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2.5 to 3 weeks in San Diego, LA, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP in Sep 2022

2.5 to 3 weeks in San Diego, LA, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP in Sep 2022

Old May 2nd, 2022, 10:04 AM
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2.5 to 3 weeks in San Diego, LA, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP in Sep 2022

Hello! My family (mid- to late-30s + 5.5yo + 3.5yo + 1yo) is planning to visit San Diego + LA + Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP in Sep 2022 after Labor Day weekend for ~2.5 to 3 weeks. We will like to spend the bulk of our time in San Diego for the kids to enjoy, hit some theme parks, rest and recharge at the national parks, before heading back to LA. Would love some advice on my draft itinerary please. Thanks!

General flow
Flights - we will be flying in and out of LA, arriving 730pm.
>> Drive to SD (stay 6-7 nights at SD)
>> Safari Park (stay 1 night at Escondido)
>> Legoland (stay 2-3 nights at Carlsbad)
>> Disneyland (stay 2-3 nights at Disneyland)
>> Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP (stay 5-6 nights)
>> LA (stay 3-4 nights)
Fly out of LA 9pm

Considerations/Questions
  • There is no direct flight where I am to SD. I will like to chill/get over jetlag at San Diego as soon as possible as I don't think LA will be as relaxed/kid-friendly as SD. But I might be wrong. How is the traffic from LA to SD in the evening like?
  • Alternative #1: Take another flight from LA to SD. The flight will either be 9 or 10pm, arriving 10 or 11pm. Not sure how the kids will handle another flight. That said I am also not sure how they will handle another 2-3h drive. Car rental wise also won't be as ideal as renting it round-trip from LAX.
  • Alternative #2: Stay at the airport hotel for the night, then drive down to SD the next morning. How is the traffic from LA to SD in the morning like? Better than in the evening or worse?
  • Alternative #3: Swap the final leg of the itinerary to the front and do LA activities first, or even split some to the front and some at the end.
San Diego (1 week)
  • (1 day) New Children's Museum
    • Will the Children's Discovery Museum at Escondido be more or less similar to the New Children's Museum? Should we skip the Children's Discovery Museum?
  • (1 day) Birch Aquarium + La Jolla Cove + tide pools
  • (1 day) San Diego Model Railroad Museum + Balboa Park
    • How does the SD Model Railroad Museum compare with Old Town Model Railroad Depot?
  • (1 day) Torrey Pines
  • (1-2 days) chill
  • (1 day) Safari Park
    • Chose this over San Diego Zoo
  • Accoms: probably Pacific Beach. Or should I be considering another area?
Carlsbad (3-4 days)
  • (2 days) Legoland
  • (1 day) Fruit picking + outlet shopping
Disneyland (2 days)
  • (2 days) Disneyland
    • After reading about people's reviews and experiences, Legoland is on the top of my theme park list to bring the kids to. We are not huge Disney buffs but my 5.5yo loves Princesses. The Disneyland trip is more for her than the other 2 younger ones. Husband and I have been to Disneyworld and loved it. Would also love to visit the new Stars Wars Land. Would there be any reason why we should visit Knott's Berry Farm as well or swap one for the other?
Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP (4-5 days)
  • (4-5 days) Hiking / relax
  • Accoms: Is Three Rivers a good base for the entire time here?
LA (3-4 days)
  • (0.5 day) National History Museum
    • Chose this over the one at SD
  • (0.5 day) Skirball
  • (1 day) Whale-watching
    • Any difference if we do this in LA or SD? Or will it be just as good trying to view it at the deck at Birch Aquarium?
  • (1-2 days) Any other recommendations?
  • Accoms: Any recommendations on the area we should stay in?
  • Car: Should we keep the rental car or ditch it and rely on public transport?
Thanks for taking the time to read! Do let me know if the plan makes sense and how I can make it better.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 10:29 AM
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I'm stepping out for a few hours so haven't digested your whole post but just from the title -- Sept is in the height of our often very serious fire season. I would not have my heart set on Seq/Kings Canyon in Sept. Last year was especially bad in the Southern Sierra and this year is likely to be as bad or worse.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 10:57 AM
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Keep the car.

Traffic between LA and San Diego is never good. When I first moved to San Diego in 1978, the 5 was quiet with only a few cars at night. Not now. Perhaps doing your LA activities first would be good, as you thought.

