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.


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


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):


VIDEO: Outdoor Tech Products

Good morning from the set of “Great Day Houston” (CBS) where it’s time for another show-and-tell segment.   Today I brought along some products to make life and the outdoor experience a bit easier.  Watch my segment HERE where I talked about these cool products:

Rok-It portable chair
Pelican coolers
Eco-Popper HD Webcam WiFi fishing lure
Hive View smart home camera
B-Hyve smart faucet hose

Comments Off on VIDEO: Outdoor Tech Products

Can Cruising Be The Best Way To Travel?

This space saved for a 1,000 word column and review on the cruising.  Stay tuned for everything you need to know about a Carnival cruise.  Hopefully soon.  – MG

Comments Off on Can Cruising Be The Best Way To Travel?

VIDEO: 50th Anny Moon Landing Tech

I was a mere pup when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  The only thing I remember from those days was my astronaut-themed lunch box adorning the metal container and Thermos, though I can’t recall if my mom put Tang in there.  I loved that lunch box.  And we all still love and enjoy the technology that NASA developed for those space missions because many of them still exist today.

Here is my recent appearance on Great Day Houston (CBS) where I discussed some of these technologies and products including baby formula, GPS, the Dustbuster and memory foam.  The computing power on those space capsules had less power than our smartphones have today.  But make sure to have battery chargers to keep your phone and all your devices powered up.

A special thanks to myCharge for supplying HubPlus Universal portable chargers to the TV show audience.  These 6700mAH chargers have built-in Lightning and USB-C cords and they recharge via built-in wall prongs.  There is a special 20% discount on the HubPlus Universal for Amazon Prime Day – if you buy through the myCharge seller Amazon page, you can get $5 off each charger and  double up with this 20% off promo code (20OFFPOWER).

Watch the fun HERE.

Comments Off on VIDEO: 50th Anny Moon Landing Tech

VIDEO: Products to monitor your home and your time

With the recent news from Amazon that it allows constant monitoring and “listening” from its Echo devices to help with home security, I discussed this new feature on “Great Day Houston” (KHOU-CBS).  Other products that also help with home monitoring include:

Kangaroo motion sensor
SimpleSense WiFi leak Detector
ROAV Dashcam
NOWA Watch

Watch  the segment here:




Comments Off on VIDEO: Products to monitor your home and your time

Sea, Sand, and Golf – Puerta Cortes Offers It All In The Baja Peninsula

La Paz, Mexico – It’s a game I play when I play a round of golf at a new course. I call it, “Guess The Signature Hole.” Golf courses generally have one hole that is the most picturesque – or toughest to play – that players remember it by. And I like guessing which one it is.

As I made the turn at El Cortes Golf Club, the first Gary Player designed golf club in all of Mexico, I was debating on this course’s signature hole. Was it #7 with the spectacular 65-foot drop from the landing area to the green as you look out towards the Sea of Cortez (I birdied it, for the record)? Or perhaps the 167-yard, par 3 eighth hole requiring a moon drop landing over a lunar-sized pond (birdie again!)?

Those lush green layouts were breathtaking but I deemed Mr. Player’s evil-minded 14th tract as the spot that golfers will most remember here. For better or worse.

The South African hall-of-famer must laugh at duffers as they stand on the tee box looking out on this beautiful, nerve-racking view he presents. Scary is the best term I can use to describe before taking my driver out of the bag. It’s not the daunting 615 yards to the green – one of the longest holes in Mexico at sea level. But rather the 165-foot drop to the fairway below. Acrophobia be damned.

This hole plays top-to-bottom. Then right-to-left. But very much top-to-bottom starting from an elevated cliff. I would suggest having a spotter or two follow the ball flight to ensure the landing spot in the canyon below. Should it rest in or near the fairway consider this a hole a win.

The weather was magnificent this May morning with a slight breeze coming in from the marina, just beyond Puerta Cortes. Residents and guests of this resort destination have access to the par-72, 7,082-yard golf course via a short golf cart drive. Though not a large clubhouse, the view offers a panoramic shot of the deep blue water dotted with small islands in the distance.

