Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate, is the nicest hotel in San Francisco about which you’ve never heard. The facility occupies the former site of Fort Baker, a U.S. Army outpost on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge. That means most of the buildings are historic. It also means that on a clear day—they’re rarer than you think around here—the views of the city and the bridge are spectacular.

I spent a recent weekend at the property with my family. Here, in no particular order, are the four things we loved most.

The location

Cavallo Point sits just outside San Francisco, across the mouth of San Francisco Bay in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. Technically it’s part of a national park, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The hotel offers perfect perspectives of the bridge itself and the city across the bay. It’s a short drive to the Marin Headlands hiking area and Sausalito. Because the property occupies the former grounds of Fort Baker, it fans out like a horseshoe around a 10-acre parade grounds. This open field (again, with incredible views of the Golden Gate) is a great spot for picnics, Ultimate Frisbee games, or for games of chase and tag. The hotel also is a short walk from the Fort Baker Historic Boat Shop and Marina.

For family travelers, the hotel also is mere steps from the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which occupies some of the old storage buildings at Fort Baker. My kids love this museum because it’s huge and offers a variety of activities. Their favorites? Playing in the natural tree forts and building with the giant blue Styrofoam blocks.

View from a room

View from a room

The rooms

There are two main types of rooms at Cavallo Point—historic rooms, which are in some of the original (and restored) officers’ quarters, and contemporary rooms, which have been built in the last 10 years and sit on the hill behind the original buildings of the fort.

Each of these options is nice for different reasons.

With the 70 historic rooms, the draw is character. Rooms have original windows, original tin ceilings, original crown moldings, and original fireplaces. Most of these options are two-bedroom, family-friendly suites. They’re also dog-friendly. Furniture in these rooms is contemporary but with a country flare. Many also can be reserved together, for small parties or groups of friends.

With the 70 contemporary rooms, the draw is modernity. The new buildings were built to the most current sustainability standards, which means materials inside are as eco-friendly as possible. Some even have balconies. I appreciated the mini-fridge; we always bring our own snacks and this made it easy to keep yogurt, milk, and cheese sticks fresh. Another feature I really liked was the bathroom, which featured a deep soaking tub.

The restaurant and bar

Cavallo Point has two dining options: Murray Circle, a fancy-pants sit-down restaurant, and the more casual Farley Bar. We didn’t try the restaurant for dinner; it felt too stuffy and the kids were sloppier than usual at nights during our stay. Instead, we spent our evening meals at the bar.

Viewfinder Tip: Take advantage of Cavallo Point’s complimentary wine hour and enjoy your vino in a rocking chair on the porch of the main building. On a clear day, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Original tin ceilings, a built-in wooden bartop, roaring fireplaces, and period lighting fixtures set the scene here and made my wife and me feel like we had stepped back in time. The kids’ meals, grilled cheese and chicken strips, came with heaping bowls of seasonal berries. My wife and I opted for traditional bar food and stiff drinks—both of which were executed to perfection.

Perhaps most important, we were comfortable. I learned a long time ago that sometimes dining with kids in a hotel bar can be riddled with dirty glances from fellow patrons and uncomfortable feelings inside your head. At Farley, we fit right in. In fact, while the kids were enjoying ice cream sundaes for dessert, I noticed four other families dining in the bar. The takeaway: Families and the Farley coexist nicely.

The spa

Technically, the spa facility at Cavallo Point is called the Healing Arts Center & Spa. This means it’s much more than a place to get massages (though the place offers plenty of those).

Instead, the experience here is all about rejuvenation. There’s a heated outdoor meditation pool beneath the pines. There’s a reflection garden. And a tea bar. If you wanted to heal really badly, you could even sign up for a session with one of the facility’s holistic medical practitioners, or a local shaman.

To be clear, I didn’t do any of those things.

I did, however, take a class through the resort’s Well-Fit Outdoor Fitness program. Over the course of 60 minutes, I sweat profusely while performing lunges and squats, conquering obstacle courses, flinging battle and jump ropes, lifting kettlebells and medicine balls, and powering through TRX and other activities that challenged my muscles like Mickey Goldmill. The experience was among the most satisfying hotel classes I’ve ever taken. I’m not sure it healed me of anything, but it sure felt great.

What are some of the things you like best about your favorite hotels?

Photos courtesy of Cavallo Point. Header photo by Kodiak Greenwood; body photo by Steven Rothfeld.