I would skip whale watching with such young children.

You can do the things you want to do in both San Diego, Carlsbad, and the Safari Park staying in one location, more towards north-coastal San Diego, La Jolla or even Carmel Valley.

IMO, given the ages of your kids, you're doing too much.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 11:37 AM
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You might look into a hotel near the airport in Manhattan Beach or El Segundo for your first night. You can often save quite a bit by renting a car at an off-airport location, worth checking. Just an example, The Residence Inn on Sepulveda has two-bedroom suites and isn't too far from the Redondo Beach Hertz. I don't think I would fly.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 11:53 AM
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It loos like San Diego Kids Free in October isi back, if you can shift your dates to early October this may be of interest (hotels and restaurants also have had promos in the past)>
https://sandiegomuseumcouncil.org/specials/kidsfree/
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 01:01 PM
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I also think you're trying to do too much. I would plan more laze around days.

Rather than making the long drives to/from Three Rivers/Sequoia, consider going to Big Bear Lake in Southern California. Yes, no big sequoia trees, but your kids won't know the difference.

Whale watching could be a bust in either/both SD and LA. Most types of whales are not migrating in/around September. Blue whales would be out there but far from shore and not likely seen from land. You'd have better (and easier) chances of seeing dolphins in either/both SD and LA, but that's also hit-or-miss. If you decided to skip Sequoia and if Big Bear doesn't appeal, consider going to Catalina Island for a couple of nights. You could possibly see whales and dolphins on the ferry ride over or back, and there's lots to do on the island.

The Natural History Museum in LA is in the same park as the California Science Center. I wouldn't rush through the NHM ("0.5 day"). There's a lot to see both indoors and outdoors.

The Skirball is an interesting choice... Is it for the Noah's Ark exhibit (which is charming BTW)? Getting to Skirball could be a trek, depending on where you stay, so your "0.5 day" could end up taking much more than a half day.

You didn't mention the La Brea Tar Pits in LA.

Don't use public trans for your time in LA. It's just too time-consuming and convoluted for sightseeing, esp. when you have little kids whose energy will flag in the afternoon... Also, some trains and train stations, buses and bus shelters, have become refuges for the homeless, many of whom have mental and/or drug problems. For little kids, it could be upsetting.

Where to stay in LA depends a bit on your final sightseeing plans, whether you want to go the AirBnB route (not legal everywhere), all-suites type place, etc., and your budget.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 01:50 PM
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From where are you arriving? If east coast USA, your body clock will be at 10:30pm on arrival and 11:30pm by the time you're into your rental car. I wouldn't think you'd be up for a drive down to San Diego. All of the kids will need car seats as your probably know, if you were to drop the car for your L.A visit you would only be able to get around to most places by bus as taxis and rideshares do not have carseats for the kids.

Carlsbad and the Safari Park are only 30 mins apart so not worth a hotel change especially with 3 kids in tow. In fact you might consider staying somewhere "central" to all of your plans like Del Mar, from where you could get easily into San Diego, out to Escondido and up to Carlsbad for your day trips without every having to pack and unpack and pack and unpack.

Last edited by clarkgriswold; May 2nd, 2022 at 01:52 PM.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 01:53 PM
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I've never traveled with 3 kids under 6, but I can imagine how every otherwise simple step can become an expedition.

I'd rent the car at LAX, get the kids into their car seats and head straight to a hotel nearby. You'd be very lucky to check in by 9:00 p.m. Every chain you can think of has a property (or two) in the area around LAX, in El Segundo and, to a lesser extent, in Manhattan Beach. (I live in MB.) If it was me, I'd pick a hotel in El Segundo. Take-out dinner from one of several chain restaurants on Pacific Coast Highway might make the most sense, but there are several family-friendly restaurants in the Main Street/downtown area of El Segundo.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 02:26 PM
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The draft itinerary has a lot of across LA County driving. Itís worth the inconvenience of one connecting flight to minimize that. If you keep the Safari Park as your first stop I would consider flying into Ontario, Orange Cty or San Diego.

Another option is to fly into Bakersfield or Fresno and see the trees first and fly home from SD.

