Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Steep Ravine Cabins

If you were ever going to create a Bay Area Bucket List (or maybe you already have?) then the Steep Ravine Cabins should definitely be high on that list. They first came on my radar back in December when we took our very first family trip to Stinson Beach. While sitting on the sand, I noticed what appeared to be a cluster of bunkers sitting on a hillside about a mile down the coast. After doing a little research I was ecstatic to find out that not only were they cabins, but you could rent them!

The reservation process is a bit daunting and the entire month will book up in less than a few minutes once the reservation window opens. With that said, getting a weekend slot is hard to come across, so our reservation ended up being for a Monday night. I'm not one to complain about an extra long weekend, and traffic tends to be lighter during the week as well, so it was a win-win!

Check-in time is 2:00 pm, so we decided to spend the first half of the day at Stinson Beach. Since we booked our cabin 7 months in advance, we had no idea what the weather was going to be like, but we ended up getting unseasonably warm beach weather! It was a perfectly clear day and mid-80's with a slight breeze. Stinson is such a sweet little town and the beach is just beautiful. We had no problem finding a nice spot in the sand where the kids entertained themselves by building sand castles and chasing the waves.

We wrapped things up in the early afternoon and arrived at the gate to the Steep Ravine Cabins promptly at 2:00. We were so eager to check everything out! Once you drive through the gate, there is a long single-lane road that hugs the mountain and winds its way down to the cabins. On the drive in we saw huge hawks circling overhead and small lizards crossing the road.

We parked our car in the small lot next to the cabins and eagerly rushed down to our home for the night, otherwise known as Cabin #5. The cabins were originally built in the 1940's and were leased out to individual families. They were later acquired by the state and fell into disrepair until the 1980's when the cabins went through substantial renovations and were made available to the public to rent. I have mentioned before how much I love good architecture, and I am particularly in love with functionally designed small spaces. This cabin was probably no more than 300 sq. feet, but I felt like our family of four could comfortably live there forever! There is a common room with a wood burning stove, built-in table and benches and a built-in sleeping platform as well as a nook for setting up a make-shift kitchen. A small hallway leads to a bedroom with two more sleeping platforms (one full size, one twin size), and off the hallway is a small closet and another small room with a sleeping platform perfect for a child. And of course there are the huge windows over-looking the ocean which make the cabins feel twice their size.

One of my favorite parts of trips like this is the disconnect you feel from the rest of the world. Aside from some play-doh and a couple of flashlights, we didn't bring any "entertainment" for the kids, and we didn't need to! They were happy exploring the hillside, looking out for lizards and birds and playing with rocks and sticks. After grilling up some sausages we took a short walk along a nearby hiking trail and watched the sunset (a luxury we don't often get to experience with kids!).

Once the sun went down, we got out our flashlights and sat in the common room chatting with the kids and having some very silly conversations. There is something about staying up way past your bedtime in a dark cabin with flashlights that brings out the silly side of everyone. We had a cabin full of laughter.

After the girls went to sleep, we stayed up a little longer, enjoying the peacefulness of the setting and watching as deer passed outside our window! We don't see a lot of wildlife, aside from squirrels, birds and maybe the ocassional racoon, so having a deer walking just a few feet from our cabin window was pretty amazing!

I think this is a good point to talk about having realistic expectations when traveling with kids. This was our very first cabin-camping experience with the girls, and I approached it knowing that the likelihood of me getting a great night sleep was pretty much zero. Our youngest was moving all over the place on her sleeping platform which made me nervous that she would fall out, so she quickly was moved into bed with us. Halfway through the night our air mattress was pretty deflated and by 4 in the morning both kids were WIDE awake and wanting to explore! After a few more changes to our sleeping arrangements, everyone was back to sleep until about 7am. We definitely have not figured out the sleeping situation (is it possible to sleep comfortably while camping??) but that didn't take away from the experience at all for me. If anything I just laugh at the memory of our 2 year old wanting to sleep on top of me while I sank further down into a deflated mattress, and our 4 year old peeing outdoors at 4am while we looked out on the ocean and the fog rolling in.

The weather on the coast can change drastically from one day to the next, and we woke up to a pretty cold cabin and a lot of fog outside. It didn't faze the kids one bit, and I got to work making some pancakes and coffee, which quickly warmed me up. Despite the cold morning and dense fog, we got to see some pretty amazing wildlife in the first few hours of daylight. We saw dozens of dolphins swimming along the coast as well as a seal that was thrashing around in the water with a large fish for a solid ten minutes while birds circled overhead and dove down trying to get the fish each time the seal came above the water. Again, since we aren't used to a lot of wildlife where we live, this was a particularly amazing treat for us.

After breakfast we packed the car up and said goodbye to our lovely little cabin.

Some tips if you are headed to Steep Ravine:
  • There really are no bad cabins, but after scoping out all the options, I would say that our cabin (#5) probably was the least desirable because the cabin below us obstructed some of our view. The other cabins had more of an elevation differential and therefore, less obstructed views. The upside to our cabin is that it had the gentlest slope surrounding it and more room for the kids to explore without getting close to some of the steeper portions of the hillside. 
  • The cabins come equipped with brooms and a dustpan, as well as a bottle opener and a wood burning stove. You can purchase wood for the stove in the parking lot, or bring your own. There is also a barbecue outside each cabin (don't forget to bring charcoal and matches).
  • You may want to bring extra sheets to hang from the windows for additional privacy. There are clips already in place, you just need to bring the sheet. 
  • There is no electricity in the cabins or plumbing, however there are water spickets located centrally among the cabins and two bathrooms with sinks and real toilets. They do NOT have soap or paper towels, so bring your own. 
  • They allow you to light candles in the cabin and there are hooks in the ceiling beams for hanging flashlights or lanterns. 
  • While there are sleeping platforms, there are NO mattresses, so you will need to bring your own mattress pad and linens. 
  • The best cabins in my opinion were #10 and #9, followed closely by #7 and #8. Cabins #5, #2 and #6 are in a row above cabins #7-9 and therefore have slightly obstructed views of the water. The upside to this row of cabins is that you are further away from where the hillside becomes steeper and potentially dangerous for kids. With that said, assuming there is appropriate supervision, I don't think that any of the cabin locations would be dangerous for families with young kids. 
  • Small field mice CAN get into the cabin, so you want to make sure you don't leave food out. I also noticed that some people have used duct tape to tape over any openings at the bottom of the door to the cabin. This seems like a good option if you don't plan on having to exit the cabin multiple times at night for bathroom runs.
  • Stinson beach is a short 5-10 minute drive away and there are restaurants and a small market if you forget anything.
  • The cabins rent out for $100/night, which is pretty amazing considering the location and views!
  • Reservations can be made through Reserve America up to 7 months in advance.  Make sure you are reserving a cabin and not a campsite (assuming you want a cabin). You can also check for last minute cancellations if you have a flexible schedule.

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