There’s nowhere on earth quite like Los Angeles. With celebrities seemingly on every corner and enough sun to satisfy everyone, LA is on more than a few bucket lists. From Rodeo Drive to Venice Beach, there’s something for everyone, and that means choosing the right airports so that you can guarantee that you see and do everything that sprawling LA has to offer.
The three big airports in Los Angeles are LAX, Ontario International, and John Wayne, and the one that you choose to travel to or from will depend on your itinerary and expectations. There are some significant differences between the three, and if you want the best vacation, then it pays to know a little bit more about what to expect.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Just west of downtown Los Angeles, LAX is a mixed bag of an airport. It’s absolutely vast, and constantly being renovated and updated. That means that it often ranks high on the lists of worst airports in America! There can be some long waits at LAX, especially when it comes to getting through security or picking up your luggage. With over 40 million visitors every year, it’s no surprise that things can get a little slow. However, it’s close to some of the most popular sights, with Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Santa Monica all close by. It can certainly be a bit of a chore making your way from terminal to terminal, so you should really try and avoid LAX for connection flights.
Food is an issue as well, but there are some basic fast food options if you get desperate while waiting. LAX is one of the more convenient airports near Los Angeles for getting to where you need to go, but it’s far from a delightful place to spend too much time.
Ontario International Airport (ONT)
Just to the east of LA is Ontario international. Located in San Bernardino County, it’s definitely better to fly here if your itinerary includes the National Forest. You definitely want to make sure that you have a car rental ready and waiting for you because transport out of ONT can be a bit of a nightmare, with public transport amazingly inefficient.
However, being smaller than LAX comes with some real advantages. If you’re a racing fan, then it’s the perfect airport to land in if you want to get close to the NASCAR and Indy Car Races that happen on a regular basis. However, if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland then you’ve got some distance to go in the notoriously bad traffic, and the 35-mile trip will take a lot longer than you expect. Overall, this should only be an option to consider if you have managed to find a bargain flight through one of the smaller low-fare airlines that fly into ONT.
John Wayne Airport (SNA)
If you can’t wait to hit the ground running, then SNA is an excellent little airport to fly into. It backs up right onto the freeway, so getting away from the airport is an absolute dream, and far easier than LAX or ONT. In fact, if it comes down to LAX vs SNA airports, then the only real dividing decision that you have to make is how close to the tourist attractions you want to be. LAX is certainly closer to some of the theme parks, but being based in Orange County means that travelers have easy access to Disneyland, and can even make use of the dedicated shuttle services (although these aren’t cheap and the journey can take a while).
Chances are that you won’t get to do much in the way of celebrity spotting at SNA, although you might end up seeing some C-listers from The Hills. International flights can be very limited, so unless Mexico or Canada is on your itinerary, then you might be better off with LAX or ONT. Despite this, John Wayne Airport is great for those travelers heading to Costa Mesa or Newport Beach, and SNA is certainly a more relaxed and pleasant place to land in than both LAX and ONT.
If you do get stuck in one of the three terminals, you aren’t going to be as uncomfortable as you would be in LAX. The terminals are quite beautiful, and they are all connected for easy movement. They are also decorated with some gorgeous artworks by local artists, and even your WiFi is free. If you do land in John Wayne Airport, then take the time to take a selfie next to the iconic statue of the airport’s namesake, which you’ll find near the baggage check line.
Whether you’re heading to LA to find fame and fortune, or you simply want to spend a fortnight exploring the House of Mouse, you aren’t going to be disappointed by Los Angeles. Choose the airports in Los Angeles that get you closest to where you need to be, and you’ll have a much faster start to your LA adventures.