Jess Hutchison / Los Angeles Times
Arrived super early at LAX? Now you can take a 2-mile walk through the airport. Here’s how
It’s a fact of life for millions who live in Los Angeles and plenty who pass through: You’re going to spend hours at LAX. Awkward, restless, unproductive hours.
Or you can take a walk. A long one.
Thanks to a recently completed connection between LAX’s Terminal 3 and the Bradley International Terminal, ticketed travelers have the freedom to roam all nine terminals without going through TSA multiple times. (Air travel cognoscenti call this unrestricted pedestrian access “airside connectivity.”)
For any traveler who is early or whose flight is delayed, this means access to about 90 eateries, 85 retailers and dozens of artworks and striking architectural features in LAX’s horseshoe arrangement of terminals. Across all of the terminals, it’s a 2-mile, post-TSA, one-way journey, or 2.5 miles if you include the far-flung West Gates of the Bradley International Terminal.
I’ve covered many miles on foot at LAX over the years, but never all the terminals in a day, and I hadn’t seen some spaces beyond TSA in years, if ever. So, to see what’s new and what I’ve been missing, I set out to walk the whole horsehoe.
A logistical and legal note: My first plan was to buy the cheapest possible ticket from LAX (about $40, Las Vegas one way), use the boarding pass to go through security, then circle the terminals and never board a flight. But it turns out that might be considered illegal. The TSA warns that punishments for “fraud and intentional falsification” begin with a $3,720 fine. So Plan B was to meet up with an LAX representative at the airport for the purpose of this story. LAX’s director of communications for development projects, Jessica Merritt, joined me on the walk and a follow-up expedition, standing back to let me seek out terminal-to-terminal corridors on my own.
In other words, don’t try take a walk at LAX for the heck of it. You need to be flying out or flying in.
Because I did a lot of nosing around, my one-way walkabout clocked in at 8,900 steps, not counting the West Gates. From the start, the terminals’ wayfinding signs — white letters on blue background — were clearer than I expected. The journey is mostly a series of hallways on the Departures Level, with a few escalator and moving sidewalk rides.
En route, I learned about airport pricing, zombie restaurants (Terminal 5), groovy tilework (Terminal 3) and where to find perhaps the best seats in all of LAX (at the West Gates). I discovered that if you’re in Terminal 1 and craving Starbucks, you can get to the one in Terminal 2. Before heading off to see family from Terminal 6, you can pick up a toy from FAO Schwarz in Terminal 5 or a T-shirt from the Harley-Davidson merch store in Terminal 7 (although that T-shirt might run you $69.99). And while LAX is certainly no place to go looking for a great meal, thanks to this new walkability, I did find a solid burger in the Bradley Terminal and a sophisticated bowl of chowder in Terminal 3.
The Bradley International Terminal might be the best part of this new connectivity. That terminal, unseen by most who haven’t flown abroad, has more and fancier shops and restaurants than the rest of LAX, with video towers and assorted artworks. And in 2021, when the West Gates opened, it grew dramatically.
Here’s a guide to the many highlights of the walk, and a few lowlights. (This is, after all, the airport that a J.D. Power survey ranked 14th of the 20 largest in the U.S., the airport where my wife won’t pick me up after business trips.)
I’m guessing there are a few surprises here for even an old hand at LAX.
Terminal 1: Begin your epic journey with pastries and caffeine at Urth Caffe
I had a decision to make. Should I join the six customers already at the bar of Rock & Brews listening George Thorogood sing “Bad to the Bone”? Belly up to the bar at Reilly’s, the only Irish pub at LAX? Since it was 8 a.m. on a Monday, I decided against it.
Line up for a $17.49 breakfast pizza with smoked ham with eggs and green chili at CPK? What about Einstein Bros., the only bagel specialists in LAX? Or some caffeine from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf? Maybe next time.
I chose the Urth Caffe, which has been there since 2016.
My fruit Danish was good — maybe not fresh from the oven, but tasty, with blueberries on top. With a cup of coffee it cost $10.84.
As Emily Stewart has written for Vox, once you pass TSA at any airport, “you’re in a sort of economic twilight zone where the cost of anything and everything goes up.”
Looking to limit airport inflation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last year capped that area’s airport retailers at 10% above “street prices.” At LAX, concession contracts allow vendors to charge up to 18% above street prices.
I sat at the Urth Caffe counter because all of the tables were taken, then moved on toward the next terminal, where, rumor had it, there would be a Starbucks.
Between Terminal 1 and 2: Gape at big, bold art
The airy feeling of this hallway, said Jessica Merritt, LAX’s director of communications for development projects, is what LAX’s designers are aiming for in their latest generation of updates and additions.
