LAX: The perfect long layover

Just five miles from Los Angeles International Airport is one of the best beach communities in all of America. 

I live just five miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) so I know what I would do if I had a long layover there. I always tell my friends and family transferring through LAX on their way to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Asia…you know, all the places that make you jealous…to break up their trip and get out of the airport and go to Manhattan Beach. Nothing is worse than just mulling around an airport for hours. If your layover is three hours or more, jump in a taxi and take a mini vacation. Better yet, spend a night or two on each end of your trip so you can recharge your batteries—literally and figuratively.

Manhattan Beach is a home of surfing and both beach and indoor volleyball. It’s a special community that used to be filled with pilots and flight attendants in the 70s, 80s and mid-90s until the housing market exploded and priced all the fun people out. I used to live right on the Strand (the first row of houses on the beach) and when I first moved there in 1992, in a tear-down house on a single lot, it was selling for $750,000. Today, that same old house is priced at $11,000,000+. I made a HUGE mistake not rustling some money together to buy it. Many believe that Raleigh Studios is one of the main culprits behind the explosion since they built a movie studio down the street. Raleigh produces all kinds of shows and films like CSI Miami and Avatar (here’s a complete list).

The easiest way to get to Manhattan Beach from LAX is to take a taxi. Tell the driver you want to go to Manhattan Beach Boulevard and Highland Avenue (the heart of downtown). It should cost no more than $27 including tip and less on the return since there’s no $4 airport surcharge. Tip: If you’ll be traveling during rush hour, tell them to go down Imperial Highway. If it’s not rush hour, then go down Sepulveda to Manhattan Beach Boulevard (they’ll know the way). As you go down the hill you’ll see the famous Manhattan Beach Pier. It’s been in a lot of movies and was always featured in NBC’s coverage of the Manhattan Beach Open, the Wimbledon of beach volleyball, before the sponsors pulled out. Tip 2: If you take UBER back to the airport it will only cost about $15 and that includes tip. Here’s how to get your first UBER free.

Car service
Be prepared for the taxi driver to give you a bit of attitude, as he will probably have been sitting in a line for two hours and will be bummed that he’s going only a short distance. If you don’t want the attitude, you can call my personal driver Ramez, a very nice Egyptian man who sometimes picks me up—on time and in a clean new car (usually an SUV). He charges $30, only a few bucks more than a taxi, to and from Manhattan Beach. His number is 310-938-7240.

Ocean Express Trolley
A cheaper alternative is to take the Ocean Express Trolley which offers hop-on and hop-off shuttle service every 30 minutes to Manhattan Beach (and El Segundo) for $5.

What to do
Once in Manhattan Beach the best thing to do is stroll around the Strand and the pier (there’s a little aquarium at the end). I highly recommend renting a bike and cruising the bike path (you can go all the way south to Torrance or north to Santa Monica). Try Fun Bunns Beach Rentals, accessible at 1116 Manhattan Ave and by phone at 310-372-8500 ($8 an hour, $24 a day).

Where to eat
This is one of my favorite parts about Manhattan Beach—the restaurants. There are so many to choose from and most are within walking distance from where you’ve been dropped off, so I’m just listing my favorites.


  • Uncle Bill’s Pancake House (1305 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-5177). It’s a diner that’s open for breakfast and lunch only and has super long waits on weekends/holiday mornings. I’ve eaten here so many times my picture is on the wall (to the right of the front door).
  • Le Pain Quotidien (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-6411) Yeah, it’s a chain but it’s darn good and they serve some healthy (and non-healthy) food. Get the mint tea and don’t try their hazelnut spread—it’s addicting.
  • Local Yolk (3414 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-546-4407) It’s located in North Manhattan Beach (about a mile away) and has an extensive menu and award-winning omelets. You won’t leave hungry.

If you are looking for something quick and light then go to Noah’s Bagel or Nekter Juice. There’s also a Coffee Bean, Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks within a block.

There are so many places I don’t know where to start, but here’s a quick list:

  • My favorite is The Izaka-ya By Katsu-ya (1133 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-796-1888). It’s a very well-run Japanese restaurant and even though I don’t eat sushi, I still frequent it often and get the apple ginger chicken, which comes with miso soup, rice and salad ($8.50).
  • Almost anytime PR people want to take me out to lunch or dinner I suggest Petros (451 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-4100). They have fantastic Mediterranean food and I love their watermelon and peach salads (in season).
  • When I’m in the mood for something quick I go to Lemonade (401 Manhattan Beach Blvd). It’s a gourmet deli chain and I get two salad portions for $5.25.
  • Simmzys (229 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-1201) is a gold mine. It’s always happening with the cool people drinking, eating and watching sporting events on their open-air patio.
  • If you want to live like a local go to Becker’s Bakery and grab a sandwich to eat down on the beach or pier or an Acai Bowl from Paradise Bowls.