Clubhouse personnel told me that only about two dozen golfers come through each day. That was probably the reason I enjoyed a brisk round in less than 3 hours. My kind of golf.

I can’t remember enjoying myself more on a course. The weather, the scenery and the solitude made for a perfect morning. My score could have been a bit lower but I can always blame the set of rental clubs I used due to my laziness of not schlepping my own sticks to Mexico.

But my Saturday was only just beginning. Lunch with my girlfriend was waiting at Blue Cortes, the signature beach club at Puerta Cortes. She had staked out a table on the white, sandy shore with two frothy, handmade margaritas glistening in the sun. She had spent her morning on a massage table in a nearby palapa with nothing on her mind other than the soothing sounds of the wind and water.

Between both our morning activities we did not need the margaritas to already be relaxed.
The next few hours found us in-and-out of the infinity pool, jacuzzi and the warm, Mexico sun. A fully-stocked bar was never more than a few yards away yet we found the poolside waitstaff was even a more convenient process of getting drinks throughout the day.

Our weekend stay was a fun escape albeit a quick one. The VistaMar condominiums offered a perfect and easy place to post up for a few days or even a few weeks. 60 oceanfront units are positioned to capture the views of the Sea of Cortez. These residences offer eight floorplan designs ranging from two bedrooms with two-and-a-half baths, up to three bedrooms plus studio, three-and-a-half baths, and two-floor penthouses. All of the units have large, marble-tiled terraces.

Most of these units are second or third residences owned by people around the world who come to La Paz to relax like we were doing. When these owners aren’t lounging here at the beach club or marina, many put their spaces in the vacation rental program. Square footage begins at 2,600 square feet ranging up to more than 5,000 square feet. Prices start at $500,000 up to $1,400,000.

For those who prefer scenery with a little less water, the Las Colinas Hillside comprises 72 contemporary, rustic architecture residences located in the middle of the golf course. Four styles are available ranging from two-bedroom plus den, two-bath floor plans, to three-bedroom plus den with whirlpool, three-bath arrangements.

Homeowners can choose to place their property in the vacation rental programs. Unit sizes begin at 2,000 square feet up to more than 3,300 square feet and prices start at $400,000 ranging to $750,000.

Though we could have stayed at Puerta Cortes the entire weekend with all the fun, food and entertainment to be had, I always enjoy exploring cities. Downtown La Paz is a quick 5-minute drive south of the resort. We grabbed a bite alongside the Malecon, the beachside street offering views of the palm tree-lined beach dotted with shops and restaurants.

The evening ended back on the resort property walking along Pueblito Marinero. Considered one of the best in the Americas, this marina has a capacity for 250 vessels. The moonlit area offered a nice photo opp for the docked fishing boats and mega yachts waiting to launch in the early morning hours.

I can imagine having a place here and opting for a boat instead of a car. After all, that deep blue water is inviting and you’ll never know what you will see in the Sea of Cortez. We just missed whale watching season (December through April) but sea lions could be heard barking from hundreds of yards away.

A 2-hour excursion led by Captain Mike of Go Baja Sailing brought us to within a few feet of the loud creatures lounging on a small rock formation. We also set our cameras to quick-focus in hopes of spotting the elusive flying mantas that randomly pop up and seemingly hover a few feet over the water.

As we drove out of the 24-hour secured gates of the large property to head back home, we passed the tee box of that signature hole #14 of El Cortes Golf Club. I tried to think of the signature moment of my stay at Puerta Cortes but couldn’t think of just one.

That signature moment may just be when I log online to make my next reservation to this beautiful place on the Baja Peninsula.                                                                                                                     -MG

HEAR about my Puerta Cortes experience via my syndicated radio show:

Comments Off on Sea, Sand, and Golf – Puerta Cortes Offers It All In The Baja Peninsula

New Orleans Jazz Fest – Bringing Music, Food, and Heat

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrates its silver anniversary, once again taking over the New Orleans Fairgrounds spanning the usual two weekends.  My second visit to this iconic festival will find me hopping from stage to stage watching music legends like Santana and Bonnie Raitt to local favorites such as Trombone Shorty and Better Than Ezra.

