The Magic Of Cavallo Point

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The view from Cavallo Point Lodge
The view from Cavallo Point Lodge

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

Although it’s not in San Francisco, Sausalito’s Cavallo Point Lodge might be the most quintessentially San Franciscan hotel in Northern California. Everything about the resort is characteristic of what the Bay Area is known for—food and wine, wellness and outdoor living, respect for history, sustainability, inclusivity, and giving back to the community. Throw in its proximity to SF’s most well-known attraction—the Golden Gate Bridge—and you’ve got a lodge that genuinely represents the place it is from. When you stay at Cavallo Point, it’s almost as if the entire city consumes you. Sit on one of the wide porches at sunset, and you can’t help but feel enchanted. The foghorn rings in the distance as fingers of white clouds lick the pristine Bay waters. The lights of the city begin to shine brightly, twinkling like beacons of innovation. There is no other place like San Francisco on earth, and so, there is no other place like the Cavallo Point Lodge.

Michael Freed and Peter Heinemann
Michael Freed and Peter Heinemann

This year the lodge is turning 10 and although there is much to celebrate as Cavallo Point has established itself as the leading luxury hotel in the region, founders Michael Freed and Peter Heinemann, aren’t resting on their laurels. For Freed and Heinemann the hotel’s success has been a long time coming: the project took ten years to come to fruition. It all started when Freed was walking his dog around Fort Baker, a derelict military base that dates back to 1850. “All these buildings were here, empty, and in dire need of repair,” Freed recently told Haute Living over lunch at Murray Circle, Cavallo Point’s fine dining restaurant. “It was on the National Register of Historic Places. The federal government, the Department of Interior, had an obligation to restore the building and had to come up with a plan to restore it. They thought the best way to save the buildings was to come up with a conference center.” However, the plan was to build a hotel that had up to 350 rooms—something that caused Freed and other prominent locals concern. At the time, Freed and his team was running the smaller environmentally-friendly Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. “The Sausalito community thought that was too large, as did I. So we submitted a proposal for a 150-room lodge, where we would have both leisure travelers as well as group travelers.”

Murray Circle
Murray Circle

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

Once Freed and Heinemann’s proposal was selected, the real work began: lease negotiations, the trials and tribulations of development, and finally opening the hotel in 2008, in the middle of a recession. “You just have to maintain your perspective that the vision is right, that what we wanted to create here was an extraordinary destination,” Heinemann says. “You don’t want to get on a rollercoaster. You keep pushing forward.”

An overhead view of the lodge
An overhead view of the lodge

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

The duo persevered and when they finally opened the doors to Cavallo Point Lodge, it was an instant success. “It is so unique. You are in this beautiful old military fort, so you have fascinating architecture. A national recreation area surrounds you, and then you look across the Bay, and there’s the bridge, and there’s San Francisco,” Heinemann says. “You’re this oasis in the middle of an urban environment where you can be in downtown San Francisco in 15 minutes, or you can hike out underneath the bridge and hike all the way up to Point Reyes. It’s a phenomenal setting.”

A guest room
A guest room

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

The location makes Cavallo Point a top destination for staycations—San Franciscans make up the majority of the hotel’s domestic market. What keeps the neighbors coming back for more? The resort offers a wide variety of distinctive programming. First, there is the renowned Healing Arts Center. Yes, it’s a fancy name for a hotel spa, but it’s a worthy one. While traditional massages and treatments like the new dermalinfusion facial are available at the center, there is also a wide variety of exclusive health, holistic, and wellness programming. “We are probably one of a few hotels that have a resident doctor who gives lectures, Dr. Bradly Jacobs,” Freed says. “He’s an integrative medicine specialist who does regular medicine, but also knows Chinese medicine.”

