There are many ways in which Los Angeles has changed significantly in the past decade or so – whether you live there or are just visiting, one thing everyone can agree on is that it's not nearly as affordable as it used to be.
That cheap go-to motel in Hollywood that regularly went for, say, $85 or so, back in the early aughts, might now go for double that, sometimes more, per night. Sure, the place has been painted and the management probably sprang for some nice black and white photos of Hollywood Boulevard back in the day, but you're still in a motel, probably pretty close to a busy street or a freeway. A decade ago, places like these were the refuge of the budget traveler, with anyone who could afford it somewhere further west, preferably near the beach. No more.
This hasn't just happened to quickly-revitalizing areas like Hollywood – take the long-standing crop of average convention hotels in LA's downtown – you know, the one that nobody even remembered was there in the late 1990s. Nowadays, it's back on the grid and there's a ton going on; whether these hotels have been recently renovated or not, they often get to charge upwards of $200 a night, simply because it's downtown Los Angeles.
In short, finding a decent place to sleep has now become almost as much of a challenge in Los Angeles as it has always has been in New York or San Francisco.
There's good news, though -- with the steady growth of rail transit (you've heard the one about the newly opened train to the beach, yes?) and a distinct uptick in the action in older business districts away from the ocean, where you sleep in Los Angeles is starting to matter less and less. Where trains and express buses don't go, services like Lyft and Uber can bridge the gap, often for far less than you'd think.
Nobody needs to know that you were sleeping in Hawthorne (where's that?) or Glendale (gasp).
Where you stay is really up to you – there are perfectly fine cheap motels all over the Southland – but here are five very affordable, very much recommended options.
Want to really see the real Los Angeles? Book in at this tiny little motel on the gentrifying fringe of working-class Westlake, a diverse and densely-populated district that's a short walk (scenic no, safe, yes) from the brand new Broad Museum, a stunning piece of architecture and home to one of the country's most talked about private art collections. What used to be just another keep driving, faster please motel in a once-dangerous part of town is now the secret favorite of a core group of budget travelers who wouldn't stay anyplace else. For a pleasant morning walk, ask for directions to the nearby Vista Hermosa Park, one of Central LA's little green gems.
Sample rate: $89 for their "Welcome to LA Special," book directly through the site. Includes parking, wireless internet and more.
The value for money ratio tends to plummet the closer you get to the ocean, so don't expect a whole lot except a reasonable rate from this simple spot in Santa Monica's pleasant Ocean Park district, just a couple of minutes on foot from feeling the sand between your toes (or in your shoes) and in the middle of one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas in all of LA. Early to bed types will want to skip this one, the neighborhood stays lively until late on the weekends. To save even more, you can skip renting a car – the new train station and all of downtown Santa Monica's shopping and dining is just ten minutes or so away on foot. For what you'd pay for a nice hotel in some cities, here you get the basics: a bed, a bathroom, and a door that locks behind you. Bonus, though - management is generally decent, a rarity at this price point in this part of town.
Sample rate: $125 and up
This unassuming number is actually so far west, they might as well say it's in Venice – and not the grimy, overpriced beach area of Venice, either. We're talking the $1.2 million for a bungalow, walk to the canals and Abbot Kinney Boulevard (one of the coolest streets on the West Coast) Venice. On the right side of the dreaded 405 but close enough to the giant free parking lot at the Culver City station (train to downtown Santa Monica or Hollywood or Old Town Pasadena for $1.75, yes please), this is not only a superb location, it's also a well-managed little motel. With a pool.
Sample rate: High season rates from $135 per night (requires a non-refundable early booking)
4. Regency Inn
This place definitely lacks curb appeal, but wait until you see the well-renovated rooms. Good beds and bedding, Keurig machines for your morning coffee, everything's squeaky clean – it's hard to fault this professionally-managed Colorado Boulevard motel and very few people do. It may feel somewhat remote, but it's not – here, you're a short walk from the nexus of hipster Eagle Rock, not to mention a handy Target store. If you're not driving, not to worry – the motel is a quick Lyft or Uber ride from Downtown Los Angeles, a Gold Line train station, LA's newest hipster heaven, Highland Park, the classic SoCal charm of Old Town Pasadena and a ton of shopping and dining in downtown Glendale.
Sample rate: $105 and up
To describe this Mid-City spot in a word, basic comes to mind. But as in so many cases with tiny old motels, it all comes down to the management and – as advertised - this is one friendly motor inn. Better yet, this is a very strategic location for people who intend to drive everywhere during their stay, in a scruffy but pleasant vintage 'hood between Koreatown and the 10 Freeway. (Traffic permitting – and it sometimes does, honest - you can be at the beach in Santa Monica in barely 15 minutes, if you drive with any sense of purpose.) There's a modest free breakfast and you're within reasonable walking distance of the Red Line station at Wilshire & Western, plus restaurants like El Cholo (an LA classic if there ever were) and Pasta Sisters (a very popular Italian deli and café).
Sample rate: $99 including parking, internet and continental breakfast