Growing up in LA, you learn from an early age that a car is the only way to get around town. You equate cars with “freedom,” and it’s this thought that I had in my head at the DMV at 8am on my 16th birthday. I. Couldn’t. Wait.
As I made more money as an adult, I spent a disproportionate amount of it on expensive car leases, even going so far as to do European Delivery on BMW’s that I custom designed — twice.
Nine years ago, for a variety of reasons, I did a complete 180° and gave up my car, challenging myself to get around LA for a week by bicycle without dying. Not only did I not die, but I fell in love with the lifestyle — with never being late because of rush hour, in never having to look for parking and getting free V.I.P. parking anywhere I went, and feeling great mentally and physically.
It felt like a superpower flying past gridlocked cars at rush hour — I felt like I had hacked my city — documented in my most popular tweet.
After going further and further on my bike, on December 18, 2017, I did something “crazy” — I was going up to San Francisco for a night, and I decided to try biking to the airport for the first time. Even for me, this felt extreme.
It turns out that LAX is one of the closest airports in the world relative to the city that it serves; at just 14 miles from Downtown LA, it is actually accessible by bike if you live anywhere other than the San Fernando Valley:
From West Hollywood: 54 minutes
From South LA: 45 minutes
From Westwood: 56 minutes
From Santa Monica: 51 minutes
From DTLA: A little over an hour
After my first time, I was hooked. The combination of always knowing my exact travel time, not having to worry about traffic, not having to pay for or wait for an Uber, and having free VIP parking on arrival was addicting — not to mention getting a workout in just by getting to where I needed to go. Especially after sitting on a plane for hours, this part felt especially great.
What may surprise many is that the route to LAX is surprisingly pleasant for much of it — the Ballona Creek Bike Path gets you extremely close to the airport. From the East or North, get on it at Syd Kronenthal Park in Culver City — easily accessed just off Venice Bl, which also has a bike lane. A great north/south quiet residential street is Formosa Ave/Cochran Ave, and they go all the way from West Hollywood to Venice Bl. From the West, get to Ballona Creek’s bike path — it begins in Marina Del Rey and goes East.
Here’s what biking on the Ballona Creek looks like:
Once you’re on Ballona Creek, get off at Sawtelle, and take the bridge over the creek to McDonald St, and make a right. Take McDonald eight blocks to Mesmer Ave, and make a left. Both of these streets are very quiet residential streets and pleasant to bike on.
Take Mesmer until it ends at Centinela, and make a left. Go about 1/4 of a mile to Sepulveda, and make a right — where you’ll find a bike lane that begins! This bike lane, despite a very busy street, is pretty comfortable as there is no street parking and therefore no doors to deal with. This will take you all the way into the airport — the bike lane, unfortunately, ends at Manchester, so the last few blocks you need to simply take the lane. I’m hopeful they fix this when they finish work on the LAX people mover.
Once you’re in the airport, just stay to the right and follow the “Arrival” signs (so you stay on the lower level). Depending on what terminal you need to go to, you can use the bus-only lanes nearest to the curb, or take a lane in the general vehicle traffic. Even at LAX, you’ll be flying past gridlocked cars:
The best bike parking is at the entrance of Terminal 6, although bike parking also exists outside of Terminal 1. Here’s how to find it from the Terminal 5/6 turn off:
If you want to zoom in, here’s a Strava Route I created showing the play-by-play from Mid City West to LAX, and here’s what the whole thing looks like:
If you’re in a rush, there are quicker routes, you just have to deal with more cars. Here’s the route for my fastest time ever, at 47 minutes door-to-door.
If you like the idea but don’t want to bike on Centinela and Sepulveda, there’s also a way to do that. There’s car free path through Playa Vista (you access it from Mesmer) called the Bluff Creek Trail. It gets you to the top of Westchester, just behind LMU, and then you go through chill residential streets until where Lincoln and Sepulveda meet (where In-N-Out is). From there it’s one block into the airport (and there’s a sidewalk if you’re too nervous to take the street).
But what about luggage!? Surely this can only work for short, day trips, right? In June of 2019 I flew to London for a week. Prior to this, all of the trips were short trips, where a saddle bag would do (my favorite is the Ortlieb Vario, which is a saddle bag that converts into a backpack). But I did need a carry on for this trip. So I bought a Burley Nomad and hitched it on to my bike. Any carry on fits perfectly in the trailer, and you can cover the suitcase using the built in cover. I also purchased an extra lock.
When I arrived at the airport, I locked my bike as usual to the bike rack (now there were a lot more bikes!), and then I wrapped the trailer in my new cable lock and secured that to the main lock. Here’s what it all looked like locked up:
After a week in London, and a 10 hour flight home, I arrived to find everything just as I left it. I unlocked everything, snapped the trailer on, put my carry on in it, and biked home (a great feeling to move after a 10 hour flight)!
If you’re worried about theft… don’t. Think about it from a bike thief’s point of view. Are you going to go to a mall, or a school, or somewhere with lots of bikes — or are you going to go to an airport crawling with police with few bikes? I’ve never had an issue.
What about sweat? Yes, you do get a little sweaty, especially on the last mile into the airport climbing Sepulveda. But even that has a great solution these days — electric bikes. Pedal assist e-bikes handle hills without making you sweat, or you can turn off the motor and sweat if you want a work out. The point is you can choose. I own a Rad Power Mission (this is the bike my wife used in the picture above), and am also a fan of Vela Bikes. E-bikes also solve distance, so you could bike to LAX even from the depths of the San Fernando Valley, Highland Park, or San Pedro, in about an hour and change.
If you’re thinking about trying biking to the airport — do it! You won’t regret it. If you have questions about my experience or looking for any tips or tricks, feel free to tweet at me.