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The first question to ask – what do you want to see or do while in Los Angeles? Will you be traveling with children? Do you like great restaurants? Are you a clubber? Most important: will you have a car while in L.A and what is your nightly budget for a hotel?
A key to getting better hotels when on a budget, is to use Priceline.com (the ‘Name Your Own Price” feature) or Hotwire.com and request a 3- or 4-star hotel in either Beverly Hills, Hollywood, West Hollywood or Santa Monica. You'll be assured a great hotel at a great price (these are small areas with only a few 4-star hotels). But again, it's important to decide whether or not you'll have a car when in LA, before deciding on an area.
Here is a list of popular neighborhoods in which to stay listed from east to west in the metro area. Once the western boundary (the Pacific Ocean) is reached, the list continues in a southerly direction, along the ocean:
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES tends to be the most reasonably priced area, but it's not a typical "downtown", meaning, it's not our city center. You are furthest from the beach, and it's mostly a business district, but, lately, there has been a renaissance in Downtown LA, resulting in some great nightlife and some of the city’s best restaurants.
HOLLYWOOD is a good base for those who want to be near the Walk of Fame and Universal Studios – it’s also convenient for those who don’t want to rent a car and are relying on public transportation. It’s also great for those who like the club scene (see L.A. FAQs Nightlife). Hollywood is safe at night, and safe for families.
WEST HOLLYWOOD is central to both Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and hotels there tend to be along Sunset Blvd or within the adjacent residential areas. This city encompasses all the hotels along Sunset Blvd (Sunset Strip), which has many great hotels, most of them with views of the city, as well as those on Santa Monica Blvd, the center of L.A.’s gay community. There are a few, wonderful, all-suite hotels in “WeHo” (as West Hollywood is affectionately known), tucked away in residential areas. Public transportation from here is also quite easy to some areas, i.e. the #2 bus on Sunset Blvd goes east into Hollywood (you’ll need to walk north (10 minutes) to Hollywood Bl when you get off the bus) and there are express buses to the city of Santa Monica (and adjacent beaches) running along Santa Monica Bl
BEVERLY GROVE (called “Central Los Angeles” in Trip Advisor’s Hotel finder and rating section). Just south of West Hollywood and east of Beverly Hills, this is a pedestrian-friendly area with lots of dining and shopping options in all price ranges. Public transit is abundant here with buses to Hollywood, downtown L.A., West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the westside (Santa Monica, Brentwood, etc).
BEVERLY HILLS (and CENTURY CITY) is also a great central base and is fairly close to the beach while also close to Hollywood, and tends to be cooler in the summer than Hollywood. You would be advised to get a rental car, but it’s okay to rely on public transportation – just expect longer travel times. It’s a great place for families. Note that there's no real nightlife in this area, it mostly shuts down around 10 PM, but there are many amazing restaurants within walking distance to most Beverly Hills hotels.
WESTWOOD is the “village” adjacent to the university (UCLA). Local shopping and dining as well as access to public transit to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and points beyond. Westwood Flyaway express bus connects to LAX. Nightlife is subdued here: a couple of bars within restaurants and a number of movie theaters.
SANTA MONICA is one area that can be explored on foot, and it's the beach! There are lots of shops, restaurants and bars within walking distance, and tends to be a very safe place. Venice has some sketchy areas, use care at night, but with only one or two hotels, it's really not an option. While there are tours that commence in Santa Monica, you are about 45 minutes away from Hollywood tourist sights. Also great for families, but note that hotel rates are higher at the beach.
MARINA DEL REY offers great rates at some great hotels, but you'll be relying on the congested freeways to get to sights, easily an hour each way. It's a very nice area, with gorgeous views, and very close to LAX (and Venice Beach), but remote.
LAX HOTELS can be very nice and very convenient, but generally only if you have one night to stay. Outside of central LA, the area has nothing to offer, with nothing to walk to. (let's say you want to go out for a bite, you'll be out of luck), but for a quick stay, it is very affordable. It's about a $25-30 cab ride (each way) to Santa Monica/Venice Beach. The So Bay beach cities are about a $15-20 ride.
There is a Trolley, called the Ocean Express which takes you from the hotels on Century Blvd. to the Pier in Manhattan Beach, 3 miles away, with stops at the El Segundo Plaza and Manhattan Village Mall. Hours are 9 am to 10:45 PM June through Sept. and 9 am to 8:45 PM from Oct. through May. Get your $3 tickets from the Front Desk/Concierge of your hotel. Children 5 and under free.
The town of El Segundo, located a half mile south of LAX is another city to stay before your flight. There are various hotels that have free 24 hour shuttles to the airport. There are restaurants in the city or you could take a cab to Manhattan Beach.
MANHATTAN/HERMOSA/REDONDO BEACH: Great relaxing beach towns (collectively known as the SOUTH BAY), with surfers and volleyball players, just south of LAX. Nice to cool off after a day of site seeing.
Manhattan is closer to the 105 and 405 Freeways for exploring LA sites. The pleasant tree lined downtown area has cozy shops and restaurants with an ocean view. Take a walk to the end of the beautiful pier, and explore the small ‘hands on’ aquarium in the Round House at the end, or watch the surfers below. Rent bikes/skates, and ride past Marina del Rey to Venice or Santa Monica, or two miles in the other direction to Hermosa's Pier.
Various hotels have pick ups for tours of LA.
Hermosa, in the middle of the two other cities shares the same long, lovely white sand beaches, has the paved path called The Strand, popular for walkers, joggers and biking going to the other beach cities. The Pier Plaza has many bars, restaurants, nightclubs and the Comedy and Magic Club features Jay Leno every Sunday and other notable personalities.
Redondo, is the third city and is at the base of Palos Verdes hills. The large Redondo Beach King Harbor Marina and Pier has sport fishing, boat rides and water sports. Whale watching excursions are available in season. Fresh seafood is served at many of the local restaurants.
During non-commute hours: the transfer time from the South Bay is: 30 minutes to the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. 30 minutes to San Pedro docks/cruise to Catalina, 45 minutes to Disneyland and Knotts 30 minutes to Beverly Hills and The Getty. Universal is across town and would be over 45 min.