Friday, July 15, 2016

Our West Point Inn Adventure

"Secluded among the trees on the upper south slope of Mt. Tamalpais, the Inn was a brief stop on the “Crookedest Railroad in the World”, where passengers could meet a stagecoach bound for the beach. The railroad is gone now, but the West Point Inn remains as an "off the grid" haven for hikers and a monument to the rich historic heritage of our region."

To say I am excited about sharing our recent stay at the West Point Inn would be an understatement. The Inn, which was built in 1904, is a beautiful building situated near the top of Mt. Tam that boasts huge original windows, built-in dining hutches, two large fireplaces, propane lights and a massive wrap-around covered porch that looks over the entire Bay Area. In other words, a dream of a place to call home for a night. The main Inn has 7 rooms (all of which are single or double occupancy) as well as 5 cabins (which accommodate 2-5 people).

I approached the day of this trip thinking the adventure was either going to be awesome or completely horrible. My trepidation mainly stemmed from the fact that when I eagerly booked the rare Friday night opening for one of the cabins at the Inn, I had completely failed to recall all of the research I had done months prior that led me to the conclusion that this would be a great trip for when our kids were older. My conclusion was based on the fact that a stay at the inn required a two mile hike to the lodge. Somehow I forgot this key fact and had revised it in my head to be more like a 15 minute jaunt.

Two days before our scheduled stay I decided to brush up on the facts and get prepared for our trip. Multiple reviews from people who had stayed with young kids had estimated the hike to be close to two hours with little ones. My initial response was panic. The hike to the Inn requires you to carry all of your belongings, which meant carrying a child was not going to be an option. More panic. So it was with this slight uneasiness that we set off on what we told the girls was going to be a "very big adventure". We made sure to not downplay the length of the hike with the kids and kept asking them if they were sure they could handle the "very big adventure". Thankfully they were up for the challenge, and they didn't disappoint.

After over an hour of hiking, we catch a glimpse of the lodge in the distance!

Check in time at the lodge is 2:00, so we arrived at the parking lot on Mt. Tam around noon, strapped on our heavy backpacks and set off on the trail. The first half mile or so is on a wide paved road, after which it turns into a wide dirt path with occasional rocky portions. There is a gradual incline, but overall the hike is not strenuous (the extra weight of a backpack made it challenging for me). In an attempt to keep the kids engaged and moving along on their own accord, we packed lots of snacks and had some fruit snacks to use as an incentive to reach the next bend in the trail. There were also frequent breaks to regain our strength and energy. Along the way we spotted lots of lizards and birds and even had a brief encounter with a snake that slithered past our 4 year old (which she thought was very cool).

The hike was easily my biggest concern, but I happy to report that we survived! The kids did an amazing job. Our youngest (almost 3 at the time) actually carried her own backpack for the first 1.5 miles and both kids walked the entire way there. The views along the way are nothing short of spectacular and they only got better when we reached the Inn. We arrived shortly before 2:00 (the hike took about 1 hour and 45 minutes) and got the keys to Cabin #10.

The sleeping porch is clearly the prized jewel of the cabin, which turns an otherwise small and rustic cabin into a truly special retreat. The large barn doors open onto a sizeable porch with an outdoor sink and shower and sweeping views of the Bay Area. Oh the views! I could have spent hours, if not days, just staring at the views. We quickly (and with quite a bit of relief) laid down our bags and began to explore the property.

Everything at the Inn was better than I expected. The grounds were so beautifully maintained and it was obvious that the volunteers that run the Inn take a lot of pride in maintaining both the buildings and surrounding landscaping.

We walked along the stone path that ran between our cabin and the main lodge, stopping to discover a small vegetable garden behind the Inn and taking a moment to relax in the adirondack chairs. The girls tried their hand at horse shoes (which is a surprisingly dangerous game when played by a three year old), and then happily occupied themselves for quite some time digging around in the dirt and rearranging rocks into small piles.

There is a nicely equipped kitchen at the Inn that is available for all overnight quests. It includes a refrigerator, gas stove/oven and all the utensils, bakeware, dishes you would need to accommodate a small army. I was concerned about how crowded the kitchen would get with all the guests sharing the space, but was surprised to never see more than a couple of groups overlapping at once. We brought along this sweet potato salad for our meal and I immediately wished we had taken on the extra weight of a bottle of wine!

After dinner, we headed back to the cabin where the kids eagerly tested out the outdoor shower! We were graced with absolutely perfect weather during our visit, which peaked in the mid-80's and made the cold-water showers refreshing and enjoyable for the kids. After changing into our pajamas, the kids settled in with some books from the main lodge and alternated between "reading" and coloring with some books we had brought with us.

Our cabin was furnished with a double bed and two single beds. There were pillows and quilts/down blankets available, but you are required to provide your own pillow cases and sheets (or you can rent them for a nominal fee). We brought along sleeping bags, so we just laid those on top of the already made beds and called it a day.

After the kids fell asleep, we snuck out onto the porch and enjoyed a beer while watching the fog roll in and the Bay Area light up as the night sky darkened.

a bit blurry...but you get the idea!
The next morning I woke up a few times to catch glimpses of the sun rising.

The kids are awake!
Once everyone was awake, we headed to the main Inn where I retrieved a loaf of banana bread that we brought along (I froze it the night before we left so it would travel better, and it was perfectly defrosted by morning). We sat on the porch and enjoyed a light breakfast along with some coffee while we stared in awe at the view.

While I would have loved to savor the morning, it was going to be another hot day and we had a long hike back to the car. So with a bit of reluctance, we said goodbye and set off down the dusty trail. The walk back was considerably easier since we were walking on a slight decline. While there were no encounters with snakes on the walk back, we did get to see a deer standing in the middle of the trail! This might not seem like a big deal to many, but we don't have deer in the flats of Berkeley, so this was a pretty exciting encounter with nature for us! We quietly watched the deer for a minute or so before it effortlessly scaled the rocky mountainside and peered down on us from above. With a boost of adrenaline from our deer sighting, we powered through the rest of the hike and made it back to the car in about an hour and a half.

What are you favorite overnight adventures in California?

Interested in more cabin camping options? Check out our visits to Samuel Taylor Park near Point Reyes, and the Steep Ravine cabins near Stinson Beach.

Details: Cabins/rooms at the West Point Inn are $50 per adult and $25 for children ages 2-17. Even if you don't plan on spending the night, I highly recommend taking a day hike out to the lodge for a picnic and the views!

Friday, July 8, 2016

10 kid-friendly breweries with a side of adventure

If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that we love to incorporate some good beer into our outings. We often goes as far as to plan our adventures around new breweries that we are eager to try out!  Over the past couple of years we have had great luck in finding a number of excellent East Bay breweries that offer both a kid-friendly environment as well as really great beers. I'm excited to share with you a roundup of our favorite spots that I recently put together for 510 Families. For each of the 10 breweries on the list I have included suggestions for outdoor adventures to pair with your brewery visit. I hope you enjoy!

You can see the full post here on 510 Families. Happy drinking!