I like to go where I can open a window, and maybe get a fresh breeze. But, I totally know this is LA, and I have to be somewhat flexible...it is just I have a hard time breathing in all the stale air in a windowless room.

Is Santa Monica the best bet for being 1) close to LAX but being able to unwind a little during the 20 hours or so we have after dropping our kids off and 2) avoiding as much traffic as possible?

Thanks so much!

Posted by
231 posts

I have not stayed in Santa Monica, but I think you're more likely to find a hotel there with windows that you can open, than you are to find one like that near the airport. Plus you will probably find more things to do in Santa Monica than in Seal Beach. (I like Seal Beach, but it's pretty small and quiet.)

If you are driving your sons to LAX, rather than putting them on a shuttle, be aware that there is a lot of construction going on right now and many of the "short cuts" between the two arms of the U are currently closed. At least that was true as of last month when we had friends coming and going from LAX. So allow plenty of time to drive the whole route if necessary.

Posted by
3700 posts

Couple things: there are dozens of hotels near LAX but very few 2 queen bed rooms. The Fairfield Inn in El Segundo has 2 queen bed rooms, I couldn’t find another “family friendly” hotel near LAX except that one (but didn’t stay).

Ended up leaving from Hollywood for LAX last Christmas Eve (a Sunday) mid-morning and the freeways were so deserted it was almost post-apocalyptic. The U at LAX was a disaster however. Fortunately the car rental remote lot shuttle handled it.

Posted by
3159 posts

We’ve stayed at the Embassy Suites hotel. They have a bedroom which is separate from the sofa bed in the living room/kitchen. It’s pretty spacious and they have an airport shuttle. It’s next door to at least one car rental lot, can’t remember which one. The last time we stayed there they were still providing a free breakfast.

Posted by
800 posts

Most Hilton/Doubletree and Marriott hotels will have windows that open. Most of the beach ones will have balconies. My recommendation would be to stay around Marina del Rey / Santa Monica. There's lot's to do, but if I wanted to kill a morning over there in the best way possible I'd take a short drive to the Getty. It's one of the places you should have on your bucket list. Of course, you could always just sit near the beach and drink margaritas and pity the poor fools who are not in L.A. in January.

Posted by
144 posts

We found a small hotel in Santa Monica and made a reservation. It looks like we could drive down Lincoln Blvd. all the way to LAX without getting on the freeway. And right now (I know it is Sunday morning) it looks like it will only take 20 minutes to get to LAX, but I think we should allow at least an hour.

Any one know how long we should allow from Santa Monica, driving down Lincoln to the two terminals, dropping off one son at the International terminal (flying American) and the other son, flying Alaska domestic flight.

I appreciate all the help you all have given on this.

Posted by
3159 posts

I think that’s a solid plan and will give you a, hopefully, sane back way to LAX. Everyone checks WAZE or some gps/mapping data before they venture out to see if plan A, B or C seem best in the moment. Have a great time sending people off and relaxing before your flight.

Posted by
5697 posts

Just a note -- dropped off DD at LAX this afternoon, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and it took about a half-hour to get from the street next to the airport to terminal 3 (halfway around the airport.) January 2 shouldn't be that bad, but just be aware that getting TO the airport isn't the whole battle -- getting THROUGH it can be a challenge.

Posted by
749 posts

Hello from Santa Monica! I’m glad you’ve chosen one of the smaller boutique hotels here. Just returned from a morning walk along the Palisades, and saw your post. As you say, Lincoln Blvd is the way to go to the airport. Normal local commuter traffic starts to build up at 3 pm, so you may want to leave Santa Monica between 2:45-3:00 pm

Posted by
144 posts

Thanks for all you helpful replies. Any thought on if a visit to the Getty Center on the morning of travel would be too stressful, in terms of traffic and being sure our sons get to their flights on time? It seems travel from Santa Monica to LAX is very straight forward, but from the Betty Center to LAX I am not so sure.

Thanks.

Posted by
5697 posts

Getty Malibu (Italian villa of the Pompeii era) or Getty near Mulholland Drive ? Either one would take me more than a morning, but I do slooow travel through museums. Malibu is on the airport side of town, though.

Posted by
11432 posts

As someone who was a regular commuter to LAX, trying to find the best way to get there was of constant discussion.

First rule....if you can, stay off the freeway. I was on the westside just off the 405 but took Sepulveda. If your hotel is closer to Lincoln take that as it merges with Sepulveda near the airport.

Second rule. ....give yourself plenty of time. It's not just getting to the airport but getting through the airport loop.

I believe American is terminal 4 and Alaska is terminal 6. Look at a map of the airport and you'll see those terminals are on the south side of the terminal area. Terminal 4 is the one just past the Bradley terminal that is at the "bottom" of the U-shaped terminal area.

If you have time to kill you can always go to the In n Out just north of the airport. It's been seen in lots of TV shows and movies and the planes almost fly directly over it on approach.

The only way to stay out of traffic in L.A. is to never go anywhere.

