travel tips

Travel tips with hospitality insider John Grossman – including the number one surf location

The CEO of Arizona-based Marc & Rose Hospitality on why Alaska should be your next surf stop, how to ease jet lag, and his number one travel rule

Before taking up his career as a hospitality executive, Grossman used to travel the world as a competitive kayaker and surfer

John Grossman, 44, is the chief executive officer of Arizona-based Marc & Rose Hospitality, whose portfolio of 14 properties includes the Arizona Grand Hotel and Spa in Phoenix and La Playa Hotel, a newly revamped boutique hotel in Carmel-By-the-Sea, California.

Before taking up his career as a hospitality executive, Grossman used to travel the world as a competitive kayaker and surfer. He won the Rabioux River Rodeo on the Durance River in southeastern France, as well as the Surf Kayak World Championship in County Sligo.

Now, as he mostly travels weekly around the US West visiting his properties and looking for additions, Grossman still makes time for surf trips; he’s just come back from his ninth visit to New Zealand.

He inherited a love for travel from his parents; his mother was a model who was crowned Miss California in 1956. She met his father while starring in a cigarette commercial on a Hawaiian beach when she picked him out of the crowd to be her tandem surf partner in the ad.

La Playa Hotel, a newly revamped boutique hotel in Carmel-By-the-Sea, California, is one of Grossman’s 14 properties. Picture credit: @laplayaca

“The story goes that after they got married, my parents spent every dollar she made modelling on an around-the-world trip, which was pretty brave of them in the 1950s,” says Grossman. After their big journey, his parents founded their first hotel project in the 1960s.

Grossman lives in Sun Valley, Idaho. Here are his best travel tips.

Here’s why scouting out a great coffee shop is step number one of visiting a new city

You can find a great neighbourhood to hang out on in by finding a great coffee shop first. I search for one before I fly, on travel blogs and sites like Eater.

This serves two important functions: first, I love coffee, and coffee helps with resetting for jet lag; and second, good-quality coffee shops are often located in interesting neighbourhoods.

With my coffee in hand, a stroll around the area is a great way to calibrate to an unfamiliar town. It also helps to figure out where you might want to grab dinner or drinks at a bar later.

“Good-quality coffee shops are often located in interesting neighbourhood,” says Grossman. Picture by Rizky Subagja on Unsplash

I’m a little bit shy, but I push myself to try and talk to people in coffee shops. If you catch someone’s eye and give them a smile, a lot of the time, they’ll be happy to talk about their town and what they like doing. They’ll want to help you enjoy their city.

Here’s how to ease jet lag

My travel guilty pleasure is a 60-to-90-minute massages on arrival, after I get off a flight. I think there’s something that happens after a massage that helps reset your body to your new time and place better than any other way that I know of, and it does help make jet lag easier.

On my last trip to New Zealand, I stayed at the Hotel Britomart in Auckland, and they didn’t have a fancy spa. It was more utilitarian, but I got a massage there upon arrival, and it did the trick.

Private terminals are worth the experience

We recently did the PS at LAX, and it was one of the most remarkable experiences we ever had.

Of course, it is very expensive, but what was interesting was the access involved – like being driven down the tarmac adjacent to the runway and then right to the terminal, where we just went in an elevator and then straight into the jetway. That was incredible.

Put North Island on your New Zealand itinerary

I’ve been to New Zealand nine times, and I think the LA-to-New Zealand direct flight, via Air New Zealand, is the best option for a trip to the country from the US.

It’s generally a small airline that doesn’t offer a lot of routes compared to some bigger carriers, but they take a lot of pride in their service and that really comes through. And don’t forget to explore the country’s North Island.

Surfing is most accessible on New Zealand’s North Island, says Grossman. Picture by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

When people think of New Zealand, they usually think of the South Island and Queenstown and the fjords – all the things that are very notable for tourism to the country.

But I spend most of my time on the North Island, and that’s because the surfing is more accessible there. You have to drive around quite a bit, but you can get easily from one side of the island to the next to chase the swell and the conditions.

On my last trip, I was having a drink in a local pub and chatting with a farmer and told him I was on a surf trip, and he actually invited us to access his private land to surf. That’s an experience I couldn’t have bought.

Here is the best – and most unsung - place to surf

While wetsuit technology (I use the front-hooded full-zip suit from Patagonia) and social media are now opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of cold-water surf adventure, the relative hardship still keeps most folks on the sideline.

I’ve surfed in cold water from Oregon to Ireland, South Australia to Chile, but the most memorable place I’ve ever surfed – and I’ve now done two trips – is to Alaska.

The options for surf are nearly endless there, but one of the most accessible options is a flight to the small commercial fishing village of Yakutat.

There are several great waves in the area, and – while you’ll be competing with grizzly bears for the salmon (the fishing is excellent on down days) – you’ll often be surfing alone or with a couple of friendly locals.

Think of surfing the way people think about fishing

You would say you went fishing if you didn't even catch a fish. And I can say I went surfing even if I didn't catch a wave.

And what I mean by that is: I travel to a place that's interesting, and surf can be the bonus. If you're on a surf trip and you have a very rigid schedule, it's highly unlikely that you're going to get the best conditions possible.

You really have to have time and flexibility to get those conditions, and I just don't have that anymore.

So if I only have a week or two to go on a surf trip to an exotic place, I want to go to a place that has a lot of other things to do besides surfing.

For example, I went to the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia, which is one of the best surf destinations in the world, but there isn’t much to do otherwise.

Ericeira is one of Portugal’s most popular surfing locations, but its the “incredible culture and shoreline that keep people coming back. Picture by Jarno Colijn on Unsplash

That’s why I like Portugal for surf trips, because there’s so much to do there besides the water.

Ericeira is very well known now, but it’s still the place I make my base camp when I go. I’ve been to Portugal seven times, and the incredible culture and shoreline keep me coming back.

The number one travel rule

Being alright with something not entirely meeting your expectations is a really beautiful way to travel the world. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, especially if you build it up in your head. Things can and will go wrong; be okay with that.