MOSCOW (AP) _ Its topless sunbathers are gone for the season, but Sochi's palm trees and pebbled beaches still provide a more picturesque setting for a summit than the freezing slush and mud of Moscow.

Once an exclusive playground for the Communist elite, the Black Sea resort has opened its luxurious spas and sanitoriums to those Russians who can afford to shell out thousands of rubles per night.

Although temperatures will be chilly this weekend as President Bush arrives to sign a landmark arms control treaty, it will be far from the cold war being waged in Moscow, where forecasters say the mercury could plunge to minus 4 F.

''Sochi is a great place for this meeting. It has a beautiful ocean, and the city is like a small California town like Santa Barbara,'' said Vitaly Ignatenko, a Sochi native who was spokesman to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Bush will arrive from a visit with U.S. troops in war-torn Somalia, while Yeltsin has had his own battles with the Communist-dominated Congress of People's Deputies.

''One president is coming from a war zone, and the other one is coming from conferences and congresses,'' said Ignatenko, now head of the ITAR-Tass news agency. ''In Sochi, they'll have the opportunity to rest their spirits.''

Kremlin leaders have chosen Black Sea resorts as venues for several summits, dating back to the 1945 Yalta Conference between Josef Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Yalta is more historic and beautiful than Sochi, but Yeltsin could not choose it as a summit site.

Yalta now belongs to Ukraine.

Sochi itself is typical of many Soviet cities: a drab industrial town dominated by ugly box-like buildings fabricated from white concrete slabs. Huge, high-rise hotels dot the coast, creating an unattractive silhouette against a background of sand and surf.

The beauty of Sochi unfolds along the Black Sea coast. Tourists who come to the largest seaside resort in the former Soviet Union are attracted by the hot, balmy weather, the beaches overlooking a wide expanse of blue, and the relatively clean air.

Last year, after flooding and tornadoes that killed 27 people, the beaches were closed when hundreds of tons of oil spilled from a damaged pipeline in the nearby village of Tuapse.

City officials had to withdraw a bid to host the 1998 Winter Olympics, which eventually went to Nagano, Japan.

Yeltsin still has a dacha in the center of the city, an elegant compound of several low buildings set amid trees, shrubs and gardens. He held a key meeting there in June with President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia.

Sochi is about 60 miles west of the coastal cities and towns of Abkhazia, a region of western Georgia where hundreds of people have died in a separatist campaign since August.

Thousands of refugees have flooded into the region, but few have settled in Sochi itself, said Olga Skorobogatikova of the State Committee for Migration.