If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, go to the Farmers Market (13th Street & Morningside Drive). Buy some fresh fruit and ask to try the spicy tempha from Dave’s Korean food.


  • Rock ‘N Fish (120 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-379-9900) is always busy so you’ll need a reservation Thursday-Sunday. It’s great for steaks, seafood and Navy Grogs.
  • Fonz’s (1017 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-376-1536), another steak and seafood restaurant filled with mostly locals.
  • Manhattan Beach Brewery (124 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-798-2744) serves casual California cuisine.
  • The Strand House (117 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-7470). They have the best location of all and take vending machines to a new level with their wine stations. They also have an insane glazed doughnut dessert with PB-n-chocolate, vanilla bean and caramel with fleur de sel.
  • Pancho’s Restaurant (3615 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-6670) is one of the oldest and best known landmarks in the South Bay area. It’s in North Manhattan Beach and has a festive atmosphere and solid Mexican food.
  • The Kettle (1141 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-8511) is a staple in Manhattan Beach as it’s been around since 1973. It’s the first restaurant I went to when I passed through with my dad in 1990. It’s open 24 hours and seems to always be crowded. I usually go with my friends late night.

I’m not much of a drinker but I go out with my friends the first half of the night and when they start to get sloppy I bail. Places we go:

  • Shark’s Cove (309 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-545-2683) has over 40 TVs so it’s the perfect place to watch a ballgame and drink/eat with your friends.
  • Hennessey’s Tavern (313 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-546-4813) is an Irish bar right next door to Shark’s Cove. We usually go on St. Patrick’s Day and on Tuesdays when burgers are two-for-one.
  • Shellback Tavern (116 Manhattan Beach Blvd; Tel: 310-376-7857) is an institution in Manhattan Beach and the spot to be after any big volleyball tournament. The food is not too good (except the turkey tacos) but it’s happening and crowded.
  • Baja Sharkeez (3600 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-8811) is in North Manhattan Beach and is a popular USC bar that serves decent fish tacos. Go on taco Tuesday when it’s two-for-one and you’ll find lots of eye candy.

Grocery Stores
Of course, if you ever need to grab snacks for the plane you have Vons supermarket right in town. There’s also a Ralphs, Target, Whole Foods, and the Manhattan Village (a mall)—all of them are just off Sepulveda Blvd (close to the airport).


  • The swankiest place to stay in Manhattan Beach is Shade Hotel (1221 N Valley Drive; Tel: 310-546-4995). It’s a luxury boutique that’s in the heart of town and three blocks from the beach. Shade is also a hot spot Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, though they kick everyone out by 11 pm so they don’t disturb the guests. Rack room rates begin at $279. See my 10 reasons to stay at Shade Hotel.
  • The Sea View Inn (3400 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach; Tel: 310-545-1504) is in north Manhattan Beach and located right on Highland Avenue. They offer free parking, complimentary bicycles, beach chairs, beach towels & boogie boards. Rack room rates begin at $130.
  • The Belamar Hotel is located off of Sepulveda and Valley. It’s just a few miles from LAX and has 127 rooms. I stayed there one night and here’s my story.
  • If you want to collect some hotel points there’s the Manhattan Beach Marriott (1400 Parkview Avenue, Manhattan Beach; Tel: 310-546-7511). It’s three miles south of LAX, has 385 rooms, and there’s a par-3 golf course in the backyard. However, it’s a good 2 miles from the beach. Rack room rates begin at $149.
  • If you want to be close to the airport check out Joie de Vivre’s Custom Hotel (8639 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles; Tel: 310-645-0400). I recently stayed there and had a great experience.

Rent a house or an apartment
If you are staying longer than a day, then rent a house or an apartment. Airbnb and VRBO are the two major players.

There are two places to either do your laundry or drop it off and have them do it for you: The Wash Tub (3921 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-545-2296) and Whale of a Wash (1209 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-4633). I recommend the latter since you probably won’t have too much and they only charge $1.25 per pound and will get you your clothes to you within a few hours.

Manicure and pedicure
Since I know how many ladies (and some men) are adamant about having good-looking nails while they travel, here are two good spots. Perfection Nails (3212 Highland Ave; Tel: 310-546-1049) is where I go as it only costs $20 for both a pedicure and manicure. It’s not the cleanest salon in the world but the Vietnamese women are nice and always giggle when I come in. The other is Dominic Nail Spa (1147 Manhattan Ave; Tel: 310-545-0802), where the high-maintenance girls go as it’s cleaner and more expensive ($32).