This is the first in many art sightings, because you walk past a lot of wall space on your way through nine terminals and the LAX Art Program puts a lot of work up, from murals like Wray’s to the 12,496-pound sculpture by L.A. artist Mark Bradford that dangles over waiting passengers in the Bradley terminal.
(There’s an interactive map on the LAX website to tell you what art is where.)
Terminal 2: Browse breakfast joints (and remember the refuge upstairs)
But in nosing around nearby upstairs, I came across a discovery I will file away: a set of public restrooms that get a lot less foot traffic than those below. They’re near an entrance to the Delta Sky Club, which is LAX’s largest club (it’s even got showers).
I hadn’t seen much foot traffic between terminals 1 and 2, but between 2 and 3 there was plenty, because Delta passengers typically start at 3, even if they’re flying from one of the many Terminal 2 gates.
“Better food,” I heard one traveler say, choosing Terminal 2’s restaurants over Terminal 3’s.
The numbers were definitely on his side.
Right now, Terminal 2 is home to six shops (including SPANX) and 10 eateries, including six that are open for breakfast. Among the eateries besides Starbucks: Barney’s Beanery, BUILT Custom Burgers, Fresh Brothers Pizza, Jersey Mike’s, Pick up Stix (Chinese), SeaLegs Wine Bar and Slapfish (“a modern seafood shack”).
Terminal 3: Sip soup. See spiffy upgrades. Stroll the new hall that connects it all.
My hopes were high. Unlike most restaurants in LAX, Native is a sit-down restaurant. It’s a project of Nyesha Arrington, a SoCal chef who has been featured on many cooking competition shows, and the dining room was encouragingly busy.
Then I waited 20 minutes for my bowl of chowder. Not so encouraging.
Yet when the chowder did finally materialize, it was a comforting blend of spicy and creamy. I ate everything in the bowl — new potato, spring onion and corn on those little cobs. (The built-in service charge: 18%.)
Beyond Native, Terminal 3 harbors four shops, including Gameway (video gaming) and four other places to eat, including Alfred Coffee and Jamba.
Moreover, there’s now that easy stroll from Terminal 3 to the wonders of the Bradley International Terminal.
In the gradual evolution of security around the horseshoe after 9/11, LAX had added some connectivity between some terminals. But a bus ride was often involved. It wasn’t until Aug. 30, when airport officials threw open the hallway between Terminal 3 and the Bradley Terminal, that a full walk was doable. It’s typically five to eight minutes between terminals.
Reagan Strange and Greg Keller, both 27, both from Kansas City, were moving eagerly toward the international terminal. They were newlyweds.
“We’re going to Gate 152,” said Strange. There had been trouble with a connection in Detroit. Now they were headed for a flight that would take them to Hanoi for their honeymoon.
“We’ve been up since 3:30 a.m. Kansas City time, and we have a 13-hour flight ahead of us,” Strange said. “So this walk is making it easier.”
Honeymoon in Hanoi? I had more questions, but we all had places to be.
Terminal 3: Grab a selfie in the groovy 'color tunnel'
This is one of several “color tunnels” intended by designers to break the monotony of the walk.
Some sources credit Charles D. Kratka for the design; others name his colleague Janet Bennett. Three of the original seven tunnels are accessible to departing travelers right now, and another, one with a moving sidewalk in Terminal 4, is due to reopen in early 2025.
These halls deliver that ‘60s vibe so powerfully that Quentin Tarantino used the one in Terminal 4 for the opening credits for “Jackie Brown” (1997). The tiles show up in the AMC series “Mad Men” too.
Go ahead. Take the little escalator ride down, stand by the tiles and do your Instagram thing. Just don’t head too far down the tunnel, because once you pass security, you’ll need to go through TSA again.
Tom Bradley International Terminal: Schmooze with the jet set (or just grab a burger)
Whatever you want to call the international terminal, I reached it, stepping from the hall into the dim, idle, mezzanine-level dining room of P.F. Chang’s. From there, the rest of the international terminal opened up — almost a city unto itself.
In the first nine months of this year, 4.6 million departing passengers passed through this space and another 2.4 million through the West Gates. That makes Bradley by far the airport’s busiest terminal, and its passengers are the biggest spenders.
About 50 airlines operate here, from Aer Lingus to XiamenAir, along with several airline clubs, neighbored by an enormous amount of Duty Free retail space — enough to keep the jet-setters of the Western World safely supplied with $350 bottles of Cincoro Tequila. The Great Hall of retailers also includes Hermes, Guccci, Bvlgari and Burberry.
