There is an observation deck on top of the Theme Building, which has been closed since 2001. The Encounter Restaurant located in the theme building was closed in March 2007 due to repairs to the Theme Building, but reopened on November 12, 2007. This location is generally considered poor for photography since it is distant from aircraft, except for airport overview shots, though it is good for spotters who just which to watch traffic or log tail numbers.
The Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) has a food court upstairs which is not in the secure area and overlooks the North-South taxiway affording close encounters with the heavies. Photography is possible through the glass but you need a 25-80mm zoom or similar, and reflections are a problem. In theory movements on both sets of runways can be logged here with suitable optics, but there have been instances of 'enthusiastic' spotters causing the customers to freak out and call security. Discretion and restraint are necessary if you intend spending any time here.
In the city of El Segundo. A small roadside park at the intersection of Imperial Avenue and Sheldon Street. A few tables and seats, for other facilities you need to walk west down the hill (towards the ocean) to the small shopping plaza. Beach Cities Transit bus route 109 has a stop right at the park.
All movements on the South runways can be logged here although care must be taken not to miss those arrivals which turn off early. Some photography possible when traffic is westerly, few arrivals come far enough down although spectacular departure shots can be had with a long (300-400mm) lens, though shorter lenses work, especially with larger aircraft. On the rare occasions traffic is landing to the East this is one of the finest locations in the land. Aircraft taxiing on taxiways B and C in the general vicinity of the American Airlines hangars, American Eagle remote terminal building, taxiways Q and S, and the Tom Bradley International Terminal can be photographed from here with a sufficiently powerful lens (300-400mm).
At the corner of Sepulveda and Westchester, 10-15 minutes walk from the airport. Small grass area across the road from which all movements on the Northern runways can be seen. Limited photography as arrivals are almost directly overhead, and you are facing South. However, walking to under the approach lights and jaywalking across Lincoln Blvd. can yield some very nice shots of inbound aircraft. Parking in this area is limited (for those driving to the spot) depending on the time of day if you park on the street, and can be sparse during lunch hours (1100-~1430lcl).
Some other possibilities in the same area as the In-n-Out. A bridge about 1/4 mile West provides good photos but anyone standing there is very visible. Two car parks either side of Sepulveda, one at ground level (E) the other a multi-story (W). None of these locations are very satisfactory for a long stay.
Proud Bird Restaurant
Off Aviation Boulevard beside the approach to the Southern runways. Good landing shots but care must be taken to avoid lampposts and trees. Take the B parking shuttle from the airport. Shots can be taken from both the parking lot, and from the "backyard" where the old planes are on display. A good lens is suggested. To achieve shots similar to those taken by In n' Out, walk north on Aviation Blvd. to under the approach path for 25L (you will see the ILS antenna). Be warned as there is no sidewalk, so caution is advised when going for a shot.
Flight Path Learning Center
The Flight Path Learning Center is located at 6661 Imperial Hwy, and was formally known as the "Imperial Terminal". This building used to house some charter flights, and regular scheduled flights from MGM Grand Air. It sat empty for 10 years until it was re-opened as a learning center for LAX
. The center contains information on the history of aviation, as well as several pictures of the airport (some notably from famed photographer Sam Chui) as well as aircraft scale models, flight attendant uniforms, and general airline shwag (playing cards, china, magazines, signs, even a TWA gate information sign). If you ask nicely, one of the fine docents (who are usually retired Flight Attendants who started work in the 1950's, or have been working at the airport for many years. Great conversations to be had), they will be glad to open one of the restricted access doors and allow you to stand out on the tarmac (behind a small fence) to get shots of the South side. The center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. While it does not provide the greatest shots, it is defiantly worth a visit.
There is a lounge on the roof of the hotel, step outside and shoot from the rooftop. Please keep in mind this hotel is private property, so it is suggested that you only use this location if you are staying at the hotel or a paying customer of the lounge. Recent reports indicate that this location is only accessible after 5pm, when the lounge opens.
Locations to Avoid
There are 2 parking lots off the first and second cargo roads respectively. These were good locations prior to September 11, 2001, but are now patrolled frequently by not-very-friendly LAWA police and spotters will be asked to leave. However, a two person operation could be useful. Some have reported good experiences driving through the cargo complex. A common method is to drive constantly, stopping only when no police are around.