Youíll pay for the convenience of the LA nonstops in other ways, time in traffic and time to and from the rental car agency. The 405 does have carpool lanes (I think) but they may not be very effective, I didnít find the I-5 ones in SD to be timesavers. Maybe the I-5 ones in the LA area have been constructed now.

There is a way to avoid most of LA driving between Sequoia NP and San Diego County using I-15 and Hwy 58.

Last edited by tom_mn; May 2nd, 2022 at 03:17 PM.
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Old May 2nd, 2022, 02:35 PM
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That's a good time to visit as it will still be warm but there will be fewer tourists. En route to San Diego maybe you can have lunch in Laguna Beach which is an arts community with great beaches, coves, tide pools and natural areas.

San Diego is a fun city with lots to do and see. Old Town has historic adobe buildings housing some great Mexican restaurants and Presidio Park. Very scenic La Jolla Cove is in a nature park where you might see seals and sea lions. Too bad you probably won't be able to see the giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park due to wildfires. They are totally amazing.

Last edited by PrairieHikerII; May 2nd, 2022 at 02:41 PM.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 05:36 AM
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Thanks all for your good suggestions and tips!

SD Oct kids go free - Yep I'm aware of this, jamie99! I was toying with the idea but was worried that it will be crowded, so we thought to pay more in Sep to avoid the crowds. Does that make sense? Or are the crowds in Oct not that bad anyway and I can save the money? Ideally we would have liked to travel in end-June/July from a vacation leave utilization perspective but we wanted to avoid Summer crowds and I also heard about the June Gloom, hence are planning it after the Labor Day weekend as I read that the crowds disappear immediately after.

SD accoms - Thanks Barbara and clarkgriswold on the suggestion! You both had mentioned staying at a single central location for the entire duration. I will check that out! I had initially thought to stay at the Legoland hotel for a thematic experience for the kids. If that's the plan, maybe after checking out of the SD accoms, I can head to Safari Park for the day, then spend the night at Legoland hotel. Makes sense?

Whale-watching - gotcha, Barbara and Jean. I think I am actually secretly pleased to take it off my list. Jean, what do you think about Catalina Island vs Channel Islands?

Sequoia NP - Thanks for pointing out the wildfire, janisj and PrairieHikerII. Visiting Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP is actually more for me. I love the vast nature. I've been to the California 3 times but each time we chose to visit Yosemite. This time round I wanted to do something different and thought to see the Sequoia trees. Pity September isn't a good time! I suppose it wouldn't make sense for us to come earlier just to see the Sequoia trees and have to deal with the crowds for the rest of the itinerary.

Big Bear Lake - this looks good! Would it then make sense for me to postpone the trip till Oct/early Nov to catch the Fall colors?

LAX overnight - clarkgriswold, we will be arriving from Asia with a 14-15h direct flight. We depart at night and arrive in the evening, technically arriving in the "morning Asia time". Hence I initially thought the drive might be doable. I'm hoping us/kids will at least sleep half of the flight. But now after reading what most ppl had to say, I will look to spend the first night near the airport.

I saw that there are a couple of airport hotels like LAX Hilton, LAX Marriott, LAX Hyatt. Will it then make sense for us to spend the night there instead of traveling to El Segundo / Manhattan Beach?

LA car - gotcha all, will be keeping the car in LA! Did not consider the car seat and rideshare issue as well as the homeless situation in the stations. So thanks clarkgriswold and Jean for pointing that out! And will check the off-airport location, mlgb! Will have to see if the savings outweigh the convenience of having an airport rental given it'll be either lugging everyone to rent the car, or having me deal with all 3 while hubs goes to get the car. Thanks also for the flying vs driving route suggestions, tom_mn. We plan to check out the routes using Google Maps for traffic info. After thinking it through I am not keen to take another flight with the kids with all the check-in luggage and such.

