Californian Ronald Reagan and his senior advisers will shift the center of their operation to Washington as soon as possible, and the president-elect will spend about a third of his time in the capital before his inaugration.

Edwin Meese, director of day-to-day transition planning and the favorite to be the next White House chief of staff, said today that only a handful of Reagan aides will be working in California after the transition office at 1726 M. St. NW provided by the General Services Administration opens Wednesday.

Reagan will fly to Washington early the next week for a Central Intelligence Agency briefing, meetings with congressional leaders and planning sessions with his staff, Meese said at a breakfast with reports.

The president-elect will go to his ranch near Santa Barbara Sunday for five days of rest and will then spend about three days at his Los Angeles home before making his first post-election visit to Washington.

Meese said it has not been decided where Reagan will stay in Washington. Blair House is booked for visiting foreign leaders, but Meese joked, "If we can get on the reservations list we'd be interested."

Meese described the Reagan administration as one that will be dominated by management experts. One of Reagan's most popular and often repeated campaign pledges was to get the government off the peoples' backs.

Management experience, Meese said, is a more important attribute them expertise in a certain field for the top Reagan officials, although the transition team will look for people who have both.

Reagan wants to streamline the Cabinet by the creation of a new group, possibly an executive committee of the Cabinet that would function as a "Cabinet within the Cabinet," Meese said.

He indicated that Reagan would seek to take Cabinet status away from some present members who do not head departments, such as the ambassador to the United Nations.

"I have no illusions about how hard it is," Meese said when asked about the job of making significant changes in the federal structure. "But I really think we have a shot at it."

Past Cabinets often have been an assortment of defeated presidential candidates, politically ambitious people looking to advance their own interests and other eminent politicians, he said. He promised the Reagan model would be different.

"You will find that in the White House and the Cabinet the governor has some real ideas how to change operations," he said.

The specifics of these changes and of Reagan administration policy are still being worked out by the transition planning groups, he added.

Meese will fly to Washington Wednesday for the opening of the transition office for his first face-to-face meeting with Carter aide Jack Watson, who has been named by the president to coordinate with the Reagan camp.

Meese and Watson have conferred by telephone, and Meese said he is impressed by the cooperation he is receiving from the Carter administration.

Meese said that few meetings will be held at Reagan's ranch because it is too dificult to reach. Reagan will be kept advised of developments while he is at the ranch, but it will be on his trips to Washington that he will participate directly in the transition meetings.

Meese was vague when asked what action can be expected in the first week of Reagan's administration.

In early January, he said, a calendar of priorities will be drawn up "so that we can be prepared to do certain things in an orderly fashion."

If the hostages have not been released by Jan. 20, inauguration day, they will be a top priority, he said, and inflation will be the other highest priority effort.

Reagan will impose a federal hiring freeze, as he promised during the campaign, and he also will consider executive orders to suspend certain as-yet-unidentified regulations that hinder productivity and the development of the economy, Meese said.

The Reagan White House also will propose tax-cut legislation in its first days unless the Congress acts during the lame-duck session that begins next week.

On Jan. 20, or shortly thereafter, Reagan also will announce creation of citizen tax forces to study aspects of the federal government, seeking ways to increase efficiency and cut costs, Meese said.

For the time being, the transition's first priority is finding the people to fill the roughly 350 top federal jobs. Aides will draw up lists of three to five candidates for each of these jobs and submit them to Reagan, Meese said. The transition planners also are working to find people to fill the roughly 1,000 jobs in the second echelon of government.

Meese reiterated that an important criteria for Cabinet and other top appointees is that they be committed to Reagan's philosophy on major issues. He added, however, that this commitment need not be a long-standing one. Recent converts will be acceptable, he said.