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DESTINATION: CALIFORNIA & NEVADA | READERS POLL

Your Favorite Hotels

Service, setting and scenery gave these lodgings the winning edge in our survey

August 13, 2000|CATHARINE HAMM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They like to be pampered. They love to be near the Pacific. They prefer posh surroundings. And they don't care about price--except when they do. That was the feedback from readers who voted for their favorite hotels in an informal Travel section poll. Hundreds responded by fax, mail and on the Times Web site during the past four weeks, and ballots came in from as far away as Helsinki and London.

Readers selected their favorite California accommodations in five categories--luxury, mid-range, budget, family, romantic--and the best in Las Vegas. Choices were, literally and figuratively, all over the map: 779 hotels on 676 ballots.

Still, among the 1,547 votes, themes emerged: Readers have a taste for fine amenities--fluffy robes, acres of marble, stereo systems--and they are drawn to the coast. If the hotel is the reason for the trip, they're willing to pay the price for service, location and extras. The average of brochure rates for the winning hotels (excluding the budget ones) is $270 a night. But when a hotel is just a place to sleep, readers know a bargain when they see one and can find a bargain when they want one.

Two caveats: There was some ballot-box stuffing (see story on Page L10), and this was a highly unscientific survey. Despite that, we tried to reflect our readers' choices, much as we did in a similar Travel section poll four years ago. In that survey, we asked only for recommendations on accommodations that cost less than $100.

Times and inflation have changed the way we think about lodgings, and, more important for leisure travelers, how much we pay. Four years ago, travelers shelled out an average of $75.78 for a room at a California hotel or motel. By 1999 that rate had increased to $93.72, and it has topped $100 for the first six months of this year, according to Smith Travel Research, a Hendersonville, Tenn., company that follows the hospitality industry.

For this you can thank a booming economy and high occupancy rates--as much as 80% in California, according to Bruce Baltin, senior vice president for PKF Consulting in Los Angeles, which tracks such statistics for the hotel industry. "At that level, the industry, in general, is running in effect near capacity, which is why it's harder to get discounts," he said.

So those who play will pay and, this year, pay even more. That's why our price-based categories broke down this way: budget lodgings, less than $100; mid-range, $100 to $200; and luxury, more than $200. We set no price limits on family, romantic or Vegas hotels.

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Here are the winners:

Luxury

Persian carpets cover the floors in the public areas, and 18th and 19th century watercolors and oils hang in the lobby and guest corridors. In the library, a cheerful fire burns when it's cool, and attentive servers proffer afternoon tea, scones and finger sandwiches.

Perched atop a 150-foot bluff overlooking the Pacific, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel rose above others in its class and emerged the winner in the high-end category in the poll. The Ritz, in Dana Point, was tops in luxury with 28 readers, and 10 others voted it the best romantic hotel.

It was both for Tim and Debra Galli of LaVerne, who spent their 10th anniversary there two years ago and voted for it in the luxury category. "We loved our accommodations," he said. "We had [an] oceanfront room. . . . We watched the surfers and had a bottle of champagne. My wife and I are into peaceful surroundings--we just want peace and quiet."

Tranquillity comes with a price tag: Brochure rates for oceanfront rooms are $575. But the high cost brings superb service and attention to detail, according to Debra Murphy of Sherman Oaks, who also rated the hotel best in the luxury category. There in May for a wedding, she found everything done to a fare-thee-well. "I can't say there was one flaw," she said.

Runner-up: The Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara, in a graceful Spanish building at the beach in Montecito. It has a beautiful setting, but "the best thing about them is their Sunday brunch," said Madeline Goodwin of Westwood, who has been a frequent guest there.

Las Vegas

Readers were passionate about their favorite Vegas hotels. Susan Murphy of Germantown, Tenn., got a lucky break when she was there in October 1998 with her husband, Ron, for a convention. They were staying at a hotel that had "the ugliest, nastiest room--it looked like a medieval whorehouse," she said.

Her husband picked up the phone and managed to snag a room at the $1.6-billion Bellagio--its opening weekend, no less.

"It was absolutely gorgeous," said Susan, who found the reader poll on the Times Web site. "It was extremely plush, from the colors to the fabrics to the wall coverings to the carpeting to the bathroom."

Forty-two other readers agreed, voting the Bellagio their favorite Las Vegas hotel.

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