Gone glamping

| August 12, 2011 More

What’s wrong with a little nurture with nature? Absolutely nothing.

By Katharine Fong
Glamorous camping, or “glamping,” conjures up images of exotic landscapes where spacious tents are luxuriously appointed with ridiculously thick duvets and Egyptian linens, valets attend to one’s every need and gourmet suppers are served by candlelight.

That kind of trip exists, of course, but not everyone can swing it, and not everyone needs candlelight. What’s a girl to do?

Glamping locally is the answer. It’s greener (no plane trips or long drives), offers great variety in terrain and features, and can be as upscale, romantic or family-oriented as a girl wants it to be.

Commune with nature, hike mountain and valley, breathe in fresh sea air – then stargaze from a chaise lounge and snuggle comfortably into bed? The great outdoors never sounded so good. Throw in hot water and indoor plumbing and we’re there!

Some options:

airstream bed

A slice of americana

Glamping in an iconic Airstream at Kampgrounds of America Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay isn’t quite partaking of the full-on RV experience. After all, it’s not as if we were on the road with it, and with the sites packed tightly with tents, pre-fab cabins and RVs, we were hardly on our own.

But the gleaming silver 25-foot trailers are nicely stocked with linens and kitchenware, and have all the comforts of home, including stovetop, refrigerator, microwave and TV. Every inch of space is used, including for ingenious storage areas. The Airstream sleeps four comfortably. The “bedroom” in the back, in fact, had a cushy queen mattress and high-enough ceiling so that claustrophobia – often a problem with RVs – was not an issue.

If you and your pals are not supermodels, the quarters can be tight, with a lot of “excuse me” and “sorry” as you all try to move around. But you’ll be outdoors most of the time anyway (La Selva Beach is nearby), and it’s a small trade-off to enjoy “both a technological and aesthetic masterpiece” (says Paola Antonelli, senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art, which has an Airstream in its permanent collection).

Glamp on: Well-lit bathroom and sink area, the better to touch up makeup in the large wall mirror.

Glamp off: The shower’s water tank only holds six gallons; use the communal showers, which have hot water in abundance.

Kampgrounds of America Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay
1186 San Andreas Road. Watsonville, CA, 800.562.7701,
From $165 per night. Activities and entertainment for all ages, including jumping “pillow,” pool, banana bike rental, mini-golf. Free Wi-Fi

safari bed

Out of Africa

When Bulldozer the giraffe leaned down into the open Land Rover, we thought that he might nuzzle one of us, but no, he merely nibbled on the vehicle’s canvas top and posed for photos. We felt a little more tense passing the Cape buffalo, who according to our guide are right up there with lions and elephants as one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. But like the kudu and wildebeest, the buffalo just stared placidly as we trundled by.

While there are no lions or elephants at Safari West, the glamper thirsting for a little adventure with her hot shower and (votive) candlelight dinner should book a night at the Santa Rosa wildlife preserve, pronto. Not only will the three-hour safari drive and walking tour through the “Sonoma Serengeti” thrill with its 80 species of animals – cheetah, lemurs, addax, rhinos and zebra among them – but also the accommodations are fabulous: authentic African tent cabins on platforms with decks that overlook a lake; hardwood floors; deluxe beds and plush bedding and linens; en suite bathrooms with copper basins and toiletries.

The mission of 22-year-old, 400-acre Safari West is wildlife preservation through breeding, education and research, and public awareness and interaction. This means a girl can get up close and personal with many animals threatened with extinction – and because of the classy setting, barely mess up that pedicure.

Glamp on: Wake to the sound of the African savannah – in the midst of wine country.

Glamp off: If you really need your cellphone to work, you may be out of luck.

Safari West
3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, 707.579.2551, safariwest.com
Tent cabin rates $200-$295; breakfast included. Safari tours: adults and teens $68; children 3-12 $30; infants 1-2 $10

A variety of private animal encounters, and Swedish pressure-point massage and other events/services are available. Restaurant serves safari ranch-style lunch and dinner with reservations only; snack shop; gift shop. No pets

yurtyurt interior

Yes to yurts

What a difference a heater makes. Purists no doubt cringe at the thought of such a modern contraption inside a yurt – a circular, domed tent with canvas sides, used by nomadic peoples of central Asia.

