Choose your location carefully in the "City of Sprawl." Picking a neighborhood to stay in is critical for any city, but arguably nowhere more so than in 500-square-mile wide Los Angeles, which is plagued with traffic. Skip getting stuck in one of the notorious Interstate 405 slowdowns by choosing a hotel near your favorite attractions.
Maximize your time in L.A. with the two-hotel solution. Visiting town for at least five days? Seriously consider changing hotels halfway through. Staying in two neighborhoods during your trip will allow you to reduce the time you spend in traffic while giving you an in-depth feel for the city. You could use a hotel in Universal City (near Universal Studios and all of the major Hollywood attractions) as your hub for half of your trip and then move to a beach stay in Santa Monica for the second half. If Disneyland is on the agenda for two days or more, stay in Anaheim rather than drive down from L.A. every day.
Avoid peak seasons. Weather-wise, there's no bad time to vacation in sunny, pleasant southern California. While L.A. is a popular year-round destination, there are a few periods when crowds are bigger and affordable hotel rooms are harder to come by. To snag a bargain, visit during the nonpeak times—essentially any time other than July and August (a busy time for families, who tend to visit when schools are out of session) and the periods around big entertainment-industry events, such as the Academy Awards and the Grammys (which usually happen in February).
Consider business hotels on weekends. There's an abundance of high-end hotels that are magnets for business travelers on weeknights. But come Friday, these properties often sell rooms for weekend stays that are discounted to a fraction of what travelers on expense accounts pay. Even if a downtown hotel isn't advertising a special, call and ask for its best price. Chances are that on most weekends, the hotel manager will have many vacancies to fill and you'll be able to haggle for a lower rate—or at least a free upgrade. El Segundo, the neighborhood just south of Los Angeles International Airport, is one area popular with business travelers, so it's a locale ripe for bargains on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Seek out free parking. Hotels in L.A. usually include complimentary parking, unlike hotels in many other cities. We're not just talking about motels on the outskirts of the city. TripAdvisor recently showed 73 Los Angeles hotels with free parking spread throughout the metropolitan area. So when you're perusing the options, know that if a given hotel charges for parking, its competitor down the block might give it to you for free. With the money you save, consider upgrading to a convertible and soaking in the southern Cali sun in style.