Adventure

What To Do With A 12 Hour Stopover In LA

Choose your own adventure.

So, you’re on your way from Australia to New York (or home again), and the most affordable way to get there is to fly in early in the morning, spend a whole day trapped in the constantly-under-construction corridors of LAX and fly out at night. Ouch…

Or not. Rather than seeing that all-too-common whole-day layover as a burden to be slept out with a newspaper over your head, why not get into the Los Angeles spirit, and use it as a chance to feel #soblessed? Sure, the traffic in LA is always a gamble, but if you’re sensible about where you go and how you pace yourself, you can squeeze in a very respectable day of sight-seeing and still make your flight. Yes, it will cost you at least $100, but it’s going to be worth it.

Because there are two kinds of tourists – those who can drive, and those who have a healthy understanding of their vehicular limits – we’re going to treat this as a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure.


If you can drive…

First of all, pre-book a rental car from the airport before you get on your flight. There are over 40 places to rent cars in and around LAX, and since you’ve only got a day, you’re better of paying a premium for one that’s super, super close to the airport. It’s still going to cost you under $40. Allow yourself about half an hour to sign all the forms, get your stuff in order and find your car. Once you’re behind the wheel, set your GPS to Will Rogers State Historic Park. If you’re starving and it’s after 10.30am, get drive through takeaway from the In’N’Out on S Sepulveda Blvd on the way, and eat it while you drive, like a gross legend. Don’t worry, you’ll work it off later.

It should take you about 40 minutes to get to the State Park, with some traffic. Parking is $8, but it’s worth it to walk away the cramps and confines of your flight. Follow the loop trail to Inspiration Point, and take in one of the best views LA has to offer. On a clear day, you can see most of the city, and the Pacific beside it. The whole loop is four kilometres, and should take you two hours or less with a reasonable rest stop.

Post-hike, there’s every chance you don’t smell like the most amazing person on the planet, and your day is less than half over. You probably need to shower, so hop back in your car, and head to Santa Monica beach. It should take you about 15 minutes to get there, and another 15 minutes to find a park. Sorry about that.

When your car is safely deposited, go take a public shower at Ocean Front Walk. It’s not glamorous, but it will do the trick. Freshly bathed, you’re ready for the next chapter of your journey.

If you’re anything like me (especially if you skipped the In’N’Out), you’re probably starving right now. Hop back in your vehicle and head for Oscar’s at 523 Rose Avenue, Venice Beach. It’s only a five minute drive away, and it sells relatively healthy, reasonably priced, delicious Mexican fusion food. As an added bonus, it’s open all day from 11am, so if it’s 3.30pm and you want lunch, that is not a problem.

Once you’re sufficiently fed and watered, take a wander down Rose Street towards the beach, turn left when you hit Main Street, then from Main Street, walk all the way up and down Abbot Kinney Blvd. Abbot Kinney has some of the hippest shopping, eating and people watching in Los Angeles, so keep your eyes wide, and your wallet open. Every other boutique has a highly specific edit of clothing, accessories and random objects of desire, from a combination of labels you know and love – Soludos, Equipment – and cool up and comers. Turbo hip New York label Rag and Bone has a massive outpost on the street and ethical footwear brand Tom’s has a shoe shop/cafe/garden to hang out in. If you’re dying for an Australian-style coffee the pretentiously named, impeccably roasted Intelligentsia has your back.

Keep an eye on your watch, because around half an hour before sunset, you’re going to want to head back down to the beach, to Venice Ale House. There, you can grab a single drink (you’re driving, remember), a bite to eat (the fish and chips is excellent) and watch the sun set over the ocean. Your car should be parked just a few blocks back from the beach, on the same street.

Although you’re only ten kilometres from the airport, you’re going to want to leave yourself a lot of breathing room to get back, because LA traffic can and will bite you if you don’t respect it. If your bags are checked through and all you need to do is flash your passport and make it through security, leave Venice two hours before your flight. If you need to check luggage too, give yourself two and a half hours. Remember, you also need to return that rental car.

By the time you get to the airport, you should be full enough to say no to extra food, and tired enough to doze off on the plane. That wasn’t so bad, was it?


If you can’t drive…

Sorry, non-drivers. The reality is you’re not going to be able to fit as much in to your day. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any less fabulous. First of all, do you have luggage with you? If not, great. If you do, call LA Luggage Service and get them to come collect your things. They’ll pick them up from you curb-side at the airport, and return them to your terminal when you need them. It’ll cost you between $5 and $15, depending on what you’ve packed. Next, hop in a taxi and get it to drop you off at the corner of Abbot Kinney and Washington Blvd in Venice. Depending on the traffic, it should cost you between $25 and $40.

Even if the shops haven’t opened yet, Intelligentsia coffee has, so plonk yourself down for a very decent flat white (yes, you read that right) and something to eat. The shops start opening at around 11am, so when the hour strikes, pick yourself up and go for a wander. If you’re a big fan of browsing, it should take you several hours to get up and down the whole strip. Venice has always been known as a hippy-weirdo kind of place, but Abbot Kinney represents a hip sophistication that makes you wonder whether gentrification is really all that bad, after all. If you get hungry or thirsty there are several fresh juice bars for your health-conscious requirements, and bar-bars, for your tipsy-shopping whims.

When you’ve had your fill of shopping (window or otherwise), head for the beach. Walk all the way from Venice to Santa Monica, making sure to dodge the rollerbladers. The fresh air and proximity to sand you’ll take in on the 20-or-so minute walk will hopefully do you some good after several hours in the sky.

If you’re in dire need of a shower, Santa Monica has several public outdoor showers you can use. Alternatively, there are plenty of high end hotels with very nice pools along Ocean Avenue, including Casa Del Mar and Oceana. If you’re a smooth talker, look respectable and you’re prepared to spend over the odds on some poolside snacks or drinks, you can probably chat your way in to a nice hotel and make use of their poolside facilities in exchange for an overpriced mimosa or two.

At around 4.30pm, head to The Bungalow. It’s an outdoor/indoor bar complete with a pool hall, ping-pong table and lounges. Locals say it’s the best time you can legally have by the beach.

Sometimes ­– like on warm Saturday afternoons – The Bungalow has devastatingly long lines, so if that’s the case, head up to the rooftop of the Shangri-La instead. It’s not quite as vibe-filled, but the view is killer.

Once you’re in-situe, with libation in hand, sit back, relax and wait for the sun to set over the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to fluffy pink clouds, and gulls flying out towards the sea.

Two hours before your flight (or 15 minutes later if your luggage is checked and you’ve got a boarding pass already), order yourself a Lyft or Uber (it’ll be way cheaper than the cab you caught in the morning) and head back to the airport. Right before you get on the plane, drink a huge glass of water – you’ve had a lot of sun today.

(Lead image: Trey Ratcliff/Flickr)

Qantas flies directly to LA, and the city acts as a portal to a number of other USA destinations. Check out flights here.