Last year I had a 2004 Gary Fisher Marlin. It was pretty much new, having sat in a garage since it was purchased. I'd only been riding it for about a year. It seemed like a quality bike for an inexperienced rider like myself. Keeping a long story short I no longer have that bike and am looking for reasonably priced replacement of comparable quality. Does anyone have any recommendations? I'm willing to spend about $300. Also, would anyone be able to tell me how a 2013 Motobecane 300HT bike compares to my 2004 Marlin?
Junk fork. Any $300 BD bike will have one. Any sub-$800 bike at a bike shop will have a junk fork too.
For $300, I guess it's fine, but I'd consider upping your budget *and* buying used. You'll get a much better, more trailworthy bike. I assume you intend to ride some of California's awesome singletrack. If you are going to be on a bike path or the road, then the fork doesn't matter.