But consider: Our yurt at Mount Madonna County Park, in the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was set up well above ground. Nighttime in late May, however, brought bone-chilling temperatures that permeated the yurt, the sleeping bags, the streetclothes we slept in. Yes, glam girl slept, unsuccessfully, in her performance fleece – socks, even.

Warmer weather would no doubt be more pleasant, and with such budget rates, a girl can’t really complain. The clean yurt interior had a small table and two bunk beds and a futon couch, all with mattresses encased in vinyl. The skylight and two “windows” were made of heavy-duty, clear plastic and let in decent light during the day.

The park, a hiker’s paradise, currently has five yurts from 16 to 24 feet in diameter, each with wraparound deck and locking door. All campsites have a picnic table, food locker and fire pit, should you get a yen for S’mores.

Glamp on: Historical ruins of cattle baron Henry Miller’s summer home; fenced areas with cute white fallow deer; archery range for glamazons.

Glamp off: Bathrooms are ice cold-water only! With no mirrors or surfaces to place toiletries! Showers are a bit of a walk from many of the campsites!

Back to the heater. Big Sur is close to heaven on Earth, and the yurts at Treebones Resort get you that much closer. You have to drive along Highway 1 almost to Gorda to reach the place, well south of the more familiar Big Sur landmarks like Nepenthe, Deetjen’s and the (writer) Henry Miller Library. Treebones’ 16 yurts all boast decks with Adirondack chairs that look out onto ocean or mountainside. Showers and restrooms are close by.

And – each yurt has its own heater (hallelujah!), insulated walls and ceilings, modern sinks with hot and cold running water (and mirror), lighting to read by and electrical outlets to charge gadgets, polished wood floors, super comfy beds and linens. The eminently drinkable tap water, in fact, is from Treebones’ own mountain source.

Plus, a glamper can crush on the ocean views from the restaurant, whose veggies and herbs come from the resort’s organic garden; outdoor sushi bar; lounge with Wi-Fi; and sweet-but-smallish heated pool and Jacuzzi. Complimentary breakfast includes make-your-own waffles, scrambled eggs from the property’s chickens, homemade granola and yogurt, yummy fruit.

The area around Treebones abounds with picturesque beaches (listen for the barking seals at dusk), hiking trails, picnic spots. But with a “massage treehouse” on-site and free morning yoga classes three days a week, why leave the property?

Glamp on: Wonderfully romantic, what with sunsets at sea and a remote “end of the Earth” feel to the locale.

Glamp off: The serenity encourages quiet whale-watching, book-reading and hushed conversations, so kids are best left at home (everything is audible through a yurt).

Mount Madonna State Park
Pole Line Road at the summit of Highway 152 (10 miles west of Gilroy); reserve at 408.355.2201 or gooutsideandplay.org.
Yurt rates $35-$90 depending on season and size. No pets allowed in yurts.

Treebones Resort
71895 Highway 1, Big Sur, 877.424.4787, treebonesresort.com.
16 yurts, five campsites, one “human nest” (made of woven wood, perched in a tree). Yurts from $169; two-night minimum April to October. No pets or children under 6

airstream back

The iconic Airstream at Kampgrounds of America Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay.

safari truck

Bulldozer the giraffe socializing with guests and posing for photos at Safari West.


At Treebones, all yurts feature decks with Adirondack chairs looking out to sea or mountainside.

Other glamping spots in Northern California

Costanoa Coastal Lodge and Camp
An upscale “eco-adventure resort,” 2001 Rossi Road at Highway 1, Pescadero, 650.879.1100, costanoa.com

Kampgrounds of America – Petaluma
Cabins and lodges (and the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets nearby!), plus family-friendly activities, 20 Rainsville Road, Petaluma, 800.562.1233,

The Sequoia High Sierra Camp
Luxury tent cabins with plush-top mattresses and down feather pillows, along with three-course alfresco dinners, in the heart of Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, 65745 Big Meadow Road, Giant Sequoia National Monument, 866.654.2877,

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