In the Shadow of the Golden Gate: History and Luxury with the World’s Greatest View

Incredible views, rich history, and true luxury, all in the awe-inspiring shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Let’s face it: The Golden Gate Bridge doesn’t have a bad angle. Whether dressed in fog or shining in the glow of the late-afternoon sun, it’s always worthy of its status as a world icon.

Some may argue it’s best viewed from a distance, from which you can fully get a sense of the bridge and its majestic blend of urban and natural surroundings. Others say it’s most impressive as the background to a close-up of Alcatraz or the city skyline. But for my money, the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, faith-in-humanity-restoring angle is up close and low.

Happily, the lands on each side of the Strait of Golden Gate burst with reasons to visit.

San Francisco: Fort Point

(Photo: Ed Bierman via flickr/CC Attribution)

Ever noticed that the San Francisco side of the bridge has an underbelly arch? It’s a case of history changing history. The imposing Fort Point was built at the height of the Gold Rush to protect the San Francisco Bay against foreign attack. By the 1930s, original plans for the Golden Gate Bridge called for the razing of the old fort. But the chief engineer wanted to preserve the historical building, so he created a special arch for it. Today, visitors can explore the fort and marvel at the views of the bridge overhead, while just beyond the masonry walls crabbers and surfers dot the shore.

Marin: Fort Baker

(Photo: Kodiak Greenwood)

Walk or drive over the bridge and you’ll find an entire world tucked in on its Marin bayside. Fort Baker was originally built to guard the San Francisco Bay against enemy fleets. Now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the decommissioned army post has found new life as Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate.

Here, in the matching Colonial Revival houses lining the parade ground, officers’ residences have been reimagined as suites. In the old barracks, restored pressed-metal ceilings weave the thread of history into the Lodge’s destination restaurant, Murray Circle, and the more relaxed Farley Bar. Newer buildings sit unobtrusively along the hillside, offering modern rooms and incredible Golden Gate views. Everywhere you go, the scent of eucalyptus trees mingles with the ocean air, so thick you can almost taste land and sea with every breath.

Walk the property (or call for a ride; since Cavallo Point is spread out across acres, the staff will gladly shuttle you around) to discover more treasures of new and old. The Healing Arts Center & Spa, ranked one of the top hotel spas in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, offers wellness treatments and integrative medicine from its hillside perch. When the original chapel isn’t being used for weddings, it’s a peaceful spot for morning yoga classes. And know that each new discovery here comes with an unrivaled view of the Bay, San Francisco across the water, and the Golden Gate, which seems to capture each sunrise and sunset with its International Orange glow.

The lands flanking the entrance to the San Francisco Bay aren’t simply anchor points for the world’s most famous bridge. They are destinations in their own right, full of history and beauty. And the view they afford? That’s icing on the cake.

(Cover Photo: Chris Connelly via flickr/CC Attribution)

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

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