The California Bucket List: Your daily guide to the best adventures and experiences in the Golden State

Park Los Angeles visitors at the Westside's Orlando hotel

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Now that you're practicing all those New Year's resolutions, here's one to add: Book visiting relatives into a hotel.

Perhaps you don't need a recent survey to tell you that 61% of Americans get stressed about staying with or hosting family during the holidays. That's the polite, scientific way of saying, "We love you. Now get out."

One might gently direct the relations to the Orlando, an overlooked hotel on West 3rd Street, between Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. It's one of those places to send relatives, business associates or tourists who want centrally located, spacious lodgings that are upscale but not exorbitantly priced. Better yet, if your guests venture outside the hotel, they'll be in one of the city's hottest shopping districts; inside, they'll find La Terza, one of the better Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.

The 98-room hotel, formerly the Beverly Plaza, became the Orlando in January 2005. A year later, management spent $4 million to renovate the lobby, lounge, fitness center, pool area and guest rooms. For my early-December visit, I booked the lowest-price room through the hotel's website -- $233 a night for a king-size bed and double sleeper couch.

The size of the room, about 400 square feet, was impressive, particularly for an urban hotel wedged onto a street corner. A four-person entourage couldn't pack enough suitcases to fill the room's four under-bed drawers, double closet, deep wall-mounted drawers and long shelf space.

If a better view and Bulgari bath products are fundamental to your well-being, pay the $40 to $60 extra for the executive-level rooms, which are similar to the basic rooms but include the better bath products, plus free Internet access, breakfast vouchers and a patio or balcony.

My online reservation confirmation helpfully calculated the 14% occupancy tax (which added nearly $33 a night to my tab) but didn't list other likely costs, such as the $24 valet parking fee.

I'd really never given the hotel a second thought during the many times I dined at La Terza and its previous incarnation, Cava, a tapas bar. When at last I sampled a guest room, I had mixed impressions.

First: This is a big room with lots of beige and brown, inexpensively furnished, modern, masculine. It's anchored by the duvet-covered, king-size platform bed, an almond-colored chenille sleeper couch, a glass-topped aluminum-frame desk, a pair of nightstands and matching cubes for coffee tables.

A set of abstract paintings, a yard-wide plasma TV, floor-to-ceiling curtains (printed with the signature "O" monogram) and a stack of long, walnut-stained shelves interrupt some of the vast beige walls. The sleeping area is fresh, if you can overlook carpet stains, but the very beige, very plastic bathroom is dingy.

Second: I can't breathe.

I raced to open the 5-foot-wide window, desperate for oxygen that wasn't saturated with some odore dell'hotel -- Anglo-Italian for the special stinky-sweet deodorant that many hotels use to freshen rooms. (A week of airing my suitcase didn't erase it.)

I complained to the front desk about the scent and was told, "We'll send housekeeping with some spray."

I was grateful for three things: that I'm not asthmatic; that the window of my fourth-floor room opened wide to vigorous, fresh breezes; and that I wasn't traveling with small children who could tumble unprotected through the open space.

The room faced Orlando Street (hence the name) and a fecund ficus tree that added forested privacy without completely absorbing sunlight.

It is just as well that the Orlando ambience doesn't encourage long, languorous days within its walls. The limestone-tiled shower-tub combination is efficient, but the scheduled bathroom renovations can't come too soon.

The fitness center is a compact, airless room outfitted with new cardiovascular equipment. The spa is two closet-sized saunas and a massage room. You won't swim in the pool, but dunk: It's a 20-by-10-foot strip of saltwater with a view of power lines.

Room service operates 24 hours and offers basic American food along with some of La Terza's greatest hits, but its service is a flourish-free afterthought.

I was grateful that the surrounding neighborhood was so lively. I walked for hours, exploring the nearby eclectic array of fashion and home-décor boutiques, bookstores including the Traveler's Bookcase and Cook's Library, loads of restaurants (Little Door, Ortolan, Toast, Joan's on Third) and the Beverly Center and the Grove shopping malls within walking distance.

The next time I'm on West 3rd, I probably won't stop at the Orlando for lunch to refuel after retail therapy: The lunch and dinner menu, and prices, are identical. On a busy Thursday night with every table booked, dinner for two cost $113 without tip. The meal included spotty service, an appetizer of the signature agnolotti with veal osso buco, branzino roasted with olives and tomatoes, short ribs and three $11-per-glass Tuscan red wines that tasted much pricier.

Entertainment-industry types gather at La Terza to make deals and swap stories about nightmare clients. Wine aficionados can uncork bottles from the restaurant's list or from their own cellars.

The bar area's communal table is packed with young people hosting lively parties that sometimes spill into the hotel's Library Lounge, a cozy room off the lobby with sink-into-it seating, quirky books and a big TV.

The Orlando owes a lot of its European feel to La Terza. The décor, a share of the staff and the meal arrangements are Italian, right down to the shaved Parmesan and ham served at the breakfast buffet, although I never did understand why the $20 buffet included a platter of plain ladyfingers. Was I supposed to make my own tiramisu?

Still, I felt I'd found one of those budget European hotels where the rooms aren't luxurious but all's forgiven once you tuck into a plate of pasta at the restaurant.

Add it all up, and it's still the best money you'll ever spend to avoid your lunatic relatives. If you love good food and want to (over)indulge in great wine, you might just book a room for yourself and let them stay at your house.

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