Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn, Buellton
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Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn, Buellton

COST: $71 per night.

STAY: One night, September 2012. Buellton is in the middle Santa Barbara County’s wine country, but Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn is a roadside throwback to the days of station-wagon vacations when gas was 29 cents a gallon. Clean rooms, heated pool, putting green. It worked perfectly for me. Here’s my story on the wine country.

VERDICT: Good deal.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Old Tom Hotel, Ypres, Belgium

COST: $82 (60 euros at $1.36 per euro)

STAY: One night, May 2014. The Belgian city of Ypres is a reconstructed gem, with roots in the 13th century and well-groomed World War I battlefields and graveyards all around. But the Old Tom Hotel is as its name suggests - basic. Nine rooms above a restaurant that’s been a fixture on the town’s main square since the 1970s. To reach the rooms, you climb a close-quarters, banged-up set of stairs. The furniture is just above thrift-store level. But the location was in the middle of everything and my hosts were pleasant. Rates for 2015: $71 for a single, $81 for a double, breakfast included. Here’s my story on Ypres and environs.

VERDICT: Adequate.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Moore Hotel, Seattle

COST: $118 per night.

STAY: Four nights, August 2014. The price seduced me. This was a somewhat updated 1907 hotel on a semi-dodgy block of 2nd Avenue in downtown Seattle. But it was really close to Pike Place Market, where I would be spending four days reporting. So I took a chance on the Moore Hotel -- and spent four days shouldering past the desperate (and sometimes menacing) souls who hung out on the hotel block. Inside the hotel (which includes a hip coffee shop), all was fine. Not great, but fine. (The Moore’s rates remain low: $112-$127 for a room for two with private bath, or $86-$100 to share a bathroom down the hall.) But the next time I want to sleep near Pike Place, I may first check out the Palladian (a boutique hotel from the Kimpton chain that opened in early 2015); or the upscale Inn at the Market, which is pricey but pleasant and has a prime spot at the market’s edge. Here’s how the Pike Place Market story turned out.

VERDICT: Next time I’ll say no.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Ranch at Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

COST: $119 per night.

STAY: Three nights, December 2014. If you’re an overnight visitor to Death Valley National Park, all roads seem to lead to Furnace Creek. It’s where most of the park’s services are, and the 224-room Ranch at Furnace Creek is a pretty good family-hotel alternative to the pricey Inn at Furnace Creek. It met all my needs. But the hotel tacks a “resort fee” ($13.44) onto its nightly rates. That’s a common (and bothersome) price-boosting tactic among resorts in Arizona and the Coachella Valley that are unwilling to be forthright about their true rates. But I didn’t expect to find it in a national park. (On the brighter side, here’s what else I found in Death Valley.)

VERDICT: The price is fair. But I hate resort fees.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Historic Requa Inn, Klamath, Calif.

COST: $159.

STAY: One night, April 2014. I was writing about redwood country, and the 13-room Requa Inn, built in 1914 along the Klamath River, is an out-of-the-way haven surrounded by Redwood National and State parks. About a mile west of the inn at the end of Requa Road is one of my favorite coastal views in all of California - the Klamath draining into the Pacific next to a wild beach still used by Yurok fishermen. The inn is a rough-hewn spot -- no TVs, no phones, thin walls (with sawdust insulation), not another restaurant for miles. The owners have Yurok roots, so if you eat one of the inn’s communal-dining prix-fixe dinners ($45 when I visited; $30 now) you get a deep-rooted local perspective. The Wortman family members (owners since 2010) have something special here and they’ve priced it accordingly. Here’s a story on the area with lots of cool tree pictures.

VERDICT: Rare spot, fair deal.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Hanalei Bay Resort, Kauai, Hawaii

COST: Two nights at $179, two nights at $206.

STAY: four nights, February-March 2014. We were doing a story on Hanalei Bay, on Kauai’s north shore, and I was worried. There are very few lodging options, and I was afraid I’d have to pay a fortune for rooms. Instead, I found this vacation condo complex, the Hanalei Bay Resort, which, its reservationist warned, was in the middle of renovations. That meant I couldn’t walk to breakfast, but it gave me a shot at a great bargain - a one-bedroom condo with a living-rooom sofa-bed, full kitchen and balcony overlooking lush gardens. The unit was so big that while I slept in the bedroom, Times photographer Mark Boster took the sofa-bed in the living room. (Double savings!) The grounds also included a big pool, many tennis courts and a path to the beach. Here’s how the Hanalei story worked out.

VERDICT: Big win. I’d call it the best value of the 12 lodgings in this photo gallery.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
The Hoxton, Shoreditch, London

COST: $243 (149 pounds at $1.63 per pound).

