A house with a pool in front of a building

The Best Inexpensive Overnight Deal in The OC


I have traveled a lot in the past 22 years. My American Airlines account shows more than 1.3 million miles on that carrier alone. You can only imagine how many hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns I’ve stayed in. While most have been adequate, a few were downright scary. And I can count on one hand those I would rate with 5-stars.

A house with a pool in front of a building

When it comes to overnight accommodations, I don’t care that much about how pretty the lobby might be; if the place has bell service, bottles of French water or movies on demand. What I need in a hotel is impeccable cleanliness,

a comfortable bed, a hot shower, soft towels and a TV with at least a few channels.

Where I live in Orange County, Calif., hotels, motels and inns are pricey. I’m sure that has a lot to do with the popularity of Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Aquarium of the Pacific, Hollywood, Universal Studios and on it goes. Tourism is a big deal here.

By way of example, at Disney Resorts hotels, rooms start at $360 a night plus $15 per night for parking. Add in all the applicable taxes and that nightly rate on a basic room can jump to $450 in a heartbeat.

Recently we had some work done at our home, which required us to be away from it for two nights. We are not talking vacation here, just a need for a place to sleep for two nights. I booked a room at a hotel close by and nearly passed out when I saw the tab: $388 for two nights. Sure, that included parking and breakfast, but come on. We’d be there 20 hours tops, 16 of them sleeping. All we needed was a place to unwind, shower and sleep.

When I couldn’t get that $388 number out of my mind, I decided to check around.

Over the past 30 years I’ve driven past Don’s Turf Motel no fewer than a thousand times, I’m sure. And every time it makes me laugh. A throwback to the 1950s, I can just see Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel pulling into this place on their way to Hollywood.

This is a vintage motel where every room has an outside entrance and the lobby is a counter marked “Office.” Behind the counter is a wall of pigeon holes with big plastic fobs and real keys on them—one for each of the 42 rooms.

I read some of the most intriguing reviews online for Don’s Turf Motel (located near the Los Alamitos Race Track, thus the turf designation). The reviews were so positive I decided to cancel the $388 reservation and booked us for two nights at Don’s instead, based on the reviews alone. The rate? $60 per night with a $7 up charge for a King-size bed.

Driving onto the property, I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I came this close to regretting my decision. It looked a little dumpy. We stopped at the Office to check in. Things began to look up as we were greeted by the nicest people who handed us our key and sanitized TV remote. We parked and walked into the complex. Immediately I was taken by the sparkling pool and manicured grounds. Nothing fancy mind you, but extremely well-cared for and inviting.

We found our room and chuckled as we walked in. We’re talking no-frills here. None. Not a picture on the wall, no Internet service. The room consisted of an excellent quality bed, a small table, two chairs, a desk, microwave oven, refrigerator and telephone. Each one of these items was freshly cleaned and shined. The analog TV offered a basic channel line up.

Of course my first concern was cleanliness. It didn’t take but a few minutes to realize that what this roomed lacked in fancy upgrades, it more than made up for in cleanliness. Every painted surface appeared to have been freshly painted, the sheets were ironed, the bedspread freshly laundered. The commercial-grade carpet was so clean it appeared to be new.

The towels and bath mat were fluffy and pristine. The tub shower was certainly not new, but there was not a scratch, not a crack, not a hint of mildew, not a stain, not a molecule of scum or residue. The chrome shone like a new penny.

The shower curtain was squeaky clean, bright and white. The toilet had a paper band across it announcing that it had been 100% sanitized. The counter held a plastic tub and cups for ice (ice machine is by the pool).

We found two tiny bars of soap, one extra roll of toilet tissue and that’s it. No hair dryer, no shampoo, conditioner or body lotion; no mouthwash, shoe shine mitt, shower cap or sewing kit.

Don’s Turf Motel has no room service, no food options and no binders of information sitting in the room. You will not find valet parking or bell staff; no concierge or shuttle bus. Don’t expect frequent flyer points or breakfast. You won’t find bottles of water in the room with $10 price tags and no mini bar with $15 cashews. You won’t get an electronic key or a TV with games and movies on demand.

