The Guardian, February 21, 2012
Big-hitter LA hotels such as the Beverly Wilshire or the Hollywood Roosevelt are so well-publicised and celebrity-haunted that they often blind tourists to more distinctive, reasonably priced accommodation in the city. Hidden in nooks, crannies and side-roads of the City of Angels, there are, contrary to popular perception, numerous family-run guesthouses, intimate boutique hotels and even quirky little B&BS. You just have know where to look.
Built in 1914, the looming pink and turquoise art deco Cadillac Hotel is on the border of Venice and Santa Monica, with rooms looking out on Santa Monica bay and along the coastline to Malibu. It was once the summer residence of Charlie Chaplin and you'll find a host of eccentrics on your doorstep. From bodybuilders to fire-eaters, you'll never see anything boring from your window at The Cadillac.
The rooms are functional, although sometimes smell like they've been hot-boxed by over-excited backpackers who've discovered the numerous "medical marijuana" dispensaries on the beach. Despite recent renovations, it's still a backpacker hotel at heart, and everyone's up for a good time. The view from the roof is the best place to watch the sunset, and you're bound to find people to share a beer with.
• 8 Dudley Avenue, Venice, +1 310 399 8876, thecadillachotel.com. Doubles from $133
The Hollywood Pensione
This family-run, three-room guest house in East Hollywood is achingly chic, while retaining a homely vibe. Hidden in a 1915 Craftsman house on the edge of Franklin Village, it has sleek and unpretentious rooms, each with a private bath. There's also a common lounge with a balcony, and access to a fully-equipped guest kitchen.
Franklin Village is the haunt of local artists and writers by day, and hipsters by night. You'll find one of the best second-hand bookstores in LA, called Counterpoint, within skipping distance of your bedroom, as well as the best comedy-theatre, the Upright Citizens Brigade. Eat in the numerous restaurants in the village or buy groceries at the Mayfair Market and cook in the Hollywood Pensione's superbly kitted out and colorful kitchen. Then eat on the balcony, under the stars.
• 1845 North Wilton Place, Hollywood, +1 323 369 2411, hollywoodpensione.com. Doubles $165 ($875 weekly)
This has recently been renovated from a very basic roadside motel into a surreal tongue-in-cheek hotel that boasts all the cinematic charm of a seedy motel, with all the comfort of a beautifully designed boutique hotel.
"You have to keep to your roots," the manager winked at me one morning as he explained that the original Farmer's Daughter motel was a notorious haunt for desperate starlets new to the city, hoping to bump into producers from CBS Studios, just opposite. The hotel still harks back to kinkier days, while also offering free Wi-Fi and 24-hour secured valet parking. There are brightly coloured rocking chairs in the rooms, gingham curtains, denim bedspreads and if you're in the mood for love there's a "No-Tell Room" where you'll find mirrors on the ceiling and a fully stocked bar, as well as a mural of a wheat field to inspire a roll around in the hay.
Being just across the road from the Farmer's Market, the Farmer's Daughter is walking distance from the shops on Melrose, or a cultural wander down Museum Row. If jet lag has you awake before the market is open for breakfast, you can potter up Fairfax to Canter's, a 24-hour deli that's been a Los Angeles Landmark since 1931.
• 115 South Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, +1 800 334 1658, farmersdaughterhotel.com. Doubles from $219, $239 for the "No-Tell Room"
Located opposite the Staples Center in the urban heart of Downtown Los Angeles, stepping into the lobby of Hotel Figueroa is like stumbling on a Moroccan Riad. With high, mural-covered ceilings hung with amber lamps, and giant palm trees lolling next to faux-marble pillars, it's an unexpected oasis in the bustling concrete jungle of downtown.
It used to be a YMCA and it still has something of that vibe, but with more soul. It's bohemian rather than slick, but it's by far my favorite hotel down town. In the veranda bar, stained-glass windows spin LA's white light into colored patterns as you sip a mid-afternoon beer, then later in the evening you can take a mojito up to the Jacuzzi terrace, surrounded by cactus plants and skyscrapers.
• 939 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, +1 213 627 8971, figueroahotel.com. Doubles from $144
The Magic Castle Hotel
One sure-fire way to gain entrance into the iconic and secretive Magic Castle, the world's most famous private members' club for magicians and magic enthusiasts, is to stay in the nearby Magic Castle Hotel. Don't expect this friendly, motel-style hotel to have any of the opulence and mystery of the hotel's nocturnal cousin, though. There are no magicians' assistants lounging by the pool, or rabbits scrambling out of hats in the lobby, so if you're after high-drama look elsewhere. It is, however, clean and reasonably priced considering it's minutes from The Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Better still, after a hard day of sight-seeing on Hollywood Boulevard, the Magic Castle hotel will provide frozen popsicles while you sunbathe in their courtyard pool.
