I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world, and whenever someone finds out they almost always ask me for two things: my favorite place and my favorite hotel. Well, both answers require sorting through a long list but turns out choosing a favorite place is a lot more difficult than choosing a hotel. In fact, I have a good sense of my second answer—and though my list changes, I always include the Cavallo Point Lodge as one of my favorite hotels. Cavallo Point is a special place. It’s set in Fort Baker, a 350-acre national park in the town of Sausalito, just below the Golden Gate Bridge outside of San Francisco.
The lodge has 17 colonial renovated buildings that have red roofs and covered porches. Spread throughout the grounds are a slew of Adirondack chairs and pine, eucalyptus and cypress trees which make the whole place smell terrific. The buildings are arranged in a horseshoe shape around a huge green field with a flagpole in the center. Most of the historic buildings are restored officers’ quarters, which are the size of houses. These have sixty-eight rooms in total, with an additional 74 contemporary rooms in several tasteful modern structures above the main buildings on a hillside.
Simply put, I love this place, and here are my 10 reasons to stay at the Cavallo Point Lodge:
The Fort Baker area has a long history and to give you an accurate sense of it I’m quoting directly from the National Park Service, which oversees the area:
“In 1866, the US Army acquired the site for a base to fortify the north side of the Golden Gate and it played a key role in the defense of the San Francisco Bay for more than a century. Fort Baker took shape between 1901 and 1915, and the post remained active through World War II. In 1973, Fort Baker was listed as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. When the Golden Gate National Parks were established in 1972, Fort Baker was designated to be transferred to the National Park Service when no longer needed by the military. In 2002, Fort Baker transferred officially from post to park.”
In 2008, the hotel opened. Here’s more on the history of Fort Baker.
2. The rooms
I’ve stayed in both the historic and contemporary rooms. The modern rooms are lovely and filled with bamboo trimmings (because it’s the most sustainable wood). Since they are up on the hill, most of these rooms have an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But to me if you’re going to stay here you should opt for one of the historic rooms. They feel like your own little apartment except they have the original officer’s barracks with original mirrors, floors and tile. There’s also a gas fireplace with a blower and a two-hour timer, living room, flat-screen TV, plush bathroom with an environmentally friendly dual-flush toilet and a collection of Bonny Doon Farm clean and natural-smelling bath products.
Each of the rooms features a cozy bed with soft organic cotton sheets and towels, comfy furniture and windows that open to crisp bay breezes. What I really find nice here is the fact that they don’t try to nickel and dime you. They offer free Wi-Fi, and all 800- and local calls are free. On top of that, there’s a mini-fridge stocked with free treats. Ours had a local artisan cheese and crackers, a Charles Chocolates Mocha Java Chocolate Bar, a couple cans of San Pellegrino Limonata and a small bottle of wine. There’s also a Brita filter water dispenser that the cleaning staff refills.
3. The views
When the weather is nice (especially in September and October) my favorite thing to do at Cavallo Point is to just sit on the balcony of one of the historic rooms or in one of the rocking chairs in the lobby building or Murray Circle restaurant and just look out at the landscape. Seeing the lush green fields, historic houses and the Golden Gate Bridge in perfect clarity in the distance is jaw-dropping.
4. The sunrise
This really should be part of reason number two, but the sunrise at Cavallo Point is so fantastic that it deserves its own category. I mean look at the photo above. To get this type of shot you simply walk roughly a quarter of a mile down to the marina area and watch the sun come up of over the city of San Francisco. As you can see it’s worth setting your alarm.
5. The food
You know a restaurant is good when most of the diners there are locals. All of my friends who live in the region love Murray Circle, which is under the direction of Executive Chef Justin Everett. He’s a local boy and he highlights refined and modern Northern Californian cuisine with fresh local ingredients. Here’s the menu.
6. The wine list
I’m not into wine but all my friends that are say that Murray Circle has a really stellar wine collection. The restaurant has over 2,000 bottle options and 30 wines by the glass. Their wine cellar is one of California’s deepest and most diverse and it showcases local treasures—artisan wines from small California producers that are often hard to find—combined with the best vintages of Europe’s top estates. Here’s the wine list.
Many locals come to Cavallo Point to get a treatment at the spa, which is over 11,000 square feet. All guests have access to the Healing Arts Center & Spa, which includes a gym, warm basking pool, steam room and a tea bar that serves healthy snacks and smoothies. There are 11 treatment rooms and a wide variety of treatments. I had their signature one-hour massage ($155) which blends several techniques: the long flowing strokes of Swedish, the compressions and stretches of a Thai massage and holding movements.
8. Jogging/hiking trails
All around the property are jogging/hiking trails. Be sure to bring your running/hiking shoes so you can take in the views (like the one above) from the paths. And bring your cell phone because Golden Gate National Parks even has cell phone audio stops where you dial a number to get local information.
Sausalito is located in Marin County and there’s so much to do there that it would take months (if not years) to experience it all. I just spent a short four days there and it wasn’t nearly enough time. I didn’t even come close to getting to do all the things that I wanted to do, like visiting Muir Woods or even seeing many of the attractions that were within walking distance of the lodge (like the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a kids’ favorite).
The only thing Natalie and I really did was go into the town of Sausalito (two miles away) using the hotel’s free scheduled van service. We also made it up to the Marin Headlands (a 5-minute drive) to get one of those iconic shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. Good to know: There is ferry service to and from Sausalito to San Francisco that takes 30 minutes and costs $10.25 each way.
10. It’s a hidden gem
Most people still don’t know this place even exists. Including locals. One morning I was enjoying cornmeal pancakes on the restaurants patio when a cyclist pulled up. He asked the waiter if he could get a cold beer—the waiter said sure. Then he sat down at one of the tables near me and explained to the waiter that he works nights so this was his dinner hour. Then he asked how long the place had been there, and the waiter said five years, which caused the guy to let out an explatative and says “how have I not known about this place?” It’s incredible. That’s exactly how I describe it.
Good to know:
- Cavallo Point, The Lodge at the Golden Gate, 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito; (415) 339-4700.
- Rates start at $319.
- It’s dog-friendly.
- If you aren’t up for the short walk to your room they have electric golf carts to take you around.
- The name dates back from 1775 when a rocky point with wild horses near the hotel was named “Punta de Caballo” by the commander of one of the first European ships that sailed into the bay. “Caballo” is the Spanish word for “horse” and since the “b” and “v” in Spanish are pronounced very closely, early California settlers began calling the area “Cavallo.”
- They have a driver on call named Shadi (Tel: 866-755-3322 or 510-789-3322) who is excellent. Sample fare: Cavallo to SFO costs $95 (or you can use the Marin Airporter for $20).
- Cavallo Point has won numerous awards including:
-Winner in Sustainability Category, Global Vision Awards | Travel+Leisure, 2013
-#5 – Top Resorts in the U.S. ~ Travel+Leisure | World’s Best Awards 2013
-#59 – Top Resorts in the World ~ Travel+Leisure | World’s Best Awards 2013
-#8 – Top 75 U.S. Hotel Spas ~ Condé Nast Traveler | The Top 270 Spas, Readers’ Poll 2013
-Top 10 Green Spas | Organic Spa Magazine, 2013