Cavallo Point Lodge

Sausalito, San Francisco, United States Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Beautiful National Park lodge, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, with views to die for
The National Parks have been dubbed 'America's Best Idea', and just over the Golden Gate Bridge, between Marin Headlands and Sausalito, lies Cavallo Point, part of the Golden Gate National Park. Once an army base, it was another excellent idea to turn the 17 red-roofed, colonial-style officers' residences, chapel and mess buildings into a lodge. The visionary renovation took nearly 10 years, but the results are superb, and it has been awarded LEED Gold certification for its eco-principles and practices.

You would never guess, but there are 142 rooms and suites, spread between historic and contemporary buildings, which are scattered around the 12,500 sq.ft. property. Most overlook the former Parade Ground, with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay area. Murray Circle, the popular Michelin-starred restaurant, showcases top-notch California ingredients and has an impressive wine cellar, while the bar serves great cocktails and small plates. Other on-site facilities include a wonderful Healing Arts Center (which has a garden with meditation pool, hot tubs and a firepit), and an acclaimed cooking school which runs near-daily courses.

The hotel is sister property to the acclaimed Post Ranch Inn and Inn at the Presidio. Families looking for space, service and adventure; friends on a fun weekend away; couples seeking romance and relaxation - all will love it here. We did.

Highs

  • Hop over the Bridge to get to San Francisco, then return to be surrounded by eucalyptus and birdsong: this offers the best of both worlds
  • Accommodating, friendly and informal staff, and excellent concierge services
  • Lots to do, whether exploring Sausalito, the Golden Gate area or Marin, or staying put for complimentary yoga and nature walks
  • It runs the full gamut of gastronomy, from the health-conscious Tea Bar in the spa to decadent dinners with wine pairing
  • Contemporary rooms are huge, with stunning views to the Golden Gate bridge

Lows

  • Recent feedback is very mixed, with some feeling disappointed by their room, the food and the service. But others still rave about everything
  • Choose your room carefully. We loved the ambiance of the Historic rooms, but they are smaller and don't have views; you may prefer the modern, renovated style of the contemporary rooms
  • It is expensive (and breakfast costs extra), but we felt it was all justified by the unique setting and set-up
  • There's no pool, due to National Park restrictions, but the spa has an adults-only meditation pool
  • The Bay's foghorn can be very loud but earplugs are supplied (amazingly you can only hear a background hum from Highway 101)

Best time to go

The Bay Area offers delights all year. Summer months are the warmest, have the most blue sky and certainly the best outdoor adventures, but equally you may come across the fog rolling in over the bridge - a really mesmeric experience. To see the tops of the Bridge poking up through the bank of fog is a phenomenon indeed. Spring sees a profusion of wild flowers in the Headlands, autumn brings harvest bounty in Sonoma and Napa, just up the road. Winters can be anything from atmospheric to rainy.

Our top tips

  • Explore Marin Headlands for its stunning views back to San Francisco. Bring layers for every weather eventuality.
  • Make sure you get to the spa, as I failed to do and am chastising myself still...
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Family
    Foodie
    Spa
    Wedding
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Luxury Lodge
    • 142
    • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
    • All ages welcome
    • Open all year
    • Pool
    • Spa
    • WiFi
    • Pet Friendly
    • Disabled Access
    • Beach Nearby
    • Off-street Parking
    • Restaurants Nearby
    • Air Conditioning
    • Guest Lounge
    • Terrace
    • Garden
    • Gym
    • Concierge Service
    • Pool Table
    • Landscaped grounds
    • Mercantile
    Room:

    Rooms

    Roughly half of the 142 rooms and suites are in the attractive ('historic') white buildings with red roofs, which form a semi-circle around the Parade Ground and look out towards the Bay.

    These former officers' residences were painstakingly restored to preserve original features such as doors, coving and front porches, which now now have rocking chairs. The larger suites have separate sitting areas with sofabeds, armchairs and gas fireplaces.

    The other rooms are in new eco-friendly buildings, usually with 4-6 units per building, on the hillsides. Nearly all of these 'contemporary' rooms have Golden Gate Bridge or Bay views - ours was amazing. Most have a balcony or patio and gas fireplaces.

