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READERS RECOMMEND: HOTELS : R & R UNDER $100 : Tired of hearing about high-priced hotels? We asked our readers to reveal their favorite California lodgings with rooms less than $100. Here are the 71 top vote-getters.


What does $100 buy anymore? Forty-seven Big Macs. Three or four months of cellular phone service. Admission to 13 first-run movies, if you can find 13 first-run movies you want to see.

Or you can spend that hundred the way we would--on an adventure, and a night out of town at a reasonably priced hotel. And thanks to feedback from this section's readers, you hold in your hands an extensive list of the best under-$100 hotels in California.

In the weeks since we asked for nominations (and offered a $100 prize) on Dec. 17, suggestions have arrived by fax and mail, from Irvine and Encino and Seattle and Santa Barbara and Honolulu and Pennsylvania. Two correspondents recommended hotels to which they'd fled during the riots of 1992. Another submitted her nomination in the name of her late father, who loved contests. And R. Stapleton of Lucerne Valley wrote to tell us that "I know two places, one in Monterey, one in Palm Springs. But I'm not going to tell you. That is selfish, I know, but I don't want to spoil them with overpopulation.

Sorry, really."

Once we'd weeded out the illegible and the inadmissible, we had 890 ballots naming hundreds of favorite hotels, motels, inns, lodges, spas and B&Bs, all of which rent rooms, at least occasionally, for under $100.

Inside this issue, you'll find the best of them--71 lodgings statewide.

Each hotel on our list drew votes from at least three readers, but the most popular of all was the Apple Farm Inn, a shrewdly located, billboard-advertised, well-groomed San Luis Obispo institution that lies alongside U.S. 101, 201 miles northwest of Los Angeles and 240 miles southeast of San Francisco. It drew 26 nominations.

Owners Bob and Katy Davis took over a restaurant on the site in 1977, renamed it Apple Farm, then added a hotel in 1988. A few years later, the Davises added a neighboring property, the former Franciscan Motel, and dubbed it the Trellis Court. Guests can now choose either the countrified 69-room inn, where free spiced apple cider is on tap all day in the lobby, or the less costly 34-room Trellis Court, which is more spartan but nevertheless features a gas fireplace in each room. Inn rates begin at $95; Trellis Court rates begin at $80.

"Loving, personal atmosphere," wrote readers Jerry and Ruth Humphries of Simi Valley, in a typical endorsement for the hotel. Another Simi Valley resident, Jennifer Zimmer, took particular note of the canopy beds and fresh flowers at the Apple Farm Trellis Court, and labeled the place "charming, romantic and relaxing."

The second-place vote-getter lies south, in the heart of suburban Southern California: the Country Side Inn & Suites Newport Beach (which actually stands in the city of Costa Mesa), one of eight properties in the Southern California chain of Country Side Inns.

Most of the Costa Mesa Country Side Inn's weekday customers are business travelers. But the 10-year-old, 278-room hotel caters to vacationing couples on weekends, and like the Apple Farm, aims for coziness: Free fresh-baked cookies are offered daily; rooms feature four-poster beds; walkways are done in cobblestones, and furnishings are calculated to yield an unstuffy European country atmosphere.

On nights of lowest occupancy, the Country Side Inn's rates begin at $69. It got 24 votes (and one from an employee, which we threw out). Among its supporters were Peter and Patricia Meursinge of Downey, who first enountered the hotel as the site of his 50th high-school class reunion, then returned on their own in December.

(Footnote for the suspicious: Our poll did not forbid hotels from encouraging reader nominations, but both top vote-getters said they did no campaigning. Managers at the Apple Farm said they had been unaware of the contest.)

Next in popularity came a threesome, each with strong coastal credentials: the Dana Point Hilton in Orange County; the Montecito Inn along high-toned Coast Village Road; and the Cliff House between Ventura and Santa Barbara.

Other favorites fell into all sorts of categories. There were historic buildings such as Riverside's Mission Inn (lavish stonework), San Francisco's Queen Anne Hotel (lavish woodwork) and Ventura's Bella Maggiore Inn (stonework again, this time near the antique shops of Ventura's Main Street). There were urban hotels in handy places, including 13 San Francisco lodgings, most of them within a few blocks of the city's Union Square shopping area.

And there were many hotels with scenic sites, most obviously the Wawona Hotel and Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite National Park, but also a remarkable five neighbors along coastal Cambria's hotel row: the Blue Dolphin Inn, the Fogcatcher Inn, the San Pebbles Inn, the San Simeon Pines Resort Motel and the Sea Otter Inn, all on Moonstone Beach Drive.

(For a look at readers' reasons, see the Travel Insider column on page L2.)

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