LA museums - thanks Jean for the suggestions! I'm now planning to cater 1 day for NHM. Coincidentally, we went to a local science center today and the kids couldn't have enough of it. I had thought that the California Science Center might be too advanced for them. And yes, I want to go to the Noah's Ark exhibit at the Skirball! I have read so much about it and it looks totally amazing for the kids. Is the La Brea Tar Pits worth going to? I was reading online that some preferred NHM and that it was overly commercialized. Hence I chose Skirball and NHM over La Brea Tar Pits. Or is that something worth going to?
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 05:45 AM
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Oh, I should also add that I typically like to plan/fill the days with 1-2 major activity, but am totally flexible during the trip if we end up deciding to stay home for the day to rest. The list is more like a shortlist for us to pick and choose what we would like to do for the day, except for when accoms are concerned like Legoland or Disneyland. But it's good to know that the current plan as-is seems too much!
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 06:52 AM
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I saw that there are a couple of airport hotels like LAX Hilton, LAX Marriott, LAX Hyatt. Will it then make sense for us to spend the night there instead of traveling to El Segundo / Manhattan Beach?
No, practically none of the LAX hotels has 2 queen beds, but 2 queens are available at hotels in El Segundo (and it's really close to LAX anyway).

RE Fires: These may start later than the end of September, or be mostly in other parts of the state. In 2019 I was in California early October and fires hadn't started yet, but by the end of October they were all over the state. If the visit is important to you I'd make the reservations so that you can back out later.

Last edited by tom_mn; May 3rd, 2022 at 07:02 AM.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 07:17 AM
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Nice to see you're listening!! Not everyone does...

Catalina Island v. Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are very protected and undeveloped ecosystems, sometimes called California's Galapagos. There are no stores, no restaurants, no hotels and very limited camping. The islands, the flora and fauna, the views... all amazing. But you'd be best to drop LA altogether if you wanted to visit. And you should think long about whether your kids (and you) are up for this adventure. You'd probably have to carry the two younger ones most of the time. Catalina, on the other hand, is often visited as a very long day trip from LA. With little kids, you might prefer to stay a night. Most of the island is undeveloped and rugged (There's a buffalo herd!) but there are also lots of things to do and places to eat in and around the town of Avalon. All types of water activities, glass-bottom boat tour, eco tours, botanical garden... You can rent a golf cart to drive around the island.

Big Bear Lake would be great in September. The fall colors a few weeks later can be gorgeous, but trying to time a visit just for the fall colors is a gamble and then the weather might not be as conducive for outdoor activities. There can be snow as early as October.

Getting to a hotel in El Segundo would involve "traveling" about 5-10 minutes longer than to the LAX hotels you mentioned. The town of El Segundo borders on the southern side of LAX. One side of the street is LAX, the other side is El Segundo. Whether your husband gets the car or you all head to the rental office together is your call and, I suppose, depends on how much luggage you'll have. If he has to return to the airport to pick you up, it will delay your hotel check-in another 30 minutes (minimum).

You need to understand the child car seat laws in California:

https://www.chp.ca.gov/programs-serv...d-safety-seats

I'm not sure how someone could describe the Tar Pits as overly commercialized. The Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum are companion museums, operated by the same agency. At the Tar Pits, you can watch the paleontologists excavating, then cleaning and studying the discoveries... things that might end up on display at the NHM. There is a multi-media performance at the Tar Pits that I haven't seen. Perhaps some people think it's too theatrical. But that's usually the sort of thing kids love.

The Science Center can be hit-or-miss with kids. Your two younger ones probably won't be engaged, but the place will be crawling with kids and families. Timed-entry tickets are currently required.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 08:18 AM
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Various chains of the Hiltons, Marriott, Hyatt LAX hotels are all showing choices with two queen beds, so I am a bit puzzled by the comment about the lack of LAX having two queen beds.

If going to the Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP
is a "must do", then I would be very tempted to fly from LAX or SD to Fresno versus the long drive. But honestly I would probably skip that piece of the trip with young kids. Alternatively there places near both San Diego and LA where you can visit some nice areas. Not as spectacular as Yosemite or Kings, but so much closer. You could take a ferry over to Catalina Island for the day which could be fun, or visit the Aquarium of the Pacific from Long Beach, both of which would be fairly easy given an LA San Diego trip.