• 7025 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, +1-323-851-0800, magiccastlehotel.com. Doubles from $164
Highland Gardens Hotel
The monochrome lobby, flooded with natural light and decorated with pristine white sofas, might as well be a different hotel from the old-fashioned guest rooms with their somewhat shiny bedspreads and patterned curtains, but it's still a reasonably priced and convenient place to stay in Los Angeles. Located near all the tourist sites of Hollywood Boulevard, this is slightly more grown up and slicker than the Magic Castle Hotel. There's a pool surrounded by a palm trees, and some of the rooms have private kitchen facilities. Try to get a courtyard-facing room.
It's worth knowing that the Highland Gardens Hotel was formerly the Landmark Hotel, where Janis Joplin died, so if you're feeling morbid, book room 105.
• 7047 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, +1 323 850 0536, highlandgardenshotel.com. Doubles from $119
Garden Cottage B&B
At the base of the Hollywood Hills, on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, is the quaint Garden Cottage B&B, where the proprietors, Ahuva and Bob, are known for providing superb organic breakfasts in their garden and great local knowledge.
Of the four rooms, the Terrace Room is probably the prettiest, with a mahogany double bed and a large balcony overlooking the garden. Alternatively you can rent your own little cottage, called The Garden Cottage, with its own private living room and kitchen. This serene little B&B is located just on the edge of glamorous Beverley Hills, near the Beverley Center, so if the wholesome organic vibe gets too much, you can use the money you've saved on accommodation to binge on Louboutin shoes.
• 8316 West 4th Street, +1 323 653 5616, gardencottagela.com. Doubles from $155
Topanga Canyon Inn
This isn't the place to stay if you want to spend your evenings dancing in West Hollywood with Paris Hilton or getting drunk with the girls from America's Next Top Model, but it is if you want to experience the grandeur of the Californian countryside. Tucked among the caves, cliffs and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon boasts nearly 40 miles of trails and views of the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.
It's a perfect jumping off point for mountain biking, horse riding or hiking, and it's also near a secret, romantic little bay called Topanga State Beach, which is quieter than other Malibu beaches because it has a rocky surface under the waves. The Topanga Canyon Inn is also convenient for the Getty, if you're looking for a splash of culture between hikes and early morning horse rides.
• 20310 Callon Drive, Topanga, +1 310 600-1325, topangacanyoninn.com. Doubles from $190
Cinema Suites Bed and Breakfast
This hotel was opened by Dianne Bennet because her show-biz friends were always asking for recommendations for reasonably priced, central Los Angeles hotels, of which she decided there were none. And so Cinema Suites was born with three simple, homely rooms right near LACMA, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and the George C Page Park. It's slightly cluttered, a bit like the house of an eccentric family member, but well worth it just to meet the proprietor.
In addition to running the Cinema Suites, Dianne has been described as "LA's best matchmaker" and has apparently been operating nationwide since 1990. She claims to have a little black book full of industry contacts and her speciality is arranging matches between glamorous women and wealthy men. So if you're a single woman looking for a sugar-daddy, the Cinema Suites Bed and Breakfast might well be the place to head.
• 925 South Fairfax Avenue, +1 323 272-3160, cinemasuites.biz. Doubles from $120
Loz Feliz Lodge
The Los Feliz Lodge encompasses four separate Spanish-style 1920s bungalows, each with colorful living rooms and kitchens. It's almost like having your own little flat in the heart of Los Angeles, but with less hassle, and with people to clean up after you.
The Lodge is walking distance to Los Feliz Village, where you can sip a milkshake in Fred 62, an iconic 1950s diner, or scour LA's favourite independent bookstore, Skylight Books. You can also have one too many martinis in a Los Angeles drinking institution called The Dresdon while listening to Marty and Elayne – a lounge act duo who have been performing there since 1982 – and know that you can stumble home to your own little bungalow without getting in a car. Bliss.
• 1501, 1503 and 1507 North Hoover Street, Los Angeles, , +1 323 660 4150, losfelizlodge.com. Doubles from $150
• Anna Stothard's novel The Pink Hotel, partly inspired by the Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach and about an English girl in Los Angeles, is now out in paperback (Alma Books, £7.99, tinyurl.com/pinkhotelstothard)