If art moves you more than retail display space, head up the second level, where you can glimpse an Mark Bradford’s sculpture “Bell Tower,” dangling above departing passengers. Bradford calls it that, he has said, because he thinks of the entire LAX horseshoe as sort of town plaza. To me, his work looks more like a rising rocket ship than a campanile, but I’m glad it’s in place. It ties the room together.
Now where to eat? The longest line was at Panda Express, where many airport employees take their breaks and you can get a bowl for $10.95. I would have tried that, but the wait was long.
Instead, I headed for Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, an offshoot from a longstanding stall at Pike Place Market in Seattle. That didn’t go well. (Slow service and a mandatory 20% service charge: not a winning combination).
Later I sampled a Mexican bowl from the Border Grill (chicken black beans, red rice, guacamole, salsa and citrus cabbage slaw, $21.49), which was tasty and hearty. Even the cranky eaters at Yelp give this restaurant 2.9 stars, a strong result for an airport eatery. I also sampled an Umami Burger ($15.95 with caramelized onions and American cheese). It was subsantial and juicy — far better, in my book, than its 1.9 yelp rating.
By the way, if an airline employee tries to cut ahead of you in a food line, speak up. A uniformed Delta worker did that to me at Umami, explaining to workers that airline employees get priority. Airport officials later told me there’s no such LAX policy. (Apparently in the name of keeping everyone happy, the Umami counter crew served her ahead of me, but silently gave me a 10% discount. Customer service is a hard job.)
The main area of the Bradley Terminal has 23 eateries and 31 shops, not counting the West Gates area. And believe me, the West Gates are worth your attention.
The West Gates: Find the best sunset-viewing seats in all of LAX
Why? The space, light, artworks, views and empty seats. The concourse has 15 gates (perplexingly numbered from 201-225) and more than a dozen shops and eateries under a high, curvy roof. The piano wasn’t a bad touch, either.
Pierre-Paul Garcia, a 24-year-old student on his way home from San Francisco to Paris, was seated at that piano, thinking about Thelonius Monk and noodling in a bluesy way one recent Wednesday afternoon. At an outlet behind him, his phone was recharging.
“I’m really happy,” Garcia said. “I was just walking and saw the piano, and said, ‘Oh, cool.’ I have a two-hour wait. So.”
This concourse may not always be as mellow as it was at that moment, but it certainly seemed an island of calm.
That may be in part because it’s an easy island to miss, situated at the end of a tunnel near Bradley’s Gate 152 that stretches about 1,000 feet. Once you reach the tunnel’s end, the concourse is vast. Even though it’s technically part of Bradley, it is larger than any of LAX’s other terminals, measuring 1,700 feet end to end.
I didn’t get a chance to eat at the Burger King, Chicken Guy! or Hokkaido Ramen Santouka (there’s also a soon-to-open tapas place called Navarre), but I did browse the gift possibilities at the LEGO store that opened two months ago. Need a child’s red double-decker bus? $9.99. Something more challenging? How about a 9,090-piece Titanic model for $679.99? (That, by the way, is the same price that’s charged elsewhere, no airport mark-up.)
The art is especially striking here. Video displays include Meriem Bannani’s “Sleepy,” which shows a gaggle of dozing green crocodiles. When the LAX P.A. system comes to life with an announcement, the crocodiles do, too.
And don’t miss the vast glass wall near gate 210. On it, artist Diana Thater has superimposed a dreamy cloud photo, shot from a plane by T. Kelly Mason. The work is called “The Friendly Skies” and beneath it you’ll find about a dozen comfortable chairs — at sunset, maybe the best seats at LAX. Yet for the sunset I witnessed, only two were occupied.
Terminal 4: Brace yourself for time travel
Suddenly, moving through those long, tired hallways, I seemed to be thrust back into a darker, earlier era of LAX.
This won’t last forever; terminals 4 and 5, dominated by American, JetBlue and Spirit airlines, have a big modernization coming, with completion due in 2027. But for now, along with the usual concessions, you’ll find temporary walls, missing ceiling panels, a few barricades.
Some lighting is so yellow and feeble, you may be tempted to seek treatment for jaundice — or to quote Douglas Adams, who said no language on earth has ever produced the expression as pretty as an airport.
This is also one of the least busy LAX terminals, with 1.9 million departing passengers in the first nine months of this year. In Terminal 4 now: seven shops and five eateries, including Campanile, La Provence Patisserie and Cafe, Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, Homeboy Cafe and Dunkin’ Donuts.
As word travels about post-TSA connectivity, I expect a growing stream of travelers nipping over to Bradley from Terminal 4. But I encountered just one couple in that hallway — a savvy airline employee, steering a friend away from Terminal 4 toward lunch.