Absolutely no pets, partying or smoking is allowed at  Don’s Turf Motel. And if you want to eat a meal, you’re on your own. But don’t worry. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance including Costco, home of the $1.50 all-beef hot dog with large drink combo (no membership required for the walk up food court).

What you will get at this unique vintage motel is a great night of sleep, one of the cleanest rooms I have ever seen in all the years I’ve traveled, a very nice staff and the services of professional housekeepers. I want to take lessons from the people who care for these rooms. They deserve awards and accolades.

And now for bonus round: Centrally located and freeway close on Katella Avenue in Los Alamitos, Don’t Turf Motel is 6 miles from Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, 9 miles from Disneyland in Anaheim and 10 miles from Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Don’s Turf Motel gets 5 stars from your humble columnist and the Everyday Cheapskate seal of approval for best inexpensive accommodations in a very expensive tourist area. Now that the word’s out, I suggest you book early if you see a trip to California in your future and this is the kind of overnight accommodation that appeals to you and your wallet.

If you’re embarrassed to let your friends and family know you will not be staying at one of the ultra-expensive destination hotels, don’t sweat it. Just tell them you’ll be playing by day and staying at Uncle Don’s by night.

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  1. Tammy Moser says:

    That’s great that you changed your reservation for a luxury hotel in exchange for a very comfortable place to stay. I like that we have reviews to read to help us make informed decisions and obviously you don’t stay in hotels or motels where you live so you too got that benefit. Great article! Thank-you for your posts. I’ve read your posts for the last four years or maybe more and don’t ever hit the delete button without reading them!

  2. Kathryn Steere Butterly says:

    Miami has a number of these older motels. If you want to go there, but don’t want to pay South Beach prices, check out Motel Bianco and the New Yorker, both on Biscayne Blvd. Both are really basic, but safe and clean.

  3. ABC says:

    I second the AMERICAN-owned comment!

    There is a small, inexpensive, family-owned motel in Mt. Ida, Arkansas, just a few miles from Hot Springs, called the Royal Oak Inn, that has good reviews on Trip Advisor. I’ve never stayed there myself, but next time I go to Hot Springs, I’m giving it a try.

    Here is the link to the review on Trip Advisor:


    • Harlean from Arkansas says:

      We hunt these places out when we travel. Always cleaner and cheaper than the franchise motels. When we visited Yellowstone a few years ago, we found a motel owned by a local couple. I only wish I could remember the name. We stayed there in mid summer, and we received a Christmas card from them that Christmas.

  4. SewBlessed says:

    First thing I look for is, is it AMERICAN owned? Want to support our American people. Would love to see a web site with these American Mom & Pop owners listed and this ratings we give them.

  5. Chad says:

    I am cracking up reading this article just after my wife & I talked about this. Does anyone notice check-in and check-out times at hotels these days? Most places allow you to check-in at 3 or 4pm…and checkout is at 10am. If you are only staying for a night or two, this doesn’t give much time in the room other than sleeping!! Can’t they layer the check-in and check-out times to match a rotating cleaning schedule?


  6. Kathy says:

    We always look for places like this when we travel. We’ve found quite a few on Trip Adviser and have suggested a couple on that site as well.

  7. Vicki says:

    There is a motel like this in Brevard NC also! It’s the only motel that my kids still talk about (or remember) I wish there was a website dedicated to these older type motels that would include reviews. Please suggest that people go to trip advisor and let others know about these great deals. I love driving right up to my door. Unloading is easier and I feel safer. Let’s give them some business so they don’t go the way of the drive in movie.

  8. Linda says:

    Great review! Wouldn’t it be great to compile a list of motels across America with the same high standards and inexpensive price? I do not have any names (we’ve paid too much ourselves), however, I would love to hear from others who may know of these motels/hotels across our America!

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