Shoe repair or polish
If you need your shoes repaired or polished, the best place to go is Manhattan Shoe Repair (1010 Manhattan Ave; Tel:  310-376-7484). The man who owns this place takes so much pride in what he does that he can pretty much create magic. My wife wanted me to buy a new pair of shoes for our wedding but instead I brought an old pair of work shoes that I hadn’t worn in ten years and he made them look like new for $25. Chalk one up for the good guys!

Useful Manhattan Beach Resources

So there’s “my” Manhattan Beach. Hopefully, this will make your long layover at LAX (or stay in the area) and trip to whatever fabulous place you are going that much more enjoyable.

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  1. Great advice for LAX layovers! I’ve personally been to Petro’s and have to agree with you on that one.

  2. Wish I had seen this before our all-day layover at LAX after our return from Tahiti! Do you happen to know if there’s someplace secure at the airport to leave carryon luggage if we were to go off-site? Would be useful to know for future reference…

  3. Great advice! Had a 5 hour layover so we grabbed a cab and killed about 2 hours in Manhattan Beach having lunch and a few drinks.

  4. Amazing tips.. Ill be having a layover of 10 hrs… is the number of Ramez up to date???
    One last question is there anywhere to take a shower?? ie. public shower rooms… it would be nice to do that after walking in the beach and before taking my next 13 hrs flight…

    • The number is up-to-date but here’s another good taxi company’s #. Kenny 310-918-2354 but they can’t pickup at LAX — only drop off. The beach has a shower every few blocks but they aren’t hot.

  5. Shall be using some of these tips on my trip next month. Thanks for the advice.

  6. Two more restaurant suggestions: Abagaile – great food with a brewery inside. Kick back and relax. Little Sister – East meets west and no one does it better than Chef Tin Vuong. they’r ethe folks behind WildCraft in Culver City.

  7. Mary Gallagher says:

    I flew into LAX and visited Redondo Beach also a close and inexpensive cab ride. Loved it and never had a car. See the story @

  8. Johnny,
    What great advice! I have a friend in LA, and would like to get there sometime. I’m sure much of the advice, including your personal driver will be helpful :-) I will definitely be filing this away!


  9. Ah yes…definitely Le Pain Quotidien! One of my favorite restaurants to have breakfast when we go to Paris, and we have also been to one in New York. Love it!


  10. Going to be spending the day and evening at an LAX hotel on return from Australia in Feb. Thanks for the great tips, looks like a wonderful place to just stroll around, eat and enjoy the day!

  11. I know this isn’t at the beach, but what is a long LAX layover without a trip to In-N-Out? :)

  12. Love this post! I will definitely take this advice the next time I have a layover at LAX.

  13. Johnny, You could not have given better advice!!!!!!!!! I’m an LA resident {West Hollywood} and I always make it a point to get down to the southbay at least a couple of times a month!! Two of my FAVORITE places in all of LA county is Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, Thay are California!!! Its so nice to lay out in Hermosa & Manhattan Beach in Jan/Feb when the folks back in Rhode island are shoveling snow!!!!!

  14. I have lived in Manhattan Beach since 1972. I feel like I am on vacation every day – really! No where else like it. I love The Kettle for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Never had a bad meal there.

  15. I love this post. We need one for every major airport in the world. Are you on it?

  16. Another good stop – and some of think a better one than MB – is Hermosa Beach. Settle in at Pier Plaza for great craft beer, superb wine list, and long tapas menu at Mediterraneo and for overnight a hundred yards away is the Beach House 1300 Strand, an elegant high rated hotel on the beach.

    • Anonymous says:

      Joe!!! You got that right!!! I absolutely love Hermosa beach!!!!! How lucky we are to live in Southern California!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Donald McKellar says:

    Good tips, but I probably would head downtown to the Bottega Louie Restaurant at 700 South Grand and have some great food. I still have not figured out where you might stash your bags so far in advance of check in with Qantas to AUS?

  18. Thank you for your post. We had 5 hours and did just that. Such fun. After 20+ hours of being on an airplane, my daughter was just about had it. After a trip to Manhattan Beach, she said, “This is the most wonderful vacation in the world!”

  19. Our layover to Kona in Nov has just been extended by 4 hours so hubbie and I will definitely be taking a cab to Manhatten Beach to explore for a couple of hours … thanks for tip and I’ll feedback after the event.

    • Ken Jensen says:

      It will be well worth it!!!!!!!! You’ll love both Manhattan and Hermosa!!!! Enjoy!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Kate Puttock says:

    Great advice thanks – just what I was looking for! We have one afternoon/evening in July before collecting our rental camper van the next morning and setting off to Zion NP. ( Day one of our road trip!) Sounds like a great way to relax before the long drive!

