An Ambitious Resort Makes Its Point

Cavallo Point, which mixes adventure, pampering and views of San Francisco, is centered on a decommissioned military base.
Cavallo Point, which mixes adventure, pampering and views of San Francisco, is centered on a decommissioned military base. (By Kodiak Greenwood)
By Louise Levathes
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 2008

In the evening when I reached my room at Cavallo Point, two deer that had wandered down from the Marin highlands were feasting on the resort's newly planted native grasses and yellow wildflowers. From my terrace I could see the Golden Gate Bridge looming above me barely a quarter of a mile away and the high-rises of San Francisco across the bay in the distance. The lights were just coming on in the city.

Then the fog came in. Everything vanished. The steady drone of bridge traffic was replaced by the low bass of the Golden Gate's foghorn. It continued all night, both urgent and far away, as it entered my sleep. Was I in the city? The country? Half-asleep, half-awake, with the smell of the sea in my room, I was not sure.

Morning arrived with bright sunlight and stiff ocean breezes. The large eucalyptus trees around the old parade ground of Fort Baker, now the nerve center of this new resort, rustled in the wind. Neat rows of white-washed, turn-of-the century officers' quarters have been transformed into luxury rooms. Newly built two-story units have contemporary rooms. The two dormitories for the enlisted men, their original porches reconstructed from photographs, are now a dining room and bar and Cavallo Point's reception area.

The resort, Cavallo Point -- the Lodge at the Golden Gate, which opened July 1 just outside Sausalito, has been 10 years in the planning. Passport Resorts, which owns and manages properties such as Hotel Hana-Maui and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort, has a long lease on the 50 acres of Fort Baker, which is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was decommissioned as a military base in the 1960s.

The resort aims to offer something for everyone: stone massages and a basking pool for those who wish to be pampered; guided hikes and horseback and bike rides through the surrounding 75,000 acres of parkland; culinary and wine excursions into San Francisco and the nearby wine country; and fitness "boot camps" for those who need more of an adrenaline rush. Cavallo Point presents a curious mix of Outward Bound ambition with Canyon Ranch amenities.

August programs included triathlon training with coach Duane Franks, a quick course in animation filmmaking with artist Packard Jennings and a "gourmet golf getaway" with rounds at some of the bay area's great golf courses and meals with top chefs. (Prices range from $1,385 to $2,700, depending on the length of the program, which is usually three to five days.) But this morning, I joined broadcaster Doug McConnell, Emmy Award-winning host of "Bay Area Backroads," for a sailing excursion on the bay to Angel Island. Earlier in the week, he had taken this group of five kayaking off Sausalito, hiking in the redwoods and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Group member Geoff Cederholm, 50, a lawyer turned ski instructor from Bend, Ore., passed out Dramamine on the dock at Sausalito as we waited to board a 34-foot sloop. Our skipper for the day, Anthony Sandberg, head of OCSC Sailing School in Berkeley, was a sea salt straight out of central casting: weathered face, bristly mustache and a voice as calm as a lazy stream.

"Well, if you fall into the water," he said, handing out life jackets, "just stay there, and we'll come back to get ya."

This did nothing to comfort Amy Bivens, 32, a pharmaceutical sales executive from San Francisco, who had never been sailing before and immediately stepped down into the small cabin and held on to the sides as we set sail.

Moving quickly in the brisk wind, we soon passed the old cement gun batteries of Fort Baker and a Coast Guard station, and sailed under the Golden Gate, which loomed some 300 feet above us. The bay immediately turned into the ocean with rolling four-foot waves, and our boat suddenly felt . . . small. When we heeled, our deck nearly touched the water. Amy told me later she was terrified. Geoff looked green. Sea hawks and pelicans glided effortlessly above us. Two dolphins joined us. I was ready to set course for Japan, but we turned back because our destination was Angel Island, back in the bay.

The one-square-mile island was once a Mexican ranch, a U.S. military post and an immigration and quarantine station.

"Some Asians, mostly Chinese immigrants, were detained there for weeks, even years," Doug McConnell explained. But today the kitchen staff of Cavallo Point was there, having set up a picnic on a wide lawn overlooking the harbor.

All of us had taken a turn at the wheel, and after lunch Amy steered us back to Sausalito across a channel of choppy water where two currents meet. A smile crossed her face. She seemed to have conquered her fears.

Kristen Coates, director of program development at Cavallo Point, talked about the resort's aim to create adventure for its guests.

"What keeps people coming back is the experience," she said, "and an experience that is about testing barriers and going to the edge. Everyone has a different edge. We provide comfort here -- spa treatments, comfortable rooms, good food -- and I think it's when people are comfortable that they are willing to venture to the edge."

That seemed to suit Geoff. "This week was a taste of adventure without danger or exhaustion," he said.

"My speed," added his wife, Eva. "Adventure light."

Cavallo Point, 601 Murray Cir., Fort Baker, Sausalito, Calif., 415-339-4700 or 888-651-2003, http://www.cavallopoint.com. Sixty-eight historic and 74 contemporary rooms start at $250 per night; suites start at $450 per night.

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