STAY: Four nights, February 2011. Sleeping in London is expensive. And four years ago, the city’s East End neighborhoods were blooming with trendy restaurants and shops as construction crew readied 2012 Summer Olympics venues nearby. The Hoxton in Shoreditch was at the heart of the trendiness, having launched in 2006 with a vow to speak plainly and abolish the things that hotel guests hate, like wi-fi fees. So when time came for a story on Olympic preparations, to the hipster-heavy Hoxton I went. I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the hotel’s industrial chic décor - why paint hallways dark why the sky is likely to be dark and gray, too? But the place was witty, the price was right and the neighborhood was full of energy. It was a good call. Nowadays, that hotel’s rates are still in the same range, and the company is growing into new hipster neighborhoods. A new Hoxton is due to open this year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My London story, meanwhile, is here.

VERDICT: Good deal.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Campbell’s Resort, Chelan, Wash.

COST: $280.

STAY: The price seems high for a place you’ve never heard of, right? But Seattlites know Lake Chelan, a three-hour drive to the east, as a honey of a spot for a family in summertime. I harbored many doubts until we got there and saw the lake view spread beneath our window and balcony. Once we’d hit that warm lake water, we were just fine. Campbell’s, which goes back more than 100 years on the shores of the lake, has 170 rooms. All face the lake. For most of the nights I checked, its rates for summer 2015 begin at $250-$300. Here’s more on the lake.

VERDICT: Fair deal.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon National Park

COST: $321 per night.

STAY: One night, March 2015. I tend to love grand old hotels, especially if they’re if national parks, like Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone and the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. But I didn’t love El Tovar. Yes, it’s been perched on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon since 1905 and it retains much historic charm. Lots of rustic wood and stone. Stairs instead of elevators. But the place has seen all manner of renovations, one of which left behind a whole lot of cottage cheese ceilings. I was surprised to find another renovation was in progress when I arrived - the top of the hotel was swarming with roofers, the grounds had been scraped bare for a re-landscaping, and half of the hotel’s log-cabin-style lobby was hidden behind black tarp. Given that, $321 for a night seemed wrong. But grant El Tovar credit for this: At checkout, when I told a reservationist that the renovation was a bad surprise, he immediately cut $100 off my bill. I still don’t love the hotel - but I admire management for empowering the desk staff to right wrongs on the spot.

VERDICT: Before the $100 discount, a bad deal. After: adequate.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Holiday Inn Brussels Airport, Belgium

COST: $379 (279 euros at 1.36 dollars per euro)

STAY: One night, May 2014. I still can’t believe I spend $379 to sleep at a Holiday Inn. Why? Because I needed to be in Belgium at that time in order to write a story about the 100th anniversary of World War I beginning. (Here’s the war story.) Unfortunately for me, the European Parliament was in session during my visit, and when Brussels is full of European public servants on expense account, nobody’s wallet is safe. Before submitting to the Holiday Inn (which very nearly vibrated, it was so full of bold colors and mid-century design flourishes), I tried at least seven lodgings in Brussels - all were booked up. I should have made my bookings sooner.

VERDICT: They took me to the cleaners.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
El Encanto, Santa Barbara

COST: $575 per night.

STAY: One night, April 2013. El Encanto is a beloved institution in Santa Barbara. Going back generations, families remember pleasant meals on the hillside patio, or the wishing well, or its dozens of cottages. Then the global luxury chain Orient-Express (now rebranded as Belmond) came in, spent about $130 million updating it - and reopened to mixed reviews. Including mine. I stayed there (with my wife and daughter) in its first few weeks of reopening. There were nice luxury touches in our 375-square-foot room (an enormous bathroom; pillow covers switched out to display the first letter of the guest’s last name), but the restaurant took more than an hour to get us our food, and our waiter needed some reminding. (This is an occupational risk that comes with visiting soon after an opening.) For us, the hotel fell well short of a $575 experience. Since then, the hotel has gone on to win a five-star rating from Forbes, along with solid Trip Advisor ratings. And its official rates still start at $575 (before taxes). But it has added a $35 nightly resort fee that’s not immediately visible - it’s tucked away under the heading “estimated taxes and fees” on the hotel website.

VERDICT: Poor value.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
Brooks Lodge, Katmai National Park

COST: $631 per night.

STAY: Two nights, July 2014. How do you put a price on the experience of watching grizzly bears fish and frolic, at alarmingly close range, in an Alaskan wilderness area only accessible by air and sea? That’s what you get in July at the Brooks Lodge, and the place usually sells out well in advance. The price you see was for a bunk in a rustic two-man cabin, meals extra. That should make anybody stop and think. But, despite the photo-op nature of the experience, the landscape and animals were jaw-dropping. Yes, we have pictures-- dozens of them. This was the most memorable work trip I’ve made in the last five years. So yes, in the end, the price was right. And that figure did include round-trip float-plane flights between Anchorage and the lodge. (For the summer of 2015, the price has edged up to $1,419 per person, double occupancy, for a two-night package.)

VERDICT: The stakes were high, but the thrills were worth it.

 (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
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