Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate: A luxury stay at an urban national park

Overlooking Cavallo Point Lodge, on the former site of Fort Baker
Overlooking Cavallo Point Lodge, located on the former site of Fort Baker.

When you think about visiting San Francisco, you may dream about staying at the sweet Fairmont in Ghirardelli Square or hobnobbing with the swells at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill.

You probably don’t dream of sampling army life while in San Francisco. But I recently did, and it was grand.

In October, my husband and I spent a memorable three days at moodily beautiful Cavallo Point, located just across the bridge from San Francisco, 1.5 miles south of Sausalito. The resort was opened in 2008 on the site of Fort Baker—a turn-of-last-century military outpost now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the most popular urban national parks in the world.

This Marin Headlands property originally consisted of more than three dozen historic buildings on 45 acres (much of it now protected wild habitats). The “post to park” developers added dozens of contemporary rooms on the hillside above the original buildings while undertaking sustainable rehabilitation of the historic buildings. Their careful work paid off: It’s the first luxury hotel on the National Register of Historic Places to achieve LEED Gold status.

Stunning setting

While the “green” building elements are pretty much invisible to the casual observer, it’s the multi-acre military parade ground that the 140 historic and contemporary hillside rooms and suites are situated around that first catches your eye.

The expansive Fort Baker former parade ground.
The expansive Fort Baker former parade ground, great for kite flying.

Next on the “oooh” list are the spectacular across-the-bay views of sparkling San Francisco and the extreme close-up of its famous bridge. (Fun fact: This scenic site plays the 22nd-century home of both Starfleet Headquarters and Starfleet Academy in the Star Trek movie universe.)

Morning shot of the bridge, before the fog burned off.
Morning shot of the bridge, before the fog burned off.

Cavallo Point may be a national park lodge, but it’s also a conference center and retreat. In addition to the guest rooms, the resort consists of a highly rated healing arts center and spa with an outdoor meditation pool; a cooking school; an art gallery (featuring in fall 2016 a portfolio of framed Ansel Adams original photos); meeting spaces; a fully equipped gym; and an award-winning restaurant and separate upscale bar with live acoustic music most nights.

Enjoying the captain’s quarters

I’ve never wanted to be in the army, but I have to say, judging by the airy, renovated officers’ quarters we enjoyed, some military folks at Fort Baker were living large. We stayed in the Richardson Building, one of several similar Colonial Revival houses with wraparound porches built in 1902.

The Richardson Building, one of several historic houses with 4 or more hotel suites inside.

It’s been exquisitely restored in a modern/historical hybrid fashion—meaning all the comforts of 21st century living with the details of a vintage grand home: ornate tiled fireplaces, original antique tin ceilings, tall windows, and painted wood curlicues throughout.

The Richardson foyer, our suite entrance on the left.
The Richardson foyer, our ground-floor suite entrance on the left.

We were in one of the downstairs suites in the compartmentalized house, which judging from the large built-in china cabinet in our living room must have been the house’s dining room at one time. Now, this particular hotel suite consists of a spacious king bedroom and second double bedroom, a large living room, and an oversized antique-but-new bathroom, featuring accessibly designed wide doorways and a walk-in shower.

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I loved the plush furniture and warm earth tones used throughout our suite—pumpkin, gold, browns, and cream. The wall-mounted TV in the living room is on an extendable arm, we found, so was also viewable from the king bed. (If need be, the two rooms can be separated by an enormous pocket door.) But the real view was out our south-facing windows, where we could see the distant San Francisco skyline from our bed.

You could see the S.F. skyline from our bedroom window (see it beneath the tree?)
You could see the SF skyline from our bedroom window (see it beneath the tree?)

Two eateries on premises

After putting away our things in the capacious armoire and bureaus flanking the bed, we wandered back across the big green to the main building, which includes the front desk/lobby, an upscale “mercantile” gift shop, meeting rooms, and the art gallery, to partake of the free wine in the lobby during happy hour.

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The chairs around the fire pit on the back patio were all occupied, so we took our glasses of ruby-red zinfandel out to the wide front porch and sat in Adirondack chairs to watch the twilight fog enshroud the top of the Golden Gate bridge as the sun began to set. A transfixing view.

Wine-hour sunset, watching fog enshroud the Golden Gate bridge.
Wine-hour sunset, watching fog enshroud the Golden Gate bridge.

For dinner the first night, we decided to share some small plates at the resort’s Farley Bar, across the foyer from the well regarded, upscale Murray Circle restaurant. The bar was a lively, warm place, with a fireplace noshing area. Televisions silently showed a San Francisco Giants baseball game, while a group of young women celebrated a wedding engagement with shared bottles of Napa wine around a raised central table. At the end of our light dinner, it was nice to simply wander back around the green’s circle drive to our house. The fresh nighttime bay breezes were an added plus.

Time to stretch

The next morning the resort was quiet and fog-enshrouded. I skipped the free morning yoga class but, after grabbing some fresh-baked organic pastries from the main building, we walked up behind our house to the resort’s fitness facility to work off those delicious carbs.

The fitness building has historic photos of the Fort’s soldier athletes on the walls.
The fitness building features historic photos of the Fort’s soldier-athletes on the walls.

As we walked back down the hill, we passed the large Healing Arts Center and Spa building, from which tranquil music and soothing fragrances of lavender, eucalyptus, and pine drifted outside. I’d recently read the story on this site about getting the most out of a spa visit, but regrettably, we didn’t have time to test out the “integrated wellness” offerings of this medi-spa (ranked in the Top 5 U.S. hotel spas by Travel + Leisure), famed for its custom health plans, organic treatments, heated salt pool (with an accompanying women-only jacuzzi), and impressive tea bar.

All the good stuff in INSIDE this spa building.
All the good stuff is INSIDE this spa building. (Sorry no photos.)

A large part of our time at the Lodge was spent walking some of its nearby trails and taking day trips, which you can read about in this related post.

When it came time to depart this deluxe park lodge, I knew I would miss the history, the views, fragrances, and the “green” ethos of this very special place. Luckily I came away with two nice souvenirs: a packet of spiced Cavallo chocolate and a spritz bottle of the Lodge’s signature lavender oil to spray on my pillow for sweet dreams of the Golden Gate.

cavallo-point-chocolates    cavallo-spritz


Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate

  • While the hotel offers no pickups from either San Francisco Airport or Oakland Airport, it does offer complimentary shuttle service from its premises to both Sausalito and San Francisco. And if you arrive without a car, as a benefit to guests, several sparkling black Lexus vehicles are available on a first come, first serve basis to use for test drives and to explore the surrounding area.
  • The drive from downtown San Francisco to Cavallo Point takes about 30 minutes.


  • Suites can be expensive at Cavallo Point. Look for the resort’s online getaway specials for more affordable options.
  • The hillside contemporary rooms and suites have more clear views of the bridge, with balconies and patios.
  • Early risers can join in the free yoga classes each morning.
  • Ask for the resort’s shuttle schedule—they have regular round trip runs into Sausalito and San Francisco.
  • In addition to the evening wine hour, there are free baked goods and coffee in the reception area each morning, as well as a complimentary Nespresso coffee maker in each room.
  • While there was a large coffee table in our living room, for those who have to work the desk was quite small, at least in our historic suite.
As the sun sets behind the hill, love this shot of the fog rolling in.
As the sun sets behind the hill, love this shot of the fog rolling in.

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