Layover at LAX? Spend a day in LA at Marina Del Rey

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Cover image: Steve Boland

If you are flying long, long-haul from the UK, you may find that a lot of flights require a stopover at LAX airport in Los Angeles. This includes destinations like Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia, as well as some US cities that don’t have direct flights from the UK. You may be able to score a really good deal if you include a layover at LAX and spend a day in LA. Of course, any route that has to go via somewhere else seems like a hassle, but LAX is one of the handy airports that is close enough to the city that you don’t have to be trapped in the terminal if you don’t want to.

If you want to escape the airport on your layover at LAX, consider that you need at least six hours between your flights to make it worthwhile. If you have an overnight stopover at LAX, you should definitely take full advantage and spend a day in LA. The best place to go in both instances is the harbour town of Marina Del Rey, which is just four miles from the airport. Marina Del Rey is chilled out, uncrowded, with a great choice of restaurants and areas to relax – especially after a long flight (and because other areas in LA can be quite full-on). We were there with our two year old and Marina Del Ray is also a top place to stay in Los Angeles if you have kids.

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How to get to Marina Del Rey from LAX

Since you only have one day in LA, I recommend taking an Lyft or Uber from LAX to Marina Del Rey, which takes 15 minutes and this will cost around $20. You can also take the ‘big blue’ public bus (which I have done on many occasion) but it does take around an hour. I love Marina Del Rey and so the more time you can enjoy there the better.

Where to stay if you only have one day in LA

Where we stayed:

Hilton Garden Inn Marina Del rey

Hilton Garden Inn Marina del rey reivew
The Hilton Garden Inn is a refreshing alternative to your average airport hotel (Image: passportstamps.uk)

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Marina Del Rey and it was a top find. For rates starting from £180 per night, this three-star hotel has a lot to offer. The bright and breezy hotel is across the road from the harbour and Mother’s Beach (a hub for family activities, sunbathing and watersports). Rooms are spacious and there is a decent outdoor pool and hot tub, bright lobby lounge, a pretty sun terrace and a relaxed business centre. From the hotel, you can easily walk to the marina, Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Abbot Kinney so it is ideally located for one day in LA, especially if you don’t have a car.

Hilton Garden Inn, Marina Del Rey Double rooms starting from $218 (£180) per night.

Read our full review of the Hilton Garden Inn, Marina del Rey here

One day in LA – make the most of your layover at LAX

It goes without saying that if you only have a day in LA, you’re not going to be able to see and do everything on our recommended Los Angeles itinerary. But, you can experience a part of the laid-back California life that locals enjoy by picking one neighbourhood and discovering the very best it has to offer. For proximity to the airport and general loveliness, I always recommend Marina Del Rey if you are looking for things to do near LAX airport. It’s a chilled out, underrated spot in LA – close enough to the Venice Beach action, without getting caught up in the crowds. I lived in Venice (back in 2005) and whenever family came to stay, we would always put them up in Marina Del Rey and no one ever left disappointed.

Six things to do in Marina Del Rey if you only have 24 hours in Los Angeles

Best beach near LAX? Head to Marina Del Rey’s Mother’s Beach

one day in LA mothers beach marina del rey
Mother’s Beach is chilled out and perfect for families (Image: Helen Wright)

Marina Beach in Marina Del Rey is known as Mother’s Beach by locals because of its calm and family-friendly appeal. The wide beach has an area roped off in the middle, which is ideal for kids to play in because it is shallow with hardly any waves. Our son, Finn, loved playing in this area and we didn’t have to worry about him being knocked over by a strong current. Lifeguards patrol the beach and there is also a brilliant (and huge) playground on the right of the marina, so it is really family-friendly. It is also more reserved than neighbouring Venice Beach, which is a lot more urban and suited to adults (dope smoking is commonplace there and teenagers can use the skate park and contribute to the graffiti wall). If you are just coming to Los Angeles for a day, and want to take advantage of a beach near LAX, Mother’s Beach has clean public changing areas, showers and toilets on the edge of the beach, so it is easy to freshen up before you go back to the airport.

Marina Del rey Kayaking – LA in a day

marina del ray kayaking a day in LA
The water is calm and safe (Image: Helen Wright)

If you’re staying for 24-hours in Los Angeles and you have a bit more time, you can do watersports on the beach and even take stand-up paddle and kayak lessons. We rented a kayak and a paddleboard from PRO SUP Shop and took them out on the water. It’s a great place to learn how to stand up paddle because the water is shallow and calm. If you fall in, you won’t land too far and the water is clean. More experienced water sporters can take the boards and boats out a bit further to the neighbouring marinas but we stayed in this area because we had Finn with us and we had a lot of fun just splashing around. Then, we relaxed on the beach and soaked up a bit of sun. PRO SUP Shop can be found in the carpark of the Jamaica Bay Hotel (which sits on the Marina) and is open seven days a week. You can also pre-book at prosupshop.com

los angeles itinerary 3 days in LA
Renting paddleboards in Marina Del Rey (Image: Helen Wright)

Rent bikes and explore on two wheels

a day in LA marina del rey
(Image: Chris Goldberg)

The Hilton Garden Inn actually has bikes for guests to hire but they didn’t have a child seat or trailer for Finn, so we rented wheels from Spokes ‘n Stuff on Washington Blvd, which was walking distance from Mother’s Beach. From here, we went for a spin on the beach path from Marina Del Rey to Santa Monica Pier and back, doing a little sightseeing along the way. Cycling around the beach areas of Los Angeles is really safe, thanks to the bike paths, and there is far less traffic than found in Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles.

