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March 24, 2010

elephantjournal Reviews: A green hotel, Cavallo Point, near San Francisco. ~Jeff Waltcher

Disclosure: elephantjournal.com received a signifcantly reduced rate by way of reviewing Cavallo.

I recently visited the Bay Area and had a chance to stay at what might be the greenest luxury resort in the USA.

Cavallo Point is located practically under the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin County side (say Sausalito) on land that is part of the Fort Baker National Park Area. The property is affiliated with the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur—which is the most romantic small resort I have ever visited (and at $1,000+ per night, only for the truly wealthy or madly in love).

Cavallo Point has achieved LEED Gold status, and the management team hopes to achieve LEED Platinum, the highest level of green building certification. This means that every aspect of the resort’s planning, construction and management—from building footprints to construction materials, energy use to water management, to restoration of the natural environment—reflects a meaningful commitment to attaining a sustainable business operation.

In addition, the on-site store, spa and restaurant feature local, organic and sustainable products that reflect the resort’s commitment to eco-responsible values.

About half of the rooms are spread out in a group of restored buildings that used to serve as officers’ quarters for the Fort Baker military establishment. The restoration seems true to the original plan, but with upgraded bathrooms, etc. Most of the rooms look out at the the old parade ground and San Francisco Bay. The other half of the rooms (my favorite) are in newly built small condo-like buildings that all face the red spans of the Golden Gate Bridge…that includes the view from the two-person spa tubs in the luxo modern bathrooms. Nice. The floors, trim and even the furniture are primarily bamboo, which may or may not be a truly sustainable choice. Still, it reflects a real attempt to go green. The rooms are begging to be worn in by the words (and actions) of lovers, or traveling business types who have time to stop and smell the flowers.

From the restored main building you can enjoy those same city-by-the-bay views from a lovely porch complete with blankets for cool nights, while you sip a martini or a glass of wine from the restaurant’s killer wine list (yes there are some organic wines)…or you can eat indoors to avoid the evening chill. Chef Joseph Humphrey earned a Michelin star just after opening Murray Circle at Cavallo Point. Humphrey is all about organic and sustainable ingredients. I didn’t eat there because my favorite sushi restaurant in the world, Sushi Ran, is just down the street on Caledonia in Sausalito.

The beautiful spa facility is vintage Cali green: new construction, sustainable materials, a store filled with spa products and a drink bar with the latest in healthy teas and booster-filled health potions. The spa offers a wide range of services, high tea and lunch on weekends, and the staff reported that 40% of its customers are local San Francisco and Marin County residents. A minor turnoff was the “meditation pool” which seemed like an oversized outdoor hot tub, and being shown the while-you-wait-for-a-massage stress reducing coloring books that were recommended by my tour guide.

As a builder myself, it is hard to imagine the planning and politics that must have been required for the owners of this resort to build it. To create a partnership with the US government and build a green luxury resort on an old military base that is now part of a National Park was obviously a Herculean task!

The big issue I have with this resort is that in a way, its magic (the site, the partnership with government) is also its curse. Considering the exclusive luxury prices, I expected to arrive in an exclusive place, and be greeted and cared for as one of the privileged few trading treasure for a few heavenly moments.

Instead, as I pulled up at the unmarked entrance (the gov’t won’t let the resort put any signs on the old buildings), I found myself in a crowd of Saturday afternoon Bay Area hikers and families climbing out of their SUV’s as Cavallo Point remains part of the Fort Baker National Park.

Call me selfish and arrogant, but in this regard, the guest experience at Cavallo is just not up to snuff: If I am going to lay out $500+ to spend 24 hours at a luxury resort, I want to feel the exclusivity and romance that is advertised, and take a break from the weekend warriors (including myself) that I can sit next to at any Bay Area café for the price of a $5 latte.

Check it out for yourself at www.cavallopoint.com.

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Jeff Waltcher

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