Anyone who’s paid a visit to this mid-Spring gathering knows that the genre tents, the colorful people and the flavoral, caloric food are a part of the festival as much as the magic.  Make sure to tune into my show this Saturday, April 27, at 11am CT, live from the Shell hospitality center.

UDPATE:  Photos below and broadcast replay below.




Comments Off on New Orleans Jazz Fest – Bringing Music, Food, and Heat

Tech Show & Tell on “Great Day Houston”

Killing time in the “dull” months before the Mother’s day, graduation and Father’s Day gift suggestions start to roll in…

I stopped by “Great Day Houston” (KHOU – CBS) with a few goodies I had hanging around my office.  Host Deborah Duncan and I had a quick rag session on Samsung’s latest mobile OS update and its removal of our fave photo editing app (BRING IT BACK!!).  Then it was gear time:

The Lumicharge Smart Desk Lamp has a LED screen that displays time, date, and temp, and it features 2 USB ports for charging, as well as a built-in dock for any phone.

Benjilock by Hampton is a great padlock that can unlock/lock using your fingerprint.  It can store up to 10 fingerprints and the battery lasts from 6 months to a year.

The HP Tango Printer has a small footprint made for today’s wireless world.  You can print from anywhere from any device wirelessly, and you can also scan and copy via a mobile app and send straight to the printer.

The Gekkostick is a flexible and functional selfie-stick so you can take pictures and videos from any angle.  It also comes with a Bluetooth-remote, so you can take pictures away from the camera.

Tune into “Great Day Houston” on Wednesday, April 24, at 9am CT for my next appearance.  If you have a gadget that you think is interesting, let me know.





Comments Off on Tech Show & Tell on “Great Day Houston”

Nissan’s AWD Altima Handles Ice Like A Pro

Mont-Tremblant, Canada – If there is one thing I learned from my 28 hours here in the frozen north, it’s that -40 degrees Celsius is the same as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though our group did not see that number on the digital thermometers of our vehicles, we got very close.  But that was the point.  Driving, braking and learning to control a vehicle when on snow and ice.

Lots of ice.  So hello, Montreal.

Nissan invited a small group of auto journalists and enthusiasts from across the U.S. to test the latest technology on its all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of its 2019 Altima sedan and Murano CUV.  The winding, wintry roads here in early March proved to be the perfect proving ground for these tasks that seem simple in normal weather.

The Altima is the first AWD sedan that Nissan has sold in the U.S. market.  This affordable ride starts at $23,900 and has several configurations scaling up to the Platinum version at $31,930.

With gas mileage at 26/36/30 mpg, Nissan says it’s the most fuel efficient AWD in its class. 

We weren’t too concerned about fuel efficiency on this particular venture as we kept the speedometer in check most of the time due to the snow-packed roads around this beautiful mountain village.  But our destination, Circuit Mecaglisse, had more than white fluff waiting for us.

This famed, looped driving track has been groomed since November to pack 8-12 inches of solid ice on top of its paved curves and straightaways.  Nissan figured there was no better place to than bring unskilled winter drivers like us there and let us have our way for a few hours.

Alas, we did have professional drivers in our passenger seats giving us detailed instruction on when to brake, hit the gas and start a controlled turn. 

The Altima handled the icy track with very little sliding and taking off from a stop was not an issue.  There’s an initial 50-50 split front-rear power before the drive shifts to 70/30 when road conditions become slick.  When the ground is nicely thawed the car rolls along in front-wheel drive mode.

This sixth-generation Altima has a 2.5-litre engine and boasts 182 hp – a bit higher than the previous model. The AWD is pretty techy but Nissan’s ProPilot Assist continues to wow me.  This driving aid, found on several of the company’s other vehicles, offers semi-autonomous acceleration, braking and steering.

