Military bases have long served to house the men and women who protect and defend the nation. But what happens to a military base when it is no longer needed? Is it abandoned or turned over to developers who will tear it down, destroying a part of the nation’s history? Or will the legacy be protected through repurposing? The story of Fort Baker near Sausalito, California offers an innovative solution.
Nestled in the hollow at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Baker (established in 1897, built between 1901 and 1915) stands as a proud reminder of the coastal defense systems built around the north side of San Francisco Bay. Closed in 2002 and turned over to the National Parks Service, a $100 million conversion turned Fort Baker and its 24 historic buildings into Cavallo Point Lodge and Spa, a luxury eco-resort in the heart of the Golden Gate National Park.
As you drive down the Headlands of Marin County, the Fort’s 10-acre former parade ground opens up in front of you. Colonial Revival-style cream buildings with wine-red roofs and red chimneys line the west side of the parade grounds. These are the Historic Old Officers Quarters, now 68 guest rooms where the original architectural details are preserved whilst providing modern comforts. Across the parade ground, the fort’s administrative buildings have been transformed into an elegant reception area, the Murray Circle Restaurant and Farley’s Bar, named after the leading cartoon character made famous by local resident, Phil Frank. On the hillside above, 74 contemporary rooms and suites have been added with high ceilings, soaking tubs and floor to ceiling windows framing the Golden Gate Bridge.
After checking into your room, stroll across the parade ground to Farley’s Bar to enjoy a glass of wine from an extensive selection showcasing both well known and small boutique labels. Drinks and casual fare (try the wood-grilled half artichoke or the Dungeness crab croquettes) are served on the terraces as the setting sun washes San Francisco in a golden glow, and the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge twinkle in the incoming fog. Blankets are provided to stave off the chill, but if it gets too cold, deep leather chairs and a fireplace provide a welcome oasis inside.
Across the hall, the Murray Circle restaurant, the only one-star Michelin restaurant in Marin County, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chef Joseph Humphries uses a wide range of locally produced items from Bay area farms and artisans to craft an exciting and ever-changing menu in a cozy setting where details of the former Officer’s Mess, including the tin ceiling and fireplace, have been preserved.
Cavallo Point is close enough to San Francisco to serve as a base to explore the City. But there is much to do without actually crossing the bridge. If you are a walker or hiker, the area is a web of both inland and coastal hiking trails where you can take in magnificent views from former battery emplacements, now empty. Sailing, golf, kayaking, and horseback riding are also available and can be arranged by the hotel.
If you prefer to spend your day relaxing, try the morning yoga in the former base chapel as well as the 11,000 square foot Healing Center and Spa where you can enjoy spa treatments or relax in a peaceful outdoor meditation pool, heated to 101 degrees. Steam rises into the air, mingling with the fog coming from the ocean. Wrap yourself in a cuddly robe and relax in lounge chairs by the fire pit as you enjoy afternoon tea.
Take a cooking class at the Culinary Arts Center located above Murray’s Circle where state-of-the-art equipment and views of the Golden Gate Bridge provide inspiration; or simply sit in a rocking chair on your porch and take in the panorama of San Francisco Bay.
As the sun sets behind Hawk Hill and, like military officers of years gone by, you retire to your quarters, know that you have the option of using ear plugs provided as part of the room amenities to shut out the fog horn, which sometimes sounds through the night. On the other hand, the sound of the fog horn as you snuggle down under your comforter can be very romantic.
IF YOU GO
Cavallo Point is at 601 Murray Circle, Sausalito, California. Tel 888-651-2003.