one day in la venice canals
Colourful Venice canals (Image: jondoeforty1)

One of the most surprising things about this area is the network of canals that were built over 100 years ago. If you wondered where ‘Venice Beach’ got its name from, you can find these man-made canals just a few blocks from the beach but most tourists to the area often miss them. The canals were constructed by Abbot Kinney (a tobacco millionaire who was so inspired by Venice, Italy, wanted to create the ‘Venice of America’) in 1905. Most were paved over by the 1930s to make space for more roads, but some were preserved and exploring them is now one of the more quirky attractions in Los Angeles. On your bike (or on foot), follow the water’s edge crossing quaint bridges and fancy waterside homes for a spot of sightseeing with a difference.

Don’t miss the Farmer’s Market

a day in LA marina del rey
Sample the farm-to-market food (Image: Scott Mattoon)

This one is only possible if your one day in LA falls on a Saturday – and if so, lucky you! I love the Marina Del Rey Farmer’s market. If your layover in LAX only allows for a day in LA, you are probably not looking to stock up on fresh veg and fish or farm-reared eggs. But, the Marina Del Rey farmers market also hosts local craftmakers selling unique souvenirs, jewellery and gifts. When the market is on, Marina Del Rey comes alive and you can chat to locals and out-of-towers over fresh juice, coffee of craft wines and beer. The street has a great atmosphere with live music and, most importantly, excellent food options for a cheap and delicious lunch.

Take the free ride to Abbot Kinney for shopping (and coffee)

a day in LA marina del rey abbot
Independent boutiques and vintage empiouriums (Image: Melanie Wynne)

One of my favourite areas to shop in Los Angeles is along Abbot Kinney Blvd. This whole area is hipsterland with galleries, vintage stores, boutiques and craft coffee shops – a high proportion of which will likely have a cute dog waiting patiently outside, happy to be made a fuss of. You will find a few international brands, such as Adidas Originals, Aesop and Smashbox but mainly, the area celebrates independent retailers and designers. Among my favourites for a browse are The Piece Collective (1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd), a curated lifestyle store with super cute interior items and gifts, Burro Kids, a beautiful children’s store (1405 Abbot Kinney Blvd) and ATF – all things fabulous – which stocks the loungewear of dreams (1415 ½ Abot Kinney Blvd). Make time for a stop at Intelligentsia and sample their incredible coffee. The espressos will keep you going all afternoon.

Abbot Kinney Blvd. is a half hour walk from Marina Del Rey but if you don’t fancy a stroll in the sun, you can take advantage of the Free Ride – an on-demand electric shuttle that operates within the Marina area. You can flag a down a passing shuttle if you see one, or text to request a pick up from your location, providing you are within the catchment area. The shuttle can also take you as afar as the Venice pier, Fisherman’s Village, which is further south and inland to the Burton Chace Park, near the Waterside Marina. Its a fantastic free service to utilise if you don’t have a car (or to save money on parking and valet fees) but just keep in mind that drivers do welcome and accept tips. A few dollars per passenger, per journey should be offered.

Where to eat in Marina Del Rey

a day in LA marina del rey where to eat
Beachside was the perfect spot at sunset (Image: Helen Wright)

With just one day in LA, it makes sense to stay in the area where you are for dinner and luckily, Marina Del Rey has some great restaurants. If you want to stay on Marina Del Rey beach, we opted for dinner at Beachside, the restaurant inside the Jamaica Bay Hotel. Far from a standard hotel diner, the Beachside menu is really interesting with choices including barramundi with jerk-spiced plantains, Wagyu Kobe flat iron steak and beer-glazed prawns. You can sit inside or outside but the outdoor terrace has a great view of Mother’s Beach, especially as the sun is setting.

During our time in Marina Del Rey, we also had lunch at local institution, Tony P’s Dockside Grill. Apparently known for it’s excellent Mai Tais (which were pretty good and there is a daily happy hour between 3pm and 6pm), but also serves a classic waterside American menu including clam chowder, blackened chicken and a choice of steak.

For breakfast, try Café Buna (552 Washington Blvd) but, unless you have an enormous appetite, you will need to choose between the delicious Berry-stuffed French toast, Hawaiian French Toast or Lemon zest pancakes (all $11.75 each). If you are more of a savoury person, the corn beef hash and eggs ($14.95) is worth a punt.

Sunset Cruise from the harbour

a day in LA marina del rey sunset
Watch the sunset from the harbour or take an evening dinner cruise (Image: Carl-Henrik Skårstedt)

In the evening, you may want to see the coastline from the water. With all those glamorous boats docked up in the marina, it would be rude not to. There are a lot of boat trips to choose from in Marina Del Rey, so it depends on your taste and budget. This Starlight Dinner Cruise, bookable from the UK, includes dinner, dancing and a night on the water taking in the city skyline and impressive million dollar homes along the water.

For official information on Marina Del Rey, check out visitmarinadelrey.com

For bike tours in LA and a choice of activities and excursions in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Marina Del Rey that can be booked from advance in the UK, visit attraction-tickets-direct.co.uk

Where to stay in Marina Del Rey? Read our review of the Hilton Garden Inn

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