    Larger suites, such as the Contemporary King Junior Suite in which we stayed, have separate sitting areas with window sofas and armchairs. All have a private balcony or patio with Adirondack chairs, wet bars and fireplaces.

    The decor in both historic and contemporary rooms is similar - think soft sage and mustard colours - but you get walnut in the old and bamboo in the new. All have original artwork, usually photography (our room had B&W pictures on a water theme). Floors are carpeted in the bedrooms, bathrooms have heated slate floors.

    Bathrooms are shiny-white immaculate, all with a rain shower over the deep soaking tub, except in the top suites where you get a separate bath and shower. Make sure you slide your doors shut overnight to avoid light pouring through the windows in the morning.

    Beds are supremely comfortable, dressed in organic linens. Amenities include flatscreen TVs, mini fridges, ceiling fan, complimentary toiletries, robes and slippers, alarm clock with plug-in iPod dock, desk with reading lights, shaving mirror, and useful in-room directories.

    Features include:

    • Bathrobes
    • Coffee maker
    • Coffee tea making
    • Complimentary WiFi
    • Cots Available
    • DVD player (on request)
    • Extra beds
    • Fan
    • Fireplace
    • Hairdryer
    • Ipod dock
    • Iron
    • Mini fridges
    • Phone
    • Radio
    • Safe box
    • Satellite tv
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi

    Eating

    Food and drink is, some say, what NorCal is all about. All meals are taken in the restaurant, Murray Circle, which has original pressed metal ceilings, contemporary chandeliers and soft gold velvet curtains, which can create private dining spaces.

    Executive Chef Justin Everett procures local and responsible ingredients, which change seasonally, and the restaurant earned a Michelin Star just 3 months after opening. The relationship with local suppliers is writ large on the menu - source farms are named for each dish.

    For breakfast you have a choice: continental, southern (cheese grits, eggs any style, sausage, ham or bacon), New Yorker (bagel, smoked salmon, herbed creme fraiche) or Californian (garden omelette with spinach and mushrooms, organic yoghurt and granola). Or you can go a la carte, which was our preferred option: my Dungeness Crab Benedict was divine, washed down with a fresh fruit smoothie. We sat on the terrace at the front, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and passing marine traffic.

    For weekday lunches, you choose from oysters, salads, salmon carpaccio, burgers, sole, black cod, omelettes, quiche, pasta and BLT sandwiches. The Sunday brunch menu combines both the a la carte breakfast options and lunch dishes. For picnics and excursions, pick up some snacks, drinks and fruit in the shop.

    Dinner is a highlight. We went for baby beets roasted in coals accompanied by whipped ricotta and green beet tortellini, followed by an exquisite oyster bisque, then rabbit wrapped in prosciutto on smoked dates and mushrooms. Somehow room was made for a strawberry pannacotta parfait afterwards. Since our visit the menu has changed, but still sounds sublime: think oysters with shallot fondue and grass-fed beef pavé with roasted fingerling potato.

    Ask the sommelier which wine he recommends for the main courses, choose your own bottle from the 5,000-bottle wine cellar, or BYO for a corkage fee. Adjacent is Farley Bar, which often has live music in the evenings. Here you can order small plates if you prefer something less formal.

    The acclaimed cooking school has events on several times a week, so book yourself in on one of their day courses.

    If you want to dine out, head to Sausalito which has several nice waterfront restaurants. We were told that Spinnaker, Poggio or The Fish Restaurant were good choices.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Children meals
    • Coffee maker
    • Coffee tea making
    • Organic produce
    • Restaurant
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    • Wine cellar
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    • At the lodge: start your day with complimentary yoga, then check out the Healing Arts Center & Spa with 11 treatment rooms, meditation pool, firepit and hot tubs, plus a full menu of massage, treatments, wraps, soaks, facials, shaman rituals; enjoy a healthy snack or drink in the Tea Bar, then tour the art gallery; alternatively, take a day course in the popular Cooking School