  21. Christina Bernstein says:

    Johnny – I had a sublet in MB for years and now I’m up the road in Marina del Rey. Let me tell you how to do your layover for REAL CHEAP and still have fun – Beach Cities Transit bus is $1.00 from LAX transit center to downtown MB, and it’s free for seniors. That means more money to spend at Simzy’s

  22. Tracy Johnson says:

    I have lived in Manhattan Beach since 1977 not far from the Shade Hotel. Everything you say is true except for Shellback. I think they have the best chicken tenders in the world and the shrimp quesadilla isn’t bad either. Even Mark Cuban has been seen there. I just landed in Amsterdam and although I know I’m going to love river boating on the Rhine I won’t be sorry to return home. I noticed Johnny Jets address in Manhattan Beach when I signed up for the newsletter only to find its the post office not far from my house. Can’t blame him for not using an actual address.

  23. My wife and I went there last year when we had a few days in LA. It is just a perfect place to stop. We went to Venice Beach, but it did not have the nice vibe of manhattan beach. You are spot on Johnny

  24. Alan Ball says:

    Fantastic post. Thanks for the spot on advice!

  25. Ocean Express Trolley
    A cheaper alternative is to take the Ocean Express Trolley which offers hop-on and hop-off shuttle service every 30 minutes to Manhattan Beach (and El Segundo) for $5.

    OET’s website states they are not for public transportation and are only available for hotel guests.

  26. We were stuck I’m LAX for about 10 hours as there was a malfunction with the plane but we couldn’t leave as we had no info when they could repair the plane. Wish we could have got out to check this area of LA

  27. Marri Cunniff says:

    Always look forward to your Newsletter…always come away with valuable tips! You remind us of why we live in the Southbay!!

  28. Thank you for this page. We’ve just enjoyed a couple of hours in the sun on Manhatten beach after a 14 hour flight with a 5 hour wait. Let’s hope the sea breeze got rid of any jet lag :)

    • Liz Lemon says:

      Anon – can I ask how you ended up getting to and from the beach? I’m hoping to not have to take a cab, but from reading bus schedules (assuming I’m reading them correctly..!) they seem to take about an hour each way. Not sure I’d be able to cope with an hour-long bus ride after being on a plane for 16 hours! Any tips would be much appreciated :)

  29. Thank you a lot for this suggestions. We had four extra hours between returning our RV after our vacation and our flight back to Germany. After finding your blog by chance, we checked in our heavy luggage first and then took a taxi to Manhattan beach, walked down the pier, had lunch at Petros and strolled on the beach. That was really the perfect final to our vacation and soooo much better than sitting in the lounge (although LAX Star Alliance lounge is also much better than many others..).

    • Johnny love the blog post very insightful and thorough
      My question is I have a short layover in late January for 4 hours.
      What’s the temperature like? would it look weird for me to walk around the beach with my luggage?

  30. My fiance and I will be on a 10 hour layover overnight at LAX in January on the way back from our honeymoon. Is Manhattan Beach open at night? It would be fun to walk along the beach. Is there anything else to do on an overnight layover in LA? We aren’t much for partying.

  31. Thanks for the tips, I’m visiting from New York this Friday-Sunday, first time in Cali, and by myself 0_0!! At least I’ll have some things to look forward to. This should prove to be an experience.

  32. Hi, thanks for the tip! We are scheduled to arrive into LAX at 7am, and our flight out leaves at 3.30pm. Not sure given this timeframe, what we could do to make the most of the long layover… Manhanttan beach sounds great, but not keen on the idea of dragging our carryon luggage around with us. Though, still would be great to go and get some breakfast, and lunch before heading back to the airport… Is there locker at LAX?

  33. Awesome tips, Johnny! I will only have a 3-hour layover on a Monday, arriving at 2:38 pm and departing at 5:45 pm. Will that give me enough time for a quick trip to MB? I used to live in LA and recall the traffic flowing mainly South during the afternoon commute. However, that was back in 1999. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Where at lax do i catch the ocean express that goes to Manhattan Beach for5.00


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  3. […] I know the beach town of Manhattan Beach very well. I’ve lived there for the past twenty years, after all, but recently I did something very out of the ordinary: I spent a night in our local hotel, Shade Hotel, and boy was I impressed. Shade is the first and only luxury boutique hotel in this upscale beach community and the owners have created something special. BTW: If you aren’t familiar with Manhattan Beach it’s located 15 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and Shade Hotel is just three blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Here’s my Manhattan Beach guide. […]

  4. […] But you don’t need an organized tour. Once you know how much time you’ll have, just do some research in advance by searching online or asking friends/family on Facebook. I live close to LAX, for example, and always tell people that if their layover is three hours or more, to jump in a taxi and take a mini vacation by going to Manhattan Beach. It’s just 15 minutes away (a $25 taxi ride each way) and really makes for a fun layover. Here’s more on how to spend a long LAX layover. […]

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