The ultimate hotel guide to Los Angeles

California’s biggest city might overwhelm on a first encounter, but picking the right hotel in one of its many dynamic districts can offer a true taste of the City of Angels.

This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK).

It has sugary-sand beaches, trail-lined canyons, celebs galore and world-class theme parks. However, Los Angeles’ vast size and notorious traffic often leave first-time visitors nonplussed. The key? Getting your location right. You can have the best hotel room in the world, but if it’s putting a two-hour, traffic-snarled drive between you and your morning tour, you won’t be rushing back to LA in a hurry. West Hollywood is the place to be for quintessential Angeleno nightlife, while the beaches are close to Highway 1 and the Getty Center, and for the theme parks you’ll want the San Fernando Valley. The most exciting area of all is, arguably, Downtown, where flash bars and restaurants are opening up in once-derelict warehouses. While LA can sometimes be hard to get a feel for, the hotel scene does a great job of bringing the city’s themes together. From uber-lux boltholes to hippy hangouts, this is a city that’s crystallised in its hotels.

1. Soho Warehouse

Best for celeb-spotting

Soho House’s only Tinseltown outpost with bedrooms isn’t quite as exclusive as you’d imagine — and that’s a good thing. Sure, there might be one or two celebs on the seventh-floor pool deck, but your attention will be on the local wall art, the mid-century-style furniture and details like original graffiti from when this was a derelict warehouse. This is, of course, the world’s most famous private members club, but Warehouse, which opened in late 2019, allows non-members to stay on a case-by-case basis. Guests have complete access to the club, so you can lie on the poolside mattresses, brunch in the garden or enjoy the free cocktail trolley that visits the rooms nightly. 
Rooms: From $215 (£166), B&B.

2. Shutters on the Beach

Best for ocean views

Right on Santa Monica Beach, Shutters can be your quintessential LA stay — if you’re prepared to spend. Splash out on an Ocean Front Room and you’ll fall asleep to the sound of the Pacific and wake up to see rollerbladers swishing past on the boardwalk below. Lesser categories will get you an equally delightful room, albeit without the view — expect a breezy, New England-style mix of enormous wood-framed bed, bookshelves and shutters opening onto a Jacuzzi-equipped bathroom. 
Rooms: From $495 (£382) or $725 (£560) for Ocean Front.

3. NoMad

Best for bold brilliance

If you think the Corinthian columns outside and lavishly coffered ceiling at reception look good, you’ll be knocked for six by the restaurant at this 1928-build conversion — the huge, theatre-like former Bank of Italy, with florid arches, wrought-iron balconies and a human-height door of the safe downstairs, now housing the toilets. Designed by Jacques Garcia, the rooms are a sultry take on art deco, with lashings of chrome, freestanding bathtubs, velvet-upholstered furniture and carelessly cool art above the beds. The rooftop pool at NoMad has spectacular views, but it’s that restaurant that will stick in the memory.
Rooms: From $207 (£160). 

4. Freehand

Best for downtown vibes

No, it’s not the jetlag; this really does feel like another world. Fall asleep in Gotham City — your moody room crafted from an old office, complete with original doors — and wake up to breakfast in Palm Springs, with the mid-century Exchange restaurant’s delicate chairs, banquettes and wood-panelled walls. This superb conversion of a 1924 office block is beloved by hipsters for its two bars; the Broken Shaker beside the rooftop pool is the place to be. Rooms at Freehand have a retro feel, with period tiled bathroom floors, low-slung beds and huge windows. There are dorms as well as en suites, sleeping anything from four to eight. 
Rooms: From $125 (£96).

5. 1 Hotel West Hollywood

Best for Cali cool

Rowdy West Hollywood’s all about the nightlife — apart from this incongruously Zen pad on raucous Sunset Boulevard. This is the other Los Angeles: one where there’s a Hollywood sign ‘sculpted’ in moss by a living wall, where the check-in desk is a reclaimed Aleppo pine from the San Fernando Valley, and the house car giving guests free local rides is a Tesla. This small, nature-loving chain is all about eco touches, from cork and hessian walls to the lack of plastic. Rooms at 1 Hotel West Hollywood are modern rustic and from the pool deck (where there’s free yoga), you have spectacular views to the Pacific, and a beehive-filled veg garden below. 
Rooms: From $327 (£250). 

6. Magic Castle Hotel  

Best for family fun

Parking, laundry, breakfast, afternoon tea, ice cream — pretty much everything you could want is free at this old-timey hotel. It’s unbelievable value in a city that charges for everything, and guests can even get rare access to the nearby Magic Castle — Hollywood’s super-exclusive magic club — with a dinner booking. It’s not luxurious, however; the huge rooms are one step up from a motel, with chic wooden flooring, giant TVs and kitchenettes in most. 
Rooms: From $199 (£153), B&B. 

7. The Garland

Best for thrills and spills

Most hotels in the San Fernando Valley are by-the-numbers blocks for those visiting Universal Studios. Not this one. Built in 1972 as a motel by actress Beverly Garland, it got a $20m (£15.4m) facelift in 2015, making Garland the closest thing North Hollywood has to a boutique hotel. Today, the rooms are a fun retro clash of geometric carpets, brightly patterned curtains and peppy orange furniture. It’s also popular thanks to its free shuttle to Universal Studios.
Rooms: From $175 (£135). 

8. Kimpton La Peer 

Best for art aficionados

Kimptons is known for its free nightly wine hour, but here in West Hollywood’s western design district, standing very-taut-cheek-by-jowl with Gwyneth Paltrow’s favourite vegan restaurant, you may prefer the kombucha tea that’s on tap every morning. Local designer Gulla Jónsdóttir revamped the art deco building in 2018, with sinuous sculptures in the public areas and a chrome-slicked Italian restaurant by the pool. An abstract sculpture by artist Retna sits in the courtyard. The slightly boxy rooms are plainer, though brilliantly kitted out with a full bar of spirits. 
Rooms: From $361 (£280). 

9. Beverly Wilshire

Best for luxury living

LA hotels don’t get much fancier than this Four Seasons property in Beverly Hills, just where Rodeo Drive hits Wilshire Boulevard. This 1928-built property was the setting for the movie Pretty Woman, and although the decor today seems more luxury-by-numbers than cutting-edge, it does have a Michelin-starred restaurant, CUT, a grotto-style pool and an 18ft onyx-clad bar. An al fresco lunch at The Blvd is the perfect place for hours of people-watching, too. 
Rooms: From $520 (£402). 

10. The Charlie

Best for retro fun

This is where to go for a taste of old-school Tinseltown glamour — a semi-hidden collection of cottage-style bungalows linked by a rambling English garden, tucked away in West Hollywood. All 14 rooms are named after celebrities who have stayed over the years, from previous owner Charlie Chaplin to Marilyn Monroe, and while the setting is traditional, the rooms at The Charlie are rather stylish, whether that’s slick grey headboards, leather armchairs or movie posters on the walls.
Rooms: From $349 (£270).

Published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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