Earlier this year, I wrote a story for USA TODAY’s Green Living Guide about LEED-certified hotels. As I did my research, I was pleasantly surprised to find that one national park property, the Cavallo Point Lodge in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, had reached Gold certification. I resolved to check it out in person as soon as possible.
I had that opportunity this month when I traveled to Marin County for the annual Book Passage Travel Writers & Photographers Conference. The hotel put me up for a night, and also hosted me for dinner at Murray Circle, which has one star from Michelin.
I found a lot to love at Cavallo Point, which is managed by Passport Resorts (who also run the ultra-exclusive Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, where I had breakfast “with” Julia Roberts, and Sea Ranch Lodge on the Mendocino Coast). Once known as Fort Baker, the hotel is comprised of both the renovated historic buildings – the former Army officers’ quarters – and contemporary rooms, several of which have views of Golden Gate Bridge.
My King suite in one of the historic buildings was spacious and a true suite, with a living room window overlooking the parade ground (which is not part of the hotel and open to the public). I loved how the renovations combined the property’s best historic features – tin ceilings, unusual room layout and size – with upscale amenities (flat screen TVs, rainforest shower heads).
During my tour of the property, the hotel rep told me that the historic rooms are more popular with older visitors and families, evidenced by the the inadvertent wake up call I had at 6 a.m. when I heard small feet running across the floor above me. The Lodge does a brisk business with family reunions and multi-generational travel who are drawn to the nearby park trails; I was surprised at how many young children were gathered at breakfast. Then I checked the website: Children under 17 are free. Good to know.
If you’re planning a romantic getaway to Cavallo Point Lodge, make sure to ask for a contemporary room, which are more popular with couples and honeymooners. While they are more expensive, many have views of the Golden Gate Bridge – and they also have more privacy and less noise than the historic buildings, as well as fireplaces.
The property’s top selling point is its proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge and views of San Francisco across the water. As you can see from these pictures, the location also comes with the requisite Bay Area fog. While I noticed ear plugs in the bathroom to cope with the foghorns, the sound didn’t bother me (but then again, I hear foghorns all the time in Seattle). If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to ask for a room further away from the water’s edge.
Opened in 2008, Cavallo Point Lodge’s renovation made it the first hotel on the National Register of Historic Places to be LEED-certified. The details required to turn the property green were numerous. For example, the tin tiles in the original ceilings had lead paint on them, my guide told me. Workers had to number each tile and remove it, then freeze it so they could remove the paint. The tiles were then put back, in order.
Besides access to the park’s hiking trails, Cavallo Point offers daily yoga classes, which are included in your mandatory $25 resort fee (that also pays for the “free” WiFi). There’s also shuttle service between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the Sausalito Ferry Terminal, if you want to visit the shops there.
The property has done a good job at diversifying its offerings to bring in locals; Marin County is close enough to the City proper that coming over to Cavallo Point qualifies as a staycation. I met a friend for a drink at Farley Lounge, and she told me that her apartment in San Francisco was only about 15 minutes away (I’ll write more about my meal at Murray Circle in a subsequent post).
While I didn’t have time to do either, Cavallo Point Lodge’s onsite spa and cooking school also draw attendance from the local area, especially for girlfriend getaway and upscale bachelorette weekends. I did tour the spa, where treatments have the triple digit price tags that you’d expect at a four-star property (discounts are offered during the week). There’s a wide range of alternative healing treatments available such as hypotherapy, acupuncture and herbal consultations, if you’re into that sort of thing. All guests can use the fitness center and the spa’s meditation pool, steam room and men’s and women’s heated whirlpools.
Verdict: I would spend my own money to come back to Cavallo Point Lodge. I loved the feeling of being remote, yet so close to the city – and walking down to take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning fog was a quintessential Bay Area experience. While Cavallo Point Lodge is not cheap, I’ve seen specials on the website that list rooms at $250 a night – which isn’t bad in the San Francisco luxury market.
Overall, the key to enjoying Cavallo Point Lodge is to think of it as an upscale resort, instead of a typical “national park” stay, a place that’s appropriate for an anniversary or other special occasion. But if I was planning a romantic getaway, I’d make sure to book a contemporary room that’s away from the parade grounds and the families that tend to congregate there – otherwise, you might be disappointed.