    • Take the complimentary shuttle to Sausalito: go shopping in boutiques, book your sailing/kayaking trip round the Bay, take a ferry over to San Francisco and visit the Farmer's Market, go out for lunch or dinner

    • Explore Marin Headlands. Drive up to Hawk Hill (named for the largest known migration of raptors in the US every autumn, kids will enjoy visiting the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory) and look back at the amazing cityscape and Bay below. On a clear day the colour contrast between the Golden Gate Bridge and the sea and sky is terrific. Scramble about on old army batteries and bunkers; walk down to the Point Bonita lighthouse looking out for cormorant, brown pelican, western grebe, common murre, surf scoter and northern harrier; potter down to Black Sand Beach and Rodeo Lagoon for some beachcombing (no swimming as the riptide is too strong). In the winter look out for migrating Gray Whale, all year you can see Harbor Seals

    • Drive up Highway 101 and take a left to Muir Woods and Muir Beach: Tennessee Valley is great for hiking and mountain biking (invented in Marin); Muir Woods National Monument preserves an ancient stand of redwoods, boardwalks make it suitable walking for all ages (get there early to avoid crowds and get into the car park); head to Muir Beach for lunch at the Pelican Inn pub, swim, surf and look for starfish and crabs on the sandy beach

    • Visit San Francisco: the concierge can arrange bicycles for you to rent and cycle over the bridge and Crissy Field or explore the Presidio; check out the Exploratorium, Golden Gate Park (including the de Young, Academy of Sciences and Botanical Garden) or take a ferry to Alcatraz from the city side; go out on the razzle, take in a show or visit a club

    • Travel to Napa and Sonoma (just up the road): here you can go wine tasting, have lunch in fancy restaurants, canoe down the Russian River or take a hot air balloon over the wineries

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Art tour
    • Birdwatching
    • Boat trips
    • Cooking classes
    • Cycling
    • Fishing
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Horse-riding
    • Hot air ballooning
    • Kayaking
    • Kitesurfing
    • Mountain biking
    • Museums / galleries
    • Nightlife
    • Plantlife / flora
    • Pool table
    • Private guided tours
    • Sailing
    • Shopping / markets
    • Surfing
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Whalewatching
    • Wildlife
    • Wine tasting
    • Yoga

    Kids

    Children are very welcome at Cavallo Point Lodge, and stay for free up to 18 years of age, sharing their parents' room, either in a baby cot or on an air mattress. The spa meditation pool is only for adults, but 16 and 17 year olds can visit with parents. There's plenty to do, it's well located for San Fran and has babysitting so you can visit the spa.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Contemporary 2 Queens, Historic 2 Bedroom Suites and the various other suites (accommodating 3-6 adults) are the best for families. Check the full descriptions on rates. Note that there is no lift and most rooms are on the first or second floor.

    Babysitting:

    On request.

    Baby equipment:

    • Cots
    • Highchairs in the restaurant

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Children's meals:

    The restaurant's kids' menu offers 3 mini courses eg chicken fingers, fish sticks, mac and cheese, vanilla ice cream sundae. You can order in treats like milk and cookies, freshly baked by the pastry chef. Plenty of child-friendly eateries in SF; you can also buy basic picnic goodies in the onsite shop.

    Kids Activities on site:

    • Parade ground lawn for ball games, running around, kite flying and picnics
    • Complimentary hikes and walks, included guided hikes under Golden Gate Bridge
    • Outdoor kung fu lessons and cookery lessons (age 8+)

    Kids Activities nearby:

    • The Bay Area Discovery Museum next door is ideal for kids under 10
    • 75,000 acres of national park on your doorstep
    • Cycle over the bridge to San Francisco for Alcatraz, the Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium and more

    Families Should Know:

    Kids aren't allowed in the pool in the spa; there are some steps on the property, and there is no lift (staff will help with your luggage, but it's better to book a ground floor room if you have a buggy).

    Distances:

    • Airport: 50 minutes
    • Hospital: 25 minutes
    • Nearest shop: onsite
    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    10/
    Service
    8/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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