Camping is actually extremely popular in Yosemite and not a bad option for the true outdoorsy types. Various campsites are located throughout the park. Get a list here.
One thing to keep in mind – bears! It’s actually smart to keep bears in mind at all times in Yosemite, no matter your accommodations. They are there and if you leave food in your car overnight, you run the risk of finding it broken into the next day. In fact, I was so concerned and overly-cautious, I took out of my car anything that might smell attractive to a bear (i.e. air freshener and perfumed hand lotion).
If not camping, there are only two places to consider staying, and both are quite different. For families or if traveling with Fido, stay at Tenaya Lodge. For couples, stay at the Ahwahnee.
Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
Set at the park’s South Gate (about a 40 minute drive from the entrance off Highway 41), Tenaya Lodge offers all-season recreation on the property ranging from hiking, biking, archery, a rock climbing wall, and skating to their new Ascent Spa for some relaxation. The property features a trio of swimming pools, two indoors and one outdoor that is currently undergoing a major renovation (expected to be completed this Spring). They also have plenty of dining options to meet your mood and desires from casual pub fare to elegant fine dining.
The Lodge likes to call their accommodations “roughing it” without the “rough” part. All of their rooms include climate control, free high-speed wireless Internet access, luxurious down bedding, coffee makers, irons and ironing boards, remote-control cable television with Nintendo and movies to order, and in-room safes. Bath amenities include all-natural ingredients and eco-friendly packaging.
Just a short walk from the main lodge, Tenaya’s recently remodeled cottages offer the benefits of a more secluded escape. It’s perfect for families and those who want a little more privacy with features such as fireplaces, private balconies, refrigerators, microwaves, televisions and more.
What struck me most about the property beyond its warm and inviting atmosphere was its blazing fire pits around the property (perfect to warm up post-dinner or post-skate with a Hot Cocoa or Hot Toddy!) and its liberal pet-friendly policies. It seemed almost every guest brought Fido with them!
Tenaya’s Fido Friendly Package includes a plush dog bed and water bowl for use during your stay, and a canine fact sheet with fun suggestions on pet-friendly areas to roam, as well as doggy do’s and don’ts during your stay. They also provide complimentary doggie treats for canine guests. To up the ante, go for the Deluxe Pampered Pet Package for just $30 more, and along with the aforementioned, this package also includes a gourmet dog bone with oats and honey baked fresh by the lodge’s Executive Chef. Seriously. You also get to take the recipe home with you. Most importantly, this package comes with pet-sitting time, so you can explore or have some time without your furry friend too.
Tenaya Lodge features five restaurants that take into consideration California’s regional flare and bounty under the direction of award-winning Executive Chef Frederick Clabaugh.
- Embers – This is the venue for a more upscale, intimate dining experience. A double-sided fireplace is the centerpiece of the space and the elegant high-back crimson chairs are a lovely touch to enjoy a long, leisurely, delicious five-course dinner.
- Sierra Restaurant – Sierra is Tenaya’s most popular restaurant, offering breakfast and dinner service. It has a variety of kid-friendly options and a nice breakfast buffet.
- Jackalope’s Bar and Grill – The rustic vibe and expansive U-shaped bar is lovely. You can enjoy upscale pub fare, salads, delicious local beers, wines and spirits at any time of the day or night. Rumor has it that a bear broke in recently and couldn’t find his way out. That’s gotta say something, right?
For a more romantic, luxurious stay, The Ahwahnee is the go-to spot. It is Yosemite National Park’s distinctive AAA Four-Diamond hotel, known for its majestic architecture and location within the park. From select rooms, you may have views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. In fact the site itself, once a village of the native Miwoks, was chosen because of its exposure to the sun and stunning views of such icons of Yosemite.
In years past, the Ahwahnee has been the chosen accommodation for royalty and presidents alike. In the early 1920’s, Stephen Mather, the National Park Service Director at the time, realized that the Park needed accommodations to suit the affluent and influential traveler.
By July 1925, Gilbert Stanley Underwood was selected as the architect for Yosemite’s new luxury hotel. The construction itself was the most complex trucking endeavor of its day with more than 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 feet of timber that had to be hauled over mountain roads to this remote location in the Valley.
Interestingly, part of the beauty is its rustic-looking façade with impressive wood columns and beams throughout. But be not fooled! To protect The Ahwahnee from fire, a fate of many of the Park’s earlier hotels, its wood-like facade is actually concrete, poured into rough-hewn wooden forms and stained to look like redwood.
The décor melds Art Deco, Native American, and Middle Eastern design, with some apparent influence from the Arts & Crafts movement that can be seen in the stenciling, woodwork, lighting fixtures and china patterns.
My favorite spot in the hotel was the Great Lounge, a living room or study of grand proportions with 24-foot-high ceilings, giant stone fireplaces, rich tapestries and elegant stained glass. A display of Native American hand woven baskets remind you of the history of the region, and wrought-iron chandeliers provide a warm glow in the evenings enhanced by the pleasant aroma of burning wood and caramel apple cider coming from the on-site candy shop. Historic photos of the property show it was once a makeshift hospital used by the US Navy during World War II.
Several other rooms off the Great Room – the Solarium, Winter Club Room, Mural Room, and Colonial Room – are perfect nooks to read a great book or journal your innermost thoughts while enjoying the surroundings. My laptop seemed very out of place in such a beautiful, historic setting.
Accommodations include 123 guest rooms (99 hotel rooms, parlors and suites and 24 cottages). To splurge, book The El Dorado Diggins Suite, which has been a private dining room, a cocktail lounge and even a chapel during World War II. The suite sleeps four and features a sunken living room and the only jacuzzi bathtub in Yosemite. Or try the romantic Mary Curry Tresidder Suite, which features a four-poster canopy bed, craftsman designed cabinets, a bidet, and is fit for a queen – literally. Queen Elizabeth II stayed in this suite on her trip to Yosemite in 1983.
The Ahwahnee Dining Room is a sight to be seen. I can’t think of a dining room I’ve been in that quite compares to its size and unique setting. Again, here, stained glass, floor-to-ceiling windows, and 34-foot high ceilings add to the ambience. This is not the place to come in jeans and a t-shirt. The space alone demands a more polished appearance. I could imagine the fancy parties and gatherings that have taken place here over the years and found myself feeling oddly nostalgic, wishing the likes of Cary Grant would sweep me off my feet and ask me for a dance.
Under the leadership of Executive Chef Percy Whatley, the kitchen consistently delivers dishes that highlight local ingredients and flavors. The kitchen (if you can sneak in for a special tour like I did) is quite a production.
Who knew on the other side of the door is such a well-oiled & active machine – almost everything, from the bread, to the cakes, to the veal stock, is prepared fresh here daily. Chef Whatley loves to interact with guests, so ask to see him when you visit!
In 2008, Whatley joined an impressive roster of chefs, as one of eight semi-finalists for Bocuse d’Or USA, and prepared dinner at the Beard House as part of a James Beard Foundation Event, an honor given only to the finest chefs.
About the Author: Lindsay Taub is an award-winning journalist with over a decade of experience as a writer/editor/photographer covering travel, lifestyle, culture, arts, food, health, and all facets that make life a journey. Follow her on twitter @lindsaytaub58.