Posted by
800 posts

Either Getty is pretty easy to get to from Santa Monica. For the Center just get on Sunset heading away from the water, make a left on Church (just before the freeway) and the next left should take you into the parking area. Be advised it's a steep hill to walk up to get to the center. They have trams, but walking is faster.

The Villa is easy too. Just get on Hwy 1 and go north. Follow the signs.

I prefer the Center.

Posted by
144 posts

Do you need a special device to pay tolls in the area? If so , which road require the device, and can you instead pay another way if you don't have the device?

Thanks.

Posted by
800 posts

No need for special device. I don't recommend you use the rental agency one either, they drastically overcharge. There are only a few toll roads in SoCal, and the only one you're likely to encounter is Hwy 73 in Orange County.

Posted by
7689 posts

What Laura B and Frank II said — I flew out of LAX on Monday, and it was a nightmare just making the airport loop in the shuttle from my rental car drop off. It easily took 45 minutes, and possibly more. Luckily I was aware of this and gave myself plenty of time, but I can only imagine the anxiety and steam building in the minds of so many people trying to get out of there (one guy on my shuttle had missed his flight the day before, so was back trying again).

Now the Monday after Thanksgiving isn’t an easy day to travel, but Jan 2 is probably much the same, I’m guessing.

I couldn’t tell that there was any way to get more easily to arrivals than departures, it seemed all the traffic was going on the same loop, but somebody more experienced with the airport can speak to that. All I know is that I was astounded in this day and age that there were SO MANY combustion-engine vehicles all headed to the same place with seemingly no alternatives (no tram, no rail, etc).

You are doing well to be thinking about this in advance.

Posted by
231 posts

There are a few roads in the area that require a device for tolls, but they are pretty clearly marked "FasTrak only". In Orange County the roads you're most likely to run into that don't require a device are the 73 (mentioned above) and the 241. On both these roads you can pay online within 5 days of using the road, so you have the option of choosing it at the last minute if traffic is bad and paying later. (TheTollRoads.com--posted on the signs before you enter the road.)

The tricky thing about the 73 is that part of it is public road, and the rest of it is toll road. You can use it for free heading south from South Coast Plaza until you get to the Bison exit; after that you pay. If you enter from the south coming up from San Diego, you're immediately on the toll portion.

Posted by
1058 posts

The arrival and departure are on different levels at LAX. The arrival level has about 1/4 the traffic as the departure level. When I am taking people to LAX at high traffic periods, I always drop them off at the arrival level. It is easy for them to take the stairs, escalators, or elevators to the departure level.

Posted by
12 posts

I know my response is a bit late. As mentioned, drop them off at departure level- way less traffic and they can easily get upstairs.
Driving Lincoln Blvd from Santa Monica to LAX can be slower than the freeway. It will be bumper to bumper and way too many stop lights. If you really want to avoid traffic, I would stay on Century Blvd at one of the many hotels there. Your sons can take the airport shuttle and you can easily drive to Marina del Rey, Santa Monica, or Venice visit those areas.

Posted by
6876 posts

So how did it go? I departed out of LAX on Dec 28th afternoon and the freeways were fine. Got to the airport in 45 minutes (from about 25 miles away) and had plenty of time to kill. The only traffic was the usual congestion at the u-shaped drop-off. Even security was speedy.

Posted by
144 posts

It all went great! Dropped off one son at one terminal and then the other at another terminal and then we drove to Santa Monica and really enjoyed out time there. Walked on the beach and also on the pier for the first time.

The traffic was pretty bad getting near LAX. We drove up early from San Diego, and went to the Getty Center. From the Getty Center it took maybe 40 or 45 minutes.
We went back to LAX today to take our flight and we did not get caught in traffic at all, from Santa Monica.

Thanks for asking how it went, and for all the help.

Posted by
6876 posts

Did you go to the Malibu Getty Center or the one in Brentwood? Either one is totally enjoyable, as is Santa Monica. What were the highlights of your trip?

Posted by
144 posts

Thanks for asking about the highlights of our trip. And we went to the Getty Center, not the Villa in Malibu.
We started our trip staying in a place northeast of San Diego, in fact it was 8 miles east of Ramona. It was great for us, because there was a beautiful ravine full of mature oaks almost outside our door, where we walked every morning on a 3 or 4 mile loop, and we could continue right into the Cleveland National Forest. So these morning walks before our sons got up were just beautiful and our favorite way to start the day.
We found hiking and walks every day to see the topography of the area and get sun and a lot of outdoor time. It was in the 60's so not hot, but we had a lot of sun.
Later we stayed in La Jolla for three days, and could walk down to the beach. Having both landscapes, the woods and foothills, then the beach to explore, was fantastic. We saw great sunsets in La Jolla.
Also, on our day in Santa Monica. we loved the beach there: wide, clean and not too crowded.
We also found great food in all locations, much of it Thai food, and that was great.
Thanks again for everyone's excellent suggestions on all of this!