Wine Country glamping resorts offer all the joy, none of the hassle
Hankering to sleep in the outdoors and connect with nature? Seeking that nostalgic summer camp experience without the ants in your pants and the sand in your sleeping bag? If only we could camp out without having to load the car with supplies, haul a trailer, or pitch a tent in the middle of the night.
A new way to go camping without having to rough it is called glamping, also known as luxury camping or glamorous camping. Popular around the country, glamping resorts have popped up in recent years around the Wine Country and on the California coast.
Promising the comforts of home, and many of the comforts of luxury hotels, they set up permanent tents in beautiful places, such as forests and wildlife preserves, blufftop retreats and secluded hideaways.
The perfect cure for workaday stress and campout envy is sleeping under canvas on a real bed on Egyptian cotton sheets in a cozy, lantern-lit tent. Roasting s'mores over a campfire, relaxing in a hot tub and limitless daytime adventures are all on the glamping menu, too.
All of these glampsites are located near hiking, biking, kayaking, animal viewing, tourist attractions and wineries.
Mendocino Grove, Mendocino
Already popular in just two years are the 60 spacious tents of Mendocino Grove, perched on a forested headland above the Pacific, less than a mile from the Victorian town of Mendocino. On redwood platforms, the 12-by-14-foot tents are kitted out with comfy queen beds with down comforters, heated mattress pads, wool blankets, lanterns and picnic tables. Leather slingback chairs on “front porch” decks are prime spots for forest bathing and quiet contemplation beneath the trees.
Nearby is the bathhouse with plush amenities and towels. You can really settle in by ordering, in advance, firewood, a s'mores kit; a hamper of cutlery, crockery and glassware; and even a complete picnic dinner to cook on your own fire ring.
Some tents have wheelchair access, and two have glorious coastal views. Rare for glamping properties, larger family tents at the Grove come with queen and twin beds, or two sets of bunk beds (dogs are welcome, too). Beaches, state parks, hiking trails, river kayaking and the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are literally minutes away.
Safari West, Santa Rosa
Although many glamping resorts offer safari- style tents, only Safari West offers a real African wildlife experience. On grasslands and low hills east of Windsor and west of Calistoga, this 400-acre preserve is world-famous for its walking and driving expeditions to view hundreds of African plains animals roaming free - giraffes, zebras, exotic species of antelopes, cheetahs, hyenas and many more. Also on site are vividly colored birds and waterfowl, plus monkeys and other primates, and reptiles.
Imported from Botswana, each of 30 tents are truly glam, with high viewing decks, bathrooms, hardwood floors, ceiling fans, hand-crafted furnishings and electricity. Through large screened window openings, guests may lie awake to hear the grunt of a rhino and the call of the Trumpeter hornbill (bring earplugs).
In the evenings, wildlife experts and scientists speak on topics from lion conservation to sharks. Kids love the Campfire Chats around the fire on Sundays, when they listen to African folktales and create crafts. Among other special activities are the Stargazing Safari, the Rhino Experience and cheetah barn visits. Lunch and dinner are available in the Savannah Café, where wood-fired, South African-style “Braai” grilled meats are featured.
Bell tents, Westerbeke Ranch
In the wooded foothills above the town of Sonoma, tucked away in a quiet corner of historic Westerbeke Ranch, four “Bell Tents” are inviting retreats, each with comfy queen or twin beds with duvets, lanterns, towels and access to a nice bathhouse. (Bell-type tents are like tipis, supported by a central pole.)
Ranch guests spend their lazy days hanging out around the huge pool and the hot tub, and wandering the extensive gardens and oak groves.
After visits to Sonoma Valley wineries and hiking on the property and in Jack London State Park, optional massages and meals in the museum-like, Mission-style ranch house are inviting, too.
Built in the 1930s, catering to groups for decades, the ranch is dotted with charming vintage cottages, some with fireplaces and several bedrooms. If you're very lucky, you may be able to snatch a booking for the three-bedroom Yellow Cabin, where the fireplace and the shady porch are places to spend a quiet weekend.
AutoCamp, Russian River
Upping the glam in glamping, AutoCamp near Guerneville on the Russian River is a dazzling enclave of 24 new, custom-designed Airstream trailers and 10 completely outfitted canvas tents.
Clustered in a Redwood grove, sleek, “silver bullet” Airstream trailers gleam in the moonlight as guests huddle around their fire rings, spinning ghost stories and reliving their daytime adventures kayaking on the river or pedaling into Guerneville on the resort's cruiser bikes.
The Airstreams sport queen beds and sofabeds, TVs, private decks Bluetooth audio, kitchens and walk-in showers. Just one “Redwood Suite” is a glass-enclosed, modern cabin with queen beds, a trellised deck, kitchen, bathroom and patio, a fire ring grill, and even spa robes.
Guests gather in the mid-century modern clubhouse and around indoor and outdoor fire pit lounges; the general store is stocked with local wine, beer and snacks, hot drinks and fresh fruit.
You can walk from here to a riverside beach, and bike or drive five minutes into town for gallery browsing and restaurants, and to Armstrong Redwood State Park.
Yurts, Bothe-Napa State Park
Located 5 miles north of St. Helena, seven simple, circular tents on wooden platforms at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offer affordable options to pricey accommodations in the valley. It may not be glamping, and yet, sleeping four to six, the popular, canvas-sided yurts each have a full-sized mattress, and cots, fire rings and picnic tables. Recently restored, rustic cabins are also available at the park.
Hiking trails wander through stands of coastal redwoods and a forest of Douglas-fir, oak and madrone; and one of the short trails leads to Grist Mill State Historic Park. The Redwood Trail is a ferny delight, with water splashing along a rocky creek. Small fees are asked for use of the showers, and the large swimming pool (open weekends, with a lifeguard).
In the park, check out the Pioneer Cemetery, a fascinating resting place of some of the original settlers of the Napa Valley.
Karen Misuraca is a Sonoma Valley-based guidebook author, travel journalist and the founder of DeepCultureTravel.com.