These 3 Golden Gate Hotels Channel the Tradition of Grand National Park Lodges

BY CHRISTINE DELSOL | October 11, 2019 | Lifestyle Feature

Grand hotels bring a stamp of luxury to renovated Presidio and Cavallo Point.

Repurposed officers’ quarters at Cavallo Point

When the Army lowered its final flag at the Presidio in 1994, San Francisco suddenly became custodian of a 260- acre national park site. No one had a clue how to turn a former military base into a park. It took nearly two decades to build the public-private network that populates and supports the first national park of its kind, encompassing nature, history, museums, community nonprofits, roughly 3,000 residents and enough services to meet the needs of a small city. Even then, something was missing. Something like the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar or Yosemite’s Ahwahnee (now called Majestic Yosemite) hotels.

Fast-forward a few more years, and the scene is complete. With Lodge at the Presidio, which marked its first anniversary in June, the Golden Gate now boasts a trio of hotels in the tradition of grand national park lodges—its sister property at the Presidio and one other at Cavallo Point at the bridge’s northern anchorage. Together, they help to define the Golden Gate National Recreation Area as a bona fide national park. All three occupy turn-of-the-20th-century military buildings that have been renovated with both luxury and environmental sustainability in mind, earning ongoing accolades. Yet each has a distinct personality, putting the proverbial “something for everyone” in the realm of possibility.

CAVALLO POINT: Resort Fun for Families

The bay view from historic lodging

Cavallo Point was first out of the gate, opening in 2008, because the National Park Service and its partner, Passport Resorts, had a single focus: turning all 50 developed acres of the former Fort Baker into a resort. Today, kids play on the lawn; people lounge in Adirondack chairs or tell jokes around a table at Farley Bar; and cooking and art classes are on the schedule: It could be a summer-in-the-Catskills scene from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

“This is really a mecca for families—it’s a national park, and it’s close to the [Marin] Headlands,” says Brit Thurston, suited up in Park Service khakis with a nonregulation flat cap. The lodge also has a mercantile, art gallery, spa and sheltered outdoor pool, a bar and restaurant, and a cooking school. The Bay Area Discovery Museum (for ages 10 and under) and a marina nearby beckon guests from far and wide. Thurston’s business card reads “Doorman,” but he’s also a longtime park service employee who did time at Alcatraz—as a ranger—and dips into his well of knowledge of local history, flora and fauna to create customized walks for guests.

The lodge occupies 19 structures built around 1900 and 13 contemporary hillside buildings where original structures couldn’t be salvaged. If you find no charm in wavy window glass and iron radiators, try one of the 74 new units with self-regulating radiant-heat floors and, in some, room-divider fireplaces that would impress James Bond. The 68 rooms and suites carved out of former officers’ family homes, though, offer expansive front porches perfect for lazing away an afternoon, while long-lost forms of craftsmanship endure in intricate moldings, tin ceilings and, yes, iron radiators, all sparking visions of what it might have been like to live there. The lofty new units look out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, while historic buildings have water and forest views. Either way, you’re given a perspective that most civilians couldn’t imagine before 2008.


The inn's imposing exterior

With only 22 rooms, and a quiet, secluded site just far enough from the main post, the inn exudes romance. When entering the building separated into three more intimate sections, going to your room feels like an assignation at your own little pied-à-terre. The inn opened in 2012 after burgeoning crowds convinced the Presidio Trust—created to direct and fund the Presidio’s preservation and development— that the site needed to offer lodging. It started small and simple, forgoing amenities such as air conditioning, or a spa, bar or restaurant (the inn does include breakfast). A few steps away, guests can visit Arguello restaurant, featuring Mexican cuisine and a contemporary bar with craft cocktails in the Officers’ Club. The upscale Commissary is only two short blocks away, and spas are among the tenants too.

Designers followed the brick building’s original floor plan, which once served as bachelor officers’ quarters. There are 17 suites and five standard hotel rooms (another four are available nearby at Funston House). Beds are cloudlike invitations to the dream world, and bathrooms feature striking tile work. The understated furnishings—a nod to the bachelor pads that came before—are natural leather, wool and linen. Two of the inn’s best features are the fire pit and trailhead out back. Wander to Inspiration Point, and you can look across the Southern Wilds to a view of the grandest of the Presidio’s Victorians and the results of an intensive reforestation project.

LODGE AT THE PRESIDIO: Where the action is

A family suite at the Lodge at the Presidio

The inn’s success, ironically, created another problem— it simply couldn’t accommodate the barrage of requests for the standard hotel rooms.

“Obviously, we needed more lodging,” says Terry Haney, managing director of Presidio lodging. The majestic brick building at the end of Montgomery Street, one of five identical barracks lining the main parade ground, fit the bill. The Walt Disney Family Museum resides next door, not far from the Commissary. It’s ideal for visitors who want easy access to music, food trucks, lawn games and communal fire pits on the parade ground lawn during Presidio Twilight, Thursday evenings through early September.

The original floor plan here, with its huge open spaces for hundreds of beds, was merely an outline. Walls were added, others were torn down and myriad configurations were designed to work around open support beams. Nearly every room is different, and nooks and corners in public areas invite you to peruse maps, read a book or have a quiet conversation.

A subtle military theme permeates the lodge. Darker wood floorboards mark where original walls once stood while remaining original walls are done up in white paint and wall coverings to contrast with contemporary grays on newer construction. Even the art in rooms and public spaces were chosen to reflect the Presidio’s history and environment. “We didn’t want to re-create the history,” Haney says, “but we wanted to keep a memory of it.”

Gray wool blankets sporting West Point’s yellow and black stripes at the foot of the beds not only look like military issue, they’re made by the Faribault, Minn., Woolen Mill Company, which has made West Point’s blankets since the 1890s. In no way interfering with enjoyment of the luxurious surroundings and modern amenities, these light touches remind guests, almost subliminally, that without the Presidio there would be no San Francisco.

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