I would agree with the comments about staying in a single location as much as possible. In San Diego we love the Catamaran Resort-super family friendly and great walkability located between the Bay and Ocean. https://www.catamaranresort.com/

In LA I would be tempted to stay somewhere near UCLA or Farmers Market. Although it is tempting to stay nearer the beach in Santa Monica or Marina del Rey, since you will have plenty of beach time in SD, I would stay more centrally in LA. Both the Westwood area/West LA near UCLA and the Fairfax neighborhood near Farmers Market are pretty central to the things you want do and see in LA (aside from Disneyland where it sound like you will spend a few night). Skirball is very close to the UCLA area and the LA Brea Tar pits are close to the Farmers Market for example. Especially with younger kids, I would opt for a hotel in LA that is easy for you to get "in and out of" so something without valet parking, etc. There are a number of good properties in the Westwood, West LA area including Holiday Inn Express West Los Angeles that might fit the bill as long as you are okay with a hotel that is more "motel or motor hotel like". By the Farmers Market, the Short Stories Hotel is nice and you can walk across the street to the Farmer's Market and the Grove, both of which are fun with kids.

Having lived in both LA and San Diego recently, it seems like the trick with the traffic is to time your freeway driving as much as you can for after 10AM in the morning and before 3PM in the afternoon or after 7PM at night. And when we are in either SD or LA just trying to get around the town areas, we stay off the freeways as much as possible. That is easier to do in LA since it is a much more open flat grid than SD at least in the core "downtown to the beach area".
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 09:14 AM
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There are Hertz desks at the LAX Hilton, and the LAX Marriott so that may be a convenient option for you. The hotel shuttles will collect you at LAX. Rates (if your drivers license is non-U.S.) via hertz.co.uk look quite good right now for a 3 week September rental compared to what they've been recently, in fact they look amazingly lower than pickup at the airport location a mile away. So you should consider booking a non-prepaid rental asap while rates are down. You can always change or cancel later. I'm not sure if these smaller Hertz locations would have 3 car seats available, you would have to reserve in advance or they might send you around the corner to the "airport" location to pick up the additional car seats. Unfortunately each seat will add $100 to your rental rate over 3 weeks.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 10:15 AM
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Various chains of the Hiltons, Marriott, Hyatt LAX hotels are all showing choices with two queen beds
LAX Hilton: No queen beds, LAX Marriott also no queen beds (this is normal for these 2 brands, anywhere, to only offer 2 doubles). But yes there are hotels of these chains with 2 queen beds like Embassy Suites or Courtyard or Hyatt Place in the immediate LAX area. El Segundo likely to be cheaper, though. Frankly I would try for something between Santa Monica and the Hollywood area and stay for a few nights.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 04:04 PM
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An alternative to renting/returning a car at LAX would be to spend a night at an LAX airport hotel and then in the morning head for Los Angeles Union Station. There are several Pacific Surfliner trains per day going south to San Diego. They take about 3 hours but get you to downtown San Diego within walking distance of the beach.
Another way to get to Kings Canyon/Sequoia and Yosemite would be to fly to Las Vegas first and then take the short flight (Allegiant?) to Fresno (FAT). I have rented a car at the Fresno airport after getting off an Amtrak San Joaquin train.
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Old May 3rd, 2022, 04:29 PM
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tomfuller, this family includes 3 children under 6. With all respect, try to imagine doing what you describe with 3 small children and luggage. By the time they got to Union Station (probably by private transfer considering 5 people, 3 child seats, need for timely arrival) and boarded a train, they could have driven to Carlsbad (Legoland). And the "other" way to get to Fresno just doesn't make sense. Twice the time at twice the cost. There are direct flights to Fresno from both LAX and SAN.
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Old May 4th, 2022, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn View Post
LAX Hilton: No queen beds, LAX Marriott also no queen beds (this is normal for these 2 brands, anywhere, to only offer 2 doubles). But yes there are hotels of these chains with 2 queen beds like Embassy Suites or Courtyard or Hyatt Place in the immediate LAX area. El Segundo likely to be cheaper, though. Frankly I would try for something between Santa Monica and the Hollywood area and stay for a few nights.
Booking.com shows both Homewood Suites By Hilton Los Angeles International Airport on Century and Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles LAX/Century Boulevard with Queen Studio Suites with Two Queen Beds. So these would probably be the closest of these chain properties to airport. The Los Angeles Airport Marriott has only doubles as mentioned.

When we were doing some remodeling we stayed 2-3 weeks in the Extended Stay America Suites-LAX Airport in El Segundo. The big advantage there is that it has a kitchen and it is right next to a large grocery store which is handy. Not as nice as either Marriott or Hilton properties though in general.
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