The Best Glamping in California
Enjoying the great outdoors has never been easier or more luxe.
EARLY 30s, RUGGEDLY bearded, clad in plaid flannel (American made), fitted Levi’s raw selvedge denim, Red Wing boots — you’ve seen them shopping at Whole Foods and Nugget Markets, and there’s a name for them: lumbersexuals. The term lumbersexual itself is a portmanteau of a portmanteau, where lumberjack meets metrosexual (an urban man meticulous about his grooming and appearance), and while fashion doesn’t always correlate with social movements, there seems to be some interplay here. In the past year, Topo Designs, Tanner Goods and Filson have all opened brick-and mortar-shops in San Francisco filled with wares like leather-bound flasks, roll-top rucksacks and water-repellent tin cloth jackets to meet the needs of discerning outdoor enthusiasts. And as long as you are dressed for it, you might as well head outdoors. The past two years have marked a rise in all kinds of camping throughout the United States, with the total numbers for completed overnight stays hitting 8.45 million in 2014, up almost 7 percent from 7.91 million in 2013, according to National Park Service data. These numbers account for four types of camping: tent, backcountry, RV and at campsites operated by concessionaires. Backcountry, aka wilderness camping, got the biggest boost, with a nearly 10 percent jump from 2013.
But we live in a time of convenience and easy entertainment, and campsites today are catering to that. Boutique music festivals like Day in the Desert offer an intimate, limitedcapacity experience for attendees, with a variety of accommodations, including tepee tents and, for those really not inclined to sleep outdoors, rooms at the nearby Pioneer Motel. Throughout the country, a desire to connect with nature without abandoning creature comforts has given rise to glamorous camping, or glamping, with sites like Hipcamp and Glamping Hub providing leads to shelter ranging from barn lofts to geodesic domes. Looking to get away from it all (or most of it)? The experience is a mere click and a drive away.
So what exactly is Hipcamp? Simply put, it’s the brainchild of Corte Madera native and current Sausalito floating-home resident Alyssa Ravasio, who felt conventional websites for booking outdoorsy stays left a lot to be desired. Furthermore, Hipcamp offers campsites at all national, state and regional parks in all 50 states, and at Army Corps of Engineers sites. It also recently launched the country’s first land-sharing marketplace, which allows access to private spots like Oz Farm in Point Arena and nature preserves, for starters. “We’re adding about 10 pieces of land every week,” says Ravasio. “This unlocks access to places people have never been able to go before in Marin, like Salmon Creek Ranch and more.”
Hipcamp’s mission is to get people outside and connected to and caring about the land, something it aims to facilitate by streamlining the booking. An easy-to-use website lets prospective campers browse by location, view user photos, and get a concise rundown of activities and features available at each site. Think TripAdvisor, but with a more appealing interface. It even provides unorthodox guides for the truly adventurous that explore topics like the best leaves to use if you have no toilet paper and the best way to get it on outdoors. Additionally, if you’re fortunate enough to own a scenic parcel, or if you are having problems affording said parcel, the Hipcamp people are always looking for great new properties. “We’re using recreation to fund conservation,” Ravasio states. “Landowners don’t want to sell their land or change it. This lets them earn some revenue.”
One such spot, is the site of a former commune tucked away in a valley by the coast, about 120 miles north of Marin. Power is almost entirely wind- and solar-generated, and the place is a vast cellphone dead zone. Lodging consists of two yurts and five distinctive cabins that discreetly dot the 230-acre property. A pair of geodesic domes is separated by the Garcia River, accessible only via a makeshift wood plank. And dog owners can breathe a sigh of relief: Oz Farm is pet friendly.
Amenities vary slightly from cabin to cabin, as do number of beds, but all include a wood-burning heater, a sink with potable water and an outhouse. The community house has a common kitchen, indoor plumbing and dual soaking tubs reminiscent of a Cialis commercial. In the middle of it all is a 17-acre organic garden; campers can purchase a box of seasonal produce to cook with for $20, and don’t be afraid to ask the people working there for recipe ideas. You may find yourself utilizing garlic scapes and other plant parts you had no use for before.
Started in San Francisco by David Troya and Ruben Martinez, skews more toward glamour than camping and lets potential guests narrow their search in three ways: types of glamping, destinations and collections. “Families’ ideas of vacation are changing and traditional camping is a big investment,” Martinez says. “This way you get to enjoy Mother Nature and be comfortable.”
After playing around with the web options for a few minutes, you quickly come to a conclusion: that you can basically glamp anywhere. Caves in Spain, eco-pods in England, camper vans in France — destinations include more than 80 countries, with more than 400 in California alone. Some of the categories are broad, like best luxury camping in the United States; others cover a niche, like yurt rentals near Monument Valley. Looking for a pet- or family-friendly cabin? There’s an entire portal dedicated to that.
Closer to home, a three- to four-hour drive will land you at a popular Glamping Hub property, Treebones Resort in Big Sur. The resort is primarily yurts — there are 16 — though it also offers traditional campsites; an in between option consisting of a Sibley tent atop a wood platform; and a “human nest.”
Situated just so, the nest is a woven wood-art structure accessible by ladder with sweeping views of the Pacific. Created and built by Big Sur artist Jayson Fann, it isn’t waterproofed, but if you’re fine with some morning mist, a night here is likely an experience you’ll never forget. The other options aren’t quite so rustic: the yurts have queen-size beds, plush comforters and a separate seating area. Amenities aside, Treebones is an eco resort and has taken it upon itself to “perch lightly.” Unlike most all-inclusive properties offering buffets, it serves organic farm-to-table dinners made with locally grown ingredients. Food waste from the restaurant is fed to the chickens on site or composted in the organic garden. Guests can go on several eco adventures, including a moderate Big Sur hike or ocean kayaking trip. Massage is available for adventure-sore muscles.
In addition to Hipcamp and Glamping Hub, other alternative lodging includes Costanoa, the Pescadero eco resort whose tent bungalows and expansive spa have made it a glamping favorite since 1999 and where activities include mountain biking, horseback riding and a kids’ camp. Its calendar of seasonal events ensures an active stay year round.
Another favorite is El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara, where you can hike, dine and enjoy spa treatments in a serene natural setting. The once-spartan campground has blossomed into a resort getaway under new ownership: since 2001 accommodations have included cedar cabins with down comforters and wood-floored safari tents. Restricted parking limits noise pollution and summer evening entertainment makes for a luxe vibe.
For something more quaint and secluded, consider the Redwood Tree House in Healdsburg. Nestled within a redwood grove, it flanks the Russian River, where you can go rafting, hang by the water or simply explore Sonoma County’s famously delicious wines.
Wherever you go glamping, one thing’s for sure: those who try it rarely go only once.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Glamping, California Style “.