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Santa Monica & The Beaches

If surf, sand, and sunshine are what you're craving on this vacation, don't consider staying anywhere but here. Not only will you avoid the traffic crush as everyone from the rest of the city flocks to the seaside on clear, sunny days, but you can also soak up the laid-back vibe that only beach communities have.

With its wide beach, iconic Santa Monica Pier, abundant dining and shopping, and easy freeway and airport access, Santa Monica is the glittering jewel of the L.A. coast. A Venice location puts you at the heart of the wild, colorful human carnival that is Venice Beach, while Marina del Rey and Rancho Palos Verdes are ideal destinations for those who want a more sparkling, serene scene. World-famous Malibu is the ultimate symbol of the star-studded, sun-soaked coastal L.A. lifestyle, and offers good surf to boot -- but be prepared to spend lots of time in the car, as this high-rent enclave is at least a half-hour drive from everything.

LAX is also near the coast, so airport-area accommodations are found in this section as well.

L.A.'s Westside & Beverly Hills

The Westside is home to the city's most centrally located, star-studded, and dining/shopping/spa-centric communities. As such, hotels tend toward the pricey end of the scale -- this is where you can find L.A.'s largest concentration of luxury hotels, many of which you've no doubt seen on TV or the big screen. There aren't many bargains to be found, so travelers in search of the best values shouldn't get their hearts set on a Westside location. Even so, I've managed to ferret out a few good mid-priced and budget options.

Hollywood

The geographical area called Hollywood is actually smaller and less glamorous than you might expect. In fact, throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood was pretty much a shambles. But the neighborhood has undergone a major overhaul of late -- along the lines of the reinvention of New York City's Times Square -- that has turned the seedy area back into tourism central. It's also where many of the hippest clubs in the city are found. The re-gentrification is ongoing, but I still don't recommend heading down dark alleys on moonless nights. That said, Hollywood is definitely cleaner and safer than it has been in decades. What's more, several hotels are great for travelers looking for good midpriced and budget lodging, and families will like the easy freeway access to Universal Studios. Still, those with an aversion to tourist traps should book elsewhere.

Downtown

Traditionally the domain of business folk and convention attendees, Downtown L.A. is becoming increasingly attractive to leisure travelers for several reasons: a Rudy Giuliani-style cleanup in the late 1990s; a growing number of cultural attractions, destination dining and great cocktail bars; value weekend packages at hotels that empty out once the workweek ends; and easy, car-free access via the Metro Line to Hollywood and Universal Studios. Every freeway passes through Downtown, so it's a breeze to hop in the car and head off to other neighborhoods (except during weekday rush hour, that is). Consider yourself forewarned, however: Despite the low weekend rates, Downtown L.A. can feel like a ghost town compared to Venice Beach or West Hollywood, particularly after sundown (especially if you're not one for barhopping).

Expensive/Moderate -- How much you pay at any of the following hotels largely depends on when you come. Some become quite affordable once the business travelers go home; others even offer good-value weekday rates to leisure travelers during periods when rooms would otherwise sit vacant.

Universal City

If you're planning on visiting the most popular attraction in Los Angeles, Universal Studios Hollywood, you'll save a lot of travel time and hassle by booking a hotel room right next to the park. The hotels are ideally located for quick and easy access to the park; the closest ones are the Hilton Universal City and the Sheraton Universal, which are just a short walk or shuttle ride from the park.

Pasadena & Environs

East of Downtown, Pasadena is serene, well preserved, and architecturally rich. It's close via freeway to both Hollywood and Valley attractions -- but forget about basing yourself here if you plan to spend your days at the beach and your nights trolling West Hollywood nightclubs. Those who like a quieter scene will enjoy Pasadena's more bucolic range of accommodations, and the dining and shopping scene stands on its own. Now with the new Metro Gold Line running from Downtown right through Old Town Pasadena and all points east, accessibility to L.A.'s best neighborhoods (without having to deal with traffic) is increasingly easier.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.