Cavallo Point's Healing Arts Center
Cavallo Point’s Healing Arts Center

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

A Stanford medical school graduate, Jacobs worked in Nepal, Washington D.C., and at UCSF where he was the medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, before coming to Cavallo Point in 2009. “People will come in and see me in consultation. They come in with, say, breast cancer. Or they come in and want to lose weight, so it’s a whole range,” Jacobs explains. “People will come in because they want an alternative view on the conventional world, and on the MD that’s treating them very conventionally. I’ll give them an integrative, holistic package. You may need the surgery, this chemo, but, also, these services would be helpful, too; these lifestyle changes, getting some acupuncture, while you’re going through chemo, etc.” Acupuncture, energy work, meditation, hypnotherapy, and shamanic journeys are offered at the center. Jacobs gives monthly lectures on various topics—an upcoming one discusses men’s health issues, and another is a conversation about herbal remedies and simple life changes that can protect against cold weather illnesses. Freed is a fan of the spa’s tea and juice bar and takes a daily wellness shot, a pressed garlic tonic, while Heinemann is excited by the otherworldly offerings. “We occasionally bring in a clairvoyant,” he says. “and have a sleep program in the works.”

Soup at Murray Circle
Soup at Murray Circle

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

Murray Circle, well, the entire culinary program, is another draw for Bay Area residents. The restaurant is open all day, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with a lazy brunch on weekends. Head chef Mike Garcia and chef de cuisine Monique Feybesse oversee the kitchen which specializes in seasonal California cuisine: there’s flatbread with ricotta, chard, artichoke, tomato, prosciutto, and eggs for breakfast; grilled fish tacos with corn salsa, marinated cabbage, chipotle cream, and avocado for lunch; and ember grilled bavette with baby leeks, braised kohlrabi, and squash blossom pesto for dinner. Pastry chef Ethan Howard makes all the pastry and bread products from bagels to wedding cakes. Murray Circle has one of the most extensive wine lists in California and a fantastic watering hole, Farley Bar, where live musicians perform nightly.

The cooking school
The cooking school

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

There’s also the Cavallo Point Cooking School, a clean and open kitchen with state-of-the-art culinary equipment. Each class can hold no more than 20 students, and the hands-on experience includes a tasting of all the dishes prepared. Three chefs run the cooking school and classes vary from family pizza night to Vietnamese pho. Once a month, the school transforms into an intimate restaurant where six guests sit at the counter and interact with chef Tony Adams as he prepares a sumptuous wine-paired, four-course meal. It’s an exceptionally memorable dinner ideal for passionate food lovers.

Mercantile
Mercantile

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

If you’re not into all things culinary, perhaps you can be drawn to Cavallo Point Lodge for its rotating art collection. The Cavallo Point Art Gallery showcases photography exhibits that change every three months. Art director Leigh Vogen selects the pictures that are on display, mostly by photographers who have ties to the Bay Area. The current exhibit features San Francisco Art Institute alum Todd Pickering’s owl portraits. Vogen also runs the Mercantile, Cavallo Point’s boutique where one can shop for cookbooks, scented candles, denim, and more. Other perks of the resort? It’s dog-friendly, can host groups and events (they do about 50 weddings per year), and has a partnership with Lexus that allows guests to drive the latest model cars for up to three hours at a time.

The art gallery
The art gallery

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

The resort is tremendously respected by locals, not only for its world-class amenities but also for its contribution to the community. Giving back is incredibly vital to Freed and Co., and this is apparent in the way they partner with local nonprofits like the Conscious Kitchen Teams (a program which funds school lunches) and its partnerships with the Mill Valley and Sausalito Film Festivals. “If you’re not giving back to your community, you’re missing out,” Freed says. “The community becomes such an important part of your guest experience. It also becomes an important part of the revenue source. Every artist who displays in the art gallery on the sale of any artwork, they give a percentage to a non-profit that they support. It’s a great way to support the community, and to support the artists at the same time.”

Cavallo Point Lodge
Cavallo Point Lodge

Photo Credit: Kodiak Greenwood

Freed hopes to engage the local community with a bakery that’s in the works and a water taxi service that ferries guests to and from the city. They’ve got a lease on Fort Baker for another 50 years and plan to continue offering San Francisco-centric experiences. “Our approach to the hospitality business is we’re more than just selling beds. What we want to do is create experiences. Create memories for people,” Heinemann says. “People come here, and they’re coming here for leisure.  They’re coming here to unplug, but unplugging today is not just lying on the beach. It’s learning something new, whether it’s about your lifestyle or cooking skills. We create those kinds of special experiences that you wouldn’t ordinarily find in a traditional hotel. Essentially what we try to do is create a little bit of magic.”

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