Getting there: Aeromexico and Mexicana Airlines offer daily service between Los Angeles and Oaxaca, with a change of planes in Mexico City. Round-trip fares are about $420. Flight time between Mexico City and Oaxaca is one hour.
Where to stay: Oaxaca's classiest--and most expensive--hotel is the Presidente (Calle Cinco de Mayo 300, call 011-52-951-60611), a 400-year-old former convent run by the Stouffer chain. The Presidente has a swimming pool and is a five-minute walk from the zocalo (central square) . A double room is $110 per night. Reservations: (800) 468-3571.
On the outskirts of town is the Mision de los Angeles (Calzada Porfirio Diaz 102, call 011-951-515-00). The hotel's pleasant grounds include tennis courts and a swimming pool. While well removed from the zocalo , it can prove a pleasant respite from the downtown bustle, particularly at festival time. Cost: $55 per night for a double room. Reservations: (800) 221-6509.
Also at the edge of the city are the Fortin Plaza, at $46 per night (reservations: 800-826-6842), and the Hotel Victoria, $50 per night (800-223-9868).
On the zocalo itself, hotels include the Marques del Valle (pretty lobby and inside balcony, but single beds in most rooms) and the Monte Alban. Both are more authentically Mexican than the others, but the rooms can be a bit noisy due to the central location.
Getting around: Oaxaca, a compact city with narrow streets and limited parking spaces, is a good place for strolling. Hotels at the outskirts of town are a 20-minute walk to the zocalo . Cabs are the other option, with fares from $3 to $6 for most destinations within city limits. Taxis are also a wise choice for day-trips to surrounding towns. Negotiate prices--from $10 to $30--before departing.
For a taste of local culture, take public buses to nearby towns. They leave from the Benito Juarez bus station on the outskirts of Oaxaca. Schedules are erratic, and most buses are standing room only. However, the locals, who carry aboard everything from live turkeys to huge containers of mole sauce, are extremely cordial.
Bus tours of nearby sights, including the ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla, are also available. Tours for Monte Alban leave daily from the Hotel Meson del Angel (Calle Mina), but check for updated schedules at major hotels.
Automobile rentals are available through Hertz. The weekly rate for an economy-size, manual-transmission car is $240. Be sure to reserve ahead.
Where to eat: Restaurants and outdoor cafes line the zocalo , and vendors weave their way among the tables, selling local crafts.
Overlooking the zocalo from a second-floor balcony is one of the city's few upscale restaurants, the Asador Vasco. Specialties include chicken mole and casseroles. Prices for dinner: $8 to $25.
Across the square is the Meson del Taco, a simple but good restaurant frequented by locals and tourists. Prices: $4 to $7.
Off the main square, El Biche Pobre II (on Calzada de Republica) and the restaurant/coffee house El Sol y La Luna (on Murgia), feature live music as well as dining.