Editor's note: As David and Kay Scott continue their trip through the West, their latest stop brought them to Golden Gate National Recreation Area. From there they filed the following report on the newest lodging facility in the National Park System, Cavallo Point -- the Lodge at the Golden Gate. As the Scotts explain, this is not your typical national park lodge.
As this is written, we are at the start of our third day at Cavallo Point, located in California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This is our country’s newest national park lodging facility, although a qualifier is required because the lodge is in a century-old U.S. Army post located just north of the famed Golden Gate Bridge.
Cavallo Point is both new and old. Approximately half the rooms are in former officers’ quarters constructed during the early 1900s, while the remaining rooms are in contemporary buildings that were constructed only two years ago. The picturesque setting next to the north headlands of San Francisco Bay offers excellent views of the City of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The location, history, and variation in room choices make for a lodging facility unlike any other in our national parks. Guests who wish to visit nearby San Francisco need only take a short drive across the bridge, or they can choose a free lodge shuttle to nearby Sausalito and board the ferry that crosses the bay.
Marketed as “Cavallo Point: The Lodge at the Golden Gate," the facility opened in June of 2008 and is operated through a unique arrangement with the National Park Service. Rather than being owned or managed as a national park concession, Cavallo Point is operated under a 60-year lease agreement. This is a considerably longer period compared to National Park Service concessionaires that typically bid on five- to ten-year contracts.
The management company, Passport Resorts, also enjoys the freedom to establish rates and market the facility in a different manner typically found for concessionaires in parks such as Glacier, Yellowstone, and Shenandoah. The pricing flexibility and extended lease period stem from the hefty amount of funds (more than $100 million) that investors were required to put into the facility that was in a state of disrepair.
The Park Service desired to preserve the park’s historic structures while at the same time making them useful to the public. The result is an environmentally-friendly upscale resort that retains the flavor of an historical fort built to protect San Francisco Bay.
Fort Baker, in which Cavallo Point is located, was established in the late-1800s when soldiers lived in tents on what is now the grassy parade ground. The core of the fort was constructed between 1901 and 1910. By 1942, during the beginning of the World War II, the fort had grown to 159 buildings and was utilized as a mine depot to place underwater mines in the shipping lanes outside the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort’s military role ended in 2000 when it was being utilized as a training facility for the U.S. Army reserves.
Cavallo Point includes two very different types of lodging. Approximately half of the 142 rooms are in 13 historic buildings that once served as Fort Baker’s officers’ quarters. Most of these rooms are in two- and three-story brick or wood-frame white buildings that ring one side of the parade ground.
Rooms in the 100-year-old buildings have been completely remodeled, but in a manner consistent with their history. The fireplaces and front porches remain, while modern conveniences such as bathrooms and flat-screen televisions have been added. Porches and some rooms offer good views of San Francisco and the bay.
The other half of Cavallo’s rooms are in 13 newly-constructed modern buildings clustered on the hillside above the historical buildings and parade ground. All the contemporary rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, gas fireplaces, and most enjoy a balcony or patio. Many rooms in both categories provide excellent views of San Francisco or the Golden Gate Bridge.
The facility includes upscale amenities, dining, and activities, and prices to match. For example, a full-scale spa offers several types of massage, facials, body treatments, plus steam rooms, whirlpool tubs, and an outdoor heated basking pool. Yoga classes are offered each morning in a building once used as a chapel that is situated among the contemporary lodging units. A fitness room available to all guests includes a variety of exercise equipment. More than 600 photos from 20 Bay-area artists are placed in public areas and lodge rooms. A concierge is available to make reservations and arrange activities outside the fort.
The rooms, in general, are large, with most having a sitting area, which in the historic units may consist of a separate room. Room rates range from $265 to $650 per night in historical rooms, and $310 to $595 per night in contemporary rooms. Rates are higher on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays. Food is served in an AAA-rated four diamond (and Michelin-rated) dining room and also in an attractive bar adjacent to the restaurant. Dining is also available on the front porch. A limited menu of soup, sandwiches, and salads is available at the spa.
As regular Traveler readers who have visited other national park lodges have gathered by now, Cavallo Point is not your typical park lodge. A visit here is more about the lodge than the park. The rooms are very upscale, the service is excellent, the dining is exceptional, and the prices are, well, lofty. This is a destination lodge, not a destination park. Cavallo Point is where travelers come for the spa, the food, the rooms, and the views. For two travelers who often spend much of the summer sleeping in a small tent, this is paradise.