Cavallo Point at Ft. Baker, Sausalito

The Lodge at the Golden Gate

On a recent October morning we decided to motor up the Peninsula and check in to the Cavallo Point Lodge—a converted and restored army fort and officers’ barracks just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The lodge is made up of a ring of homes that were once officers’ duplexes, centered on a grassy promenade with sweeping views of San Francisco and the bridge.

Historic Suite

The day we arrived was as lovely as the Bay gets: sunny, bright, warm and clear, with just a wisp of a chill in the air—perfect San Francisco weather. Tucked into a small cove just off Alexander Drive on the way to Sausalito, the Lodge feels like you’re miles away from civilization and its cantankerous clatter, yet it takes only 10 minutes to drive from the bridge’s toll booth to the Lodge’s front door.

Cavallo’s accessibility is its first charm, but the real delight is its feeling of isolation from the rest of the world—a sense of being tucked away in secret delight while the world rushes by on its automotive ascent to Marin. Though 101 hovers on the cliff, down in the cove it’s barely audible—a miracle of nature and a perk, for sure, of the resort’s hiding place.

Point Cavallo has great views of San Francisco

With room rates starting at about $300 and ranging upward of $600, the Lodge offers single rooms, suites and family suites. Our choice, the Historic Room in the old part of the Lodge, was lovely and large, overlooking the promenade with angled views of the city and Bay Bridge; full of light from old, huge windows; airy with a large bathroom and giant-windowed bath views. The rooms are terrifically appointed with hip, modern design details, yet they still feel like you’re walking into the guest room of an old seaside home. The contemporary side of the hotel sits on the opposite cliff, with even better views but more audible freeway sound.

Outside, Adirondack chairs sit on grassy knolls—perfect for languidly lounging and gazing out at the sea. The spa is open to all guests, and is an included amenity for use of the pool, hot tub and sunning areas. It’s beautifully designed and has a tiny bit of road noise, propped as it is just against the hillside—but the view to the Golden Gate’s upper towers and a small nearby waterfall will keep your focus on relaxation. The hotel offers cooking classes, yoga and more. A yoga class in the old chapel is a sweet morning wake-up experience.

Murray Circle Restaurant

Hiking is abundant with short hikes to the sea’s edge and perimeter walks along the shore, as well as longer jaunts into Sausalito. What’s truly phenomenal is to hike the ridge in the late afternoon and watch the fog roll across the Bay inch by inch, as if it’s a mystical character overtaking the sea with a dragon’s breath. By some magic, the fog often fills the space between two landmasses but somehow never touches the Cavallo shore.

The staff is friendly enough, but it’s the Bellmen that make the place feel like home. Unpretentious and talkative, these men open up the heart of the place with a relaxed attitude and a chat-friendly bent.

The Lodge’s main check-in house and its restaurant both have long, terraced porches, straight-shot views of Golden Gate Bridge, and are set up perfectly for a morning paper read or an afternoon cocktail. Breakfast or drinks on the porch make the scene vivacious and lively.

The Cooking School at Cavallo Point

Too bad then, that the food was such a disappointment. When we sat down for dinner at The Murray Circle Restaurant our waitperson did a very nice duck-and-cover on the ins and outs of the menu: Chef Joseph Humphrey calls it “a tasting menu”—which, translated, means cute food in tiny portions for regular (or close to) dinner entrée prices. Fish and shellfish range from $17-$19 and meats and poultry range from $26-$28. Our waitperson gave us her best pitch—“they’re moderate portions—you’ll want to order more than one”—but her recommendation of the most generous of the plates served up three small bites of fillet of sole with a lot of butter-infused froth—hardly a decoy from the stingy portions. Appetizers, meats and vegetables all follow the same overdone-but-underfed portion sizes.

Golden Gate Bridge view from Cavallo Point

The small bar burger at the Farley Bar was delicious at $17, but fries come in a condiment-size container barely large enough to hold your mustard—two fingers-full at best. Sardines at $10 were nicely grilled, and again, tiny in portion size.

My husband and I have tired over the years of the three-bite “tasting” approach to cuisine. Having toiled in the land of chefdom myself for years, I can honestly attest that cute food does not satisfy—its froths and squiggle lines of infused and reduced this-and-that served on huge plates no longer fake my stomach out. At dinner I want to eat, and in these economic times it feels ridiculous to be asked as patrons to purchase four plates of “small tastes” at regular dinner prices—no matter how award-winning they may be—to have even a light meal. I have two words for Chef Humphrey: feed me.

Historic buildings at Cavallo Point

This food stinginess carried over to the Lodge’s “continental breakfast.” Coffee, tea and three croissants are left out on a plate in the main house for guests—and we witnessed more than one guest having to ask to have the plate replenished. When we stay at a high-priced hotel we expect the place to deliver a modicum of generosity. I’m sorry to say that Cavallo’s food disappoints in that arena.

Cavallo Point historic buildings

Food aside, a stay in the Lodge is truly delightful. With Sausalito just a five-minute drive away, there’s no need to suffer the dining experience. Bring a baguette, some cheese and wine, fruit and a little snack for breakfast or afternoons, and drive for dinner, and the rest of your experience at Cavallo will thrill.

Cavallo Point Lodge
601 Murray Circle
Sausalito CA 94965

View of San Francisco from Cavallo Point