The heated seats and steering wheel were a bonus and the inside is quite spacious.  An 8” nav/entertainment screen in the center of the dashboard was easy to read.  The other displays and readouts were intuitive.

The look is sharp and sleek with LED lights all around and a floating roof.  I’d call it stylish especially for a sedan – a shrinking segment that many people think has had its time. 

I doubt I will personally need the driving skills nor the new technology in the AWD Altima on a daily basis as my home base of Texas keeps the winter weather in check.  But should I one day move to a cooler climate where I have to learn how to shovel my driveway, I could totally see an Altima backing out of garage.

Comments Off on Nissan’s AWD Altima Handles Ice Like A Pro

CES 2019 – 12 Minutes of Everything You Missed

My 15th year of covering CES brought a slew of things I never thought I would see.  Let’s start with 5G…because I didn’t see it!  Rumors swirled for weeks that many companies would be touting new 5G services and products that could utilize the highspeed bandwidth.  Bust.  I saw a few products that wanted to latch on to the 5G hype but nothing solid because there is no actual 5G yet.  I’ll save that story for CES 2020.

What I did see was plenty of companies touting partnerships with Google and Amazon, the leaders in voice assistants. Alexa was the only player here a few years ago but this week was tough to get away from a product that didn’t turn on after hearing “Hey Google.”  The search company which is much more than search built a monstrosity of a booth in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center that was part mansion, part “It’s A Small World” ride.

A Google rep told me they had to pour a slab of concrete – on top of the current parking lot concrete – to construct the temporary shrine to the five colors.  Visitors walked through “rooms” made to mimic a kitchen, living room and even a garage complete with Google-made and 3rd party-made products.  The other part of the building housed a roller coaster-like ride that moved through scenarios of a typical day in a home.  Voice activated curtains opened in the morning continuing to mom asking the Google Assistant how to make a birthday cake.  The queue had a waiting line of sometimes up to 45 minutes; not really worth it save for the Google Home Hub that was given out to all riders at the end (so yeah, I guess it was worth it).

TVs continue to be a big thing and 8K was the winning number-letter combination at CES (sorry again 5K).  LG showed a 65″ TV that rolls up-and-down at the push of a button.  Samsung, TCL, and other manufacturers had so many monitors I was afraid of getting sunburned as I walked by.  8K screens (twice the resolution of 4K) looked great even side-by-side of 4K monitors.  But wake me up when networks and providers start delivering even 4K content on a prevalent basis.  My guess is my grandkids may one day enjoy 8K TVs with content to fill the screen.  Note: my kids are relatively young.

CES has seemingly become the de facto national car show as most every major OEM – from Audi to Mercedes to Hyundai – had massive booths and displays to tout their new vehicles and concepts.  Audi always brings it A-game booth design and tricked out an A8 with front and rear seat video screens along with seats similar to a D-BOX rumble seat found in movie theaters.  A quick screening of “The Avengers” while sitting in the back seat reminded me of a 4D ride at Universal Studios.  All they needed were motion sickness bags.

No new smartphones were announced at the trade show; most companies are waiting to release them next month at GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  Bad news: my travel budget does not reach that far so I’ll have to report from afar.  While smartphones were not found amongst the 4,000+ exhibitors it seemed like half of the vendors were handing out smartphone cases.  I got one for my Samsung Galaxy S9 that apparently can withstand a drop from 5 floors up and continue to work in 10 meters of water.

My main takeaways from CES 2019 were that this massive gathering of tech giants, buyers and media does not seem to be slowing down despite the dearth of new products that are already on the market or planned to be released soon.  But it is OK to dream and ooh and ahh.  Because I certainly did.  Especially when I went to sleep each night after walking an average of 18,000 steps each day (according to my high-tech watch).

For all the highlights, join me in a 12 minute video recap:

Comments Off on CES 2019 – 12 Minutes of Everything You Missed