The good news is that if you have a layover in Los Angeles, you are probably on your way to (or from) some place fantastic like Hawaii, Australia, or Asia. The bad news? Due to its size and the horror show that is LA traffic, Los Angeles International Airport does not lend itself to easy jaunts in and out of the city.
If four hours is all you've got, we recommend you don't stray too far from LAX. Luckily, the airport is close to a few beaches and an entertaining restaurant, so you won't be totally stuck.
Hit the Beach
Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Venice Beach are all less that 10 miles from the airport. Head to the closest, Manhattan, by hopping on the red Ocean Express bus that runs past most of the LAX hotels on Century Boulevard, or by jumping in a cab. Once you're done sunning yourself on the clean and well-groomed sandy beach, you can take a stroll down the 928-foot pier and visit the Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium at the end. The beach also has a two-mile-long pedestrian only walkway, a bike path, volleyball nets, and several good surfing spots. If you are here in summer, you might even catch the International Surf Festival.
If you have some extra space in your luggage, you might want to hit some of the clothing, jewelry, and gift stores around Manhattan Beach, otherwise you can finish up your layover with a snack from North End Caffe (featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) or a hand-made ice cream from The Manhattan Beach Creamery.
The Encounter Restaurant
While you are unlikely to have the meal of your life here, The Encounter Restaurant is worth visiting once for the spacey decor and views of planes taking off and landing. The restaurant opened in 1961 and looks just the way the 1960s pictured the future – lots of UFO-shaped lava lamps and space-age design. As well as the kitschy surroundings, you can enjoy a menu of steak and seafood, as well as some retro looking, and very brightly colored, cocktails. The restaurant is right outside the airport (just walk outside, you can't miss it) so you don't have to worry about missing your flight – as long as you take it easy on the cocktails.
Downtown Los Angeles
Admittedly, a four-hour layover doesn't give you much time to explore downtown Los Angeles, but two places you should be able to get to in that time are the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Little Tokyo. You can get to downtown on the metro (take the green line from the airport, then change to the silver) but if time is tight, jump in a taxi.
Of course catching a concert is out of the question, but the Walt Disney Concert Hall is worth the trip purely for its stainless steel deconstructionist, Frank Gehry-designed building (above). From the concert hall it is just a short stroll to Little Tokyo, where you can take your pick from around 100 restaurants. Try takoyaki (fried round dumplings filled with octopus) from Mitsuru Cafe, or ramen from Daikokuya.