Terminal 5: Look out for Ford's Filling Station and other echoes of the L.A. dining scene
The original Monsieur Marcel is still going strong at the Original Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax, by the way. As for Loteria Grill, it’s been gone from 3rd and Fairfax for about five years, but lives on in terminals 5 and 7, plus a couple of locations elsewhere.
This zombie restaurant situation, I realize now, is a recurring feature of LAX. Campanile is 11 years gone from La Brea, but endures at Terminal 4. Ford’s Filling Station is gone from Culver City but present in Terminal 5. Nyesha Arrington’s Native is gone from L.A., but recently opened in Terminal 3 (and served me that tardy, tasty chowder). The Border Grill, once the most happening eatery in Santa Monica, now has its only Southern California location in the Bradley Terminal. Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurants ink, ink.sack and ink.well are gone from their former spots around town, but a residual ink.sack remains in the Bradley terminal, specializing in sandwiches.
While we’re on this subject of mysterious presences and absences, Terminal 5’s Los Angeles Times Newsstand does not carry the L.A. Times. (Nor does the USA Today Travel Zone in the Bradley Terminal stock USA Today.)
All told, Terminal 5‘s post-TSA choices include eight shops, among them FAO Schwarz, Rip Curl surfwear and Magic Johnson Sports; and 10 eateries, including Lemonade, Donburi Bistro (Asian fusion), Ford’s Filling Station, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Rock & Brews.
Terminal 6: Imbibe more caffeine and glimpse the spidery Theme Building
This terminal’s carriers include Air Canada, Alaska Air and Horizon. Passengers choose among 12 shops and nine restaurants and bars, also including The Habit Burger, CPK, Blu2o and The Kitchen, The Wine Bar and WPizza, all by Wolfgang Puck.
If you don’t have time to get over to Terminal 3, take a few steps down the tunnel toward baggage claim and you’ll find more of those groovy colored tiles from the early ‘60s.
Also, take a peek outside from the hall between terminals 6 and 7: You get pleasant views of runways; the iconic, spidery Theme Building; and one of the elevated stations that will be part of the LAX Automated People Mover electric train when it debuts next year.
You may also find, as I did, many travelers splayed, sprawled, scrolling and snoring on the floor for lack of seating.
Another lesson from this hike: The number and arrangement of seats in most of the terminals, except Bradley and part of 5, is decided by the tenant airlines, not LAX.
Terminal 7: Find your United flight, surrounded by donuts
Overall, LAX’s on-time departure rate was about 81% in 2022, roughly average among U.S. airports. But at any airport with about 700 departures a day, delays do happen. The luckiest/wealthiest of these Terminal 7 passengers would be retreating to the nearby United Polaris Lounge. The others stood grimly or turned to begin the longshot search for a place to sit.
It’s hard to imagine anyone walking from far away to enjoy the wonders of Terminals 7 and 8. But this area is home turf to legions of United and United Express travelers. It has six shops (including Bartel’s Harley Davison, Book Soup and Hugo Boss men’s apparel); and 11 restaurants and bars, including Ashland Hill, B Grill by Boa Steakhouse, the Counter (burgers), Rolling Stone Bar & Grill, Loteria Grill, and Klatch (drip coffee).
And as of a few months ago, Terminal 7 has something you won’t find anywhere else at LAX. It has a Randy’s Donuts outlet, complete with a big donut (well, about 4 feet around) signaling its presence and a variety of donuts priced at $2.30 each and up. (The rooftop donut at the original Randy’s in Inglewood is 32 feet across.) There’s a Dunkin’ in the terminal, too, but it’s Randy’s, the newcomer, that has the buzz right now.
“The donuts come from Inglewood every morning around 3 or 4 a.m.,” Merritt said.
And they go fast. By the time I reached the counter around noon, they’d sold out of glazed and chocolate raised. I settled for one dusted with sugar. (Yes, it is possible to eat healthier than I did at LAX.) Then I moved on to the last leg of the journey.
Terminal 8: You've reached the finish line
Beyond the portraits, there’s not a lot — just two shops and four places to eat, including Panda Express, Carl’s Jr. and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Engine Co. 28.
By the time I’d reached gate 86B — the finish line — I’d taken 8,900 steps in four hours. But you could probably do it much more efficiently. When Merritt paced the same roughly 2-mile distance to make a time-lapse video for the LAX website, she covered the territory in 38 minutes.
This might not be the biggest change at LAX in 2023-2024 — not with the opening of the Automated People Mover next year. But it seems terminal walkability is, well, a step in the right direction.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.