By Michael Garfield
I’m not really a bed & breakfast-type guy. I don’t usually stay in small, quaint hotels during my travels as I prefer the amenity-filled, affinity point-driven hotel chains. I know what to expect and I usually get it.
So during a recent swing through southern California I opted to check out (actually check in to) a few of these “boutique” hotels to see if I was missing out on something other than all those frequent stayer points.
My conclusion – I should have kept an open mind a long time ago.
I spent weeks searching for places to stay in or around Los Angeles. I saw inland motels starting at $99 per night and stopped looking when I found beach hotels and Beverly Hills locations. My nightly budget does not allow for four figures. Maybe I should not have chosen to visit during the busiest time of the year for local stays – summer.
Upon readjusting my standard “how many Bonvoy points can I get for staying here” thoughts, I decided to look for places that didn’t first pop up in OTAs. And I found the Four Sisters Inns website.
Cool photos. Easy process to check rates. But I was lured in by the company description of its collection of “boutique inn and hotels located in the best areas of California.” Time to check in.
INN AT PLAYA DEL REY
Not far from LAX sits Playa del Rey, “the last small beach town in Los Angeles” according to the city’s website. Overlooking the protected Ballona Wetlands is the Inn at Playa del Rey, an inviting two-story, Victorian-style building.
The hotel is within easy walking distance of beaches, shopping and restaurants. My normal routine after checking into a hotel is to bounce around the neighborhood to see the sights. But once entering my marina view guestroom I did something out of my norm. I sat on the balcony in the cool LA breeze just gazing out.
The room was well-appointed with a king bed, couch, chairs and a desk. Though some features were a bit dated such as the bathtub and telephone wall jacks, I found everything to be clean, roomy and comfy.
But I quickly realized the reason that many travelers opt to stay in cozy hotels like this. The friendliness and warmth of the staff. It was like visiting a family member’s home where you have free range of most everything like the living room and kitchen.
Heather Suskin is the Manager at the Inn at Playa del Rey – employed here for almost 20 years – and enjoys seeing regular guests. Her guided tour offered the history of the inn and showcased the beautiful features like the large gathering room complete with couches, books and board games.
I arrived just in time for evening happy hour – a nice selection of hors d’oeuvres and wine. Heather told me not to fill up too much as breakfast the next morning would have fresh-baked pastries, omelets, and fruit.
Never again will I opt for pre-made pancakes and day-old bread at those other chain places.
Some may take benefits like complimentary WiFi and parking for granted. But parking in the LA area is like searching for gold and then paying the going rate. These included features at the Inn at Playa del Rey made my stay even more enjoyable.
Rates here (according to the card) start at $225-300 for a Cozy Queen Guestroom and increase to a Family Suite from $385-475 up to a Two Bedroom Suite at $545-650.
Accounting for the delightful community, the complimentary amenities (did I mention the freshly-baked cookies, too?), and the comforting, inviting feeling of the staff, the Inn at Playa del Rey will indeed change my travel habits.
Inn at Playa Del Rey
435 Culver Blvd, Playa del Rey, CA 90293
BLUE LANTERN INN
As if I wasn’t already convinced that Inn Life (I need to trademark that) was for me, I ventured south to Orange County to relax in cooler weather near the sandy beaches and tall cliffs.
I checked into another Four Sisters property, the Blue Lantern Inn, and realized the concept the company strives for. Though all related by brand, each of the properties offers a different feel and look yet retains the warm friendliness of the staff and comfort you expect at home.
Featured on Conde Nast Traveler’s Gold List and ranked as a “Top U.S. Seaside Inn” by Travel and Leisure Magazine, Blue Lantern Inn is an incredibly memorable venue. Situated on Street of the Blue Lantern in Dana Point, this 29-room inn is breathtaking from every angle outside.
That includes looking straight up from the harbor 165-foot drop-off below. The Blue Lantern Inn is gloriously perched at the top of a bluff with, inarguably, the most scenic point of this most scenic city.
Painted in a light shade of blue that mimics the early morning sky, the inn welcomes visitors with a long patio dotted with tables and chairs. Morning breakfast and late afternoon wine-and-cheese is offered to guests who fill these tables with a breathtaking view of the Dana Point harbor and wharf below.
Lin McMahon has been the General Manager of the Blue Lantern Inn for 25 years and told me the venue is much more than an overnight stay destination. “Our guests have been coming here for years and usually plan their stays for special occasions like weddings and anniversaries. The intimate and relaxing setting we offer brings people from across the world through our doors,” she said.
Those front doors were opened during my stay. Probably to show how inviting the inn could be but also for the SoCal winds to remind you that this is as close to perfect as a hotel can be.
The lobby is large yet feels like a comfortable cabin complete with hardwood floors, a large fireplace surrounded by couches, and more tables to enjoy the buffet-style style offerings in the morning and afternoon.
Beyond the lobby is a large library with another fireplace and more couches. This area can be used for private events or a quiet time reading books about the history of Dana Point (whale watching!) and playing parlor games I had as a kid.
Each room has a queen, king or two beds, fireplace, flat-screen TV, and a large bathroom with a jetted spa. My first-floor room had an ocean view with a walkout patio that wrapped around the hotel for non-stop spectacular views.
Like its sister property I stayed in at Playa del Rey, the Blue Lantern Inn offers complimentary breakfast, afternoon wine and snacks, freshly-baked cookies, on-site parking, WiFi and bicycles to borrow.
Rooms are listed at $200-600 per night with group rates (upon availability) Sunday to Thursday.
I’d like to think I have another good 40 years of traveling in me. As much as I’d like to accumulate more frequent stayer points at those large, worldwide hotel chains, I will undoubtedly be spending a lot of my upcoming years at smaller, boutique venues like the Four Sisters Inns.
After all, there’s no place like home.
Blue Lantern Inn
34343 Street of the Blue Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629
Listen to my conversation with Lin McMahon, General Manager of Blue Lantern Inn (as heard on iHeartRadio):