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Great Cities, Affordable Hotels

$139 Far from the Eagles' "dark desert highway," this Hotel California (1670 Ocean Ave.; 866/571-0000 or 310/393-2363; www.hotelca.com) is just off the Santa Monica beach and steps from the Third Street Promenade. Its 26 rooms are 1947-vintage small (a few have ocean views), but make up for it with a breezy Gidget-goes-to-design-school look of surfboard art and tropical ceiling murals.

$145 A bamboo garden with a koi pond sets the scene at the new Ambrose (1255 20th St., Santa Monica; 877/262-7673 or 310/315-1555; www.ambrosehotel.com; breakfast included), an early California Craftsman-style hotel in a residential neighborhood. Enjoy organic wines by the library's fire, or a healthy morning buffet from celebrity chef Celestino Drago, whose restaurant also provides 24-hour room service. The airy Rec Room proffers one-on-one yoga, and an authentic London taxicab shuttles guests around in style.

$109 You know you're in the capital of geek chic when you check into the Mosser (54 Fourth St.; 800/227-3804 or 415/ 986-4400; www.themosser.com). Last year, the owners of this Victorian hotel off Market Street painted the walls magenta, updated the furniture, and stocked the rooms with Nintendo, CD players, and Internet access. Space and views are limited (which brick wall would you like to face?), but the Museum of Modern Art and Sony Metreon theater are close at hand.

$139 A bijou B&B, the Inn at Union Square (440 Post St.; 415/397-3510; www.innatunionsquare.com; breakfast included) has a modern French feel, with trompe-l'oeil garden scenes on bedroom walls, checked and striped upholstery, and fresh flowers. Little extras—turndown service, nightly happy hours on different floors—keep guests coming back. Another plus is next door: Farallon, one of the city's best seafood restaurants.

$165 For a completely different view of the city, stay at Dockside Boat & Bed (Pier 39; 800/436-2574 or 415/392-5526, www.boatandbed.com), composed of seven fully equipped vessels docked by Fisherman's Wharf. Roomy it ain't, but any sailor worth his salt is prepared to sacrifice ceiling height for nautical atmosphere. That and a glass of wine on the aft deck, with views of the Bay Bridge and the Transamerica tower.

$179 On the Gold Coast, across the street from the Four Seasons, the 221-room Whitehall Hotel (105 E. Delaware Place; 800/948-4255 or 312/944-6300; www.thewhitehallhotel.com) promises luxury at a budget price. It has amenities to match its upscale neighbor's: a complimentary car to take guests shopping, overnight shoeshine. Standard rooms can be a tad small and breakfast will set you back $14; ask the concierge for directions to the nearby Cambridge House coffee shop.


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