Pine Mountain Camp California

If you’re looking for a great glamping option for a group retreat or get-together, a peaceful place for an intimate wedding, a place that’s relaxing and allows guests to reconnect with nature, a place that not only provides tranquility and seclusion but also great recreational opportunities if a guest should be so inclined,
I have a couple of places to present to you. Each of these places is great for family gatherings, religious and corporate retreats, weddings, and both have had their share of high-powered celebrity guests. I would also consider both as exquisite glamping locations.


If you have a minimum of 16 people in your group, may I suggest to you the ultimate glamping playground, with two private beaches, tennis courts, a wide selection of water-sports equipment, personal chefs, swimming pools, stunning views, spa treatments, and an aero-submarine that travels 100 feet below the ocean’s surface. The place, you may ask? It’s Richard Branson’s Necker Island, yours for a mere $62,000 per day. Yowza!

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If however your family, group or business doesn’t have that kind of coin, then I have the perfect suggestion for you. It’s the Pine Mountain Camp near Lake Arrowhead, California, where you can have the entire property starting for a mere $1800 a night (2 night minimum) with all the seclusion, nature and recreational opportunities that forty acres of pristine wooded beauty perched high above a picturesque mountain lake can offer.

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In fact, for a true group outing experience, one that provides connection and rejuvenation, I have to say that Pine Mountain Camp is by far the better of the two.


I do not mean to suggest that you would not enjoy a stay at Necker Island, but it is more likely to cause group distraction than connection. A place that has it’s own submarine is not going to inspire me to “regroup with others” or “restore my inner resources.” I’ll be too busy playing Captain Nemo!


And how could you possibly “relax with a book” at a place that costs $62,000 a day? Wouldn’t you feel the pressure to do everything the place offers all at once? Sounds like a vacation that requires a vacation from vacation- we’ve all had one of those. So, relax. There’s no risk of that kind of stress with a group stay at Pine Mountain Camp.

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The Pine Mountain Camp website makes the claim, “Be in nature, within luxury accommodations,” which succinctly sums up the essence of glamping. Guests enjoy “wireless internet and flat-panel TVs” at a resort set deep in the heart of the San Bernardino National Forest, and can instantly step away to smell the mountain pine and feel the breeze.

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Remember, it’s not just a retreat- it’s a resort. Hiking, biking, boating, swimming, water-skiing, fly fishing, hot springs, there’s plenty to do in the summer, and you can even catch a movie nearby or shop if you can believe that! I’d like to be here for one of the weekly summer concerts at Lake Arrowhead Village.

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With activities like skiing and sledding, wintertime group outings are a great option, too.

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Stay in the luxurious Ponderosa Lodge, which sleeps 13 with a main floor master suite, a bunk-room for 6, and 2 upstairs private bedrooms.

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The lodge has a fully appointed kitchen (cooking classes available with advance reservation!) and a cozy, spacious central living area set with a warm and inviting stone hearth fireplace.


If you want to get away from the group a bit, you can always opt for one of the two “enchanting” cabins, or even “brave” the tepee. It’s a pretty cool tepee, on an elevated deck, with 2 futons inside and is nicely appointed with a nearby eating area and restroom. The tepee is described as a “Lakota-Sioux design, but with more durable and weather-resistant fabrics.” Kids dig the tepee, and you might, too.

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I’ve been to plenty of lodges, and many of them are way too “lodgy,” over crammed with deer and moose antlers and woodland tchotchkes in every possible space. While the lodge décor here isn’t subtle, it isn’t over the top, either.

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I don’t want my lodge to be subtle. A place like this has to be confident in it’s identity, and Pine Mountain Camp understands it’s character, a beautiful woodland retreat perched above Lake Arrowhead nestled in 40 wooded acres and the décor strikes the right balance. (Thank you, Pine Mountain Camp).

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I’m sorry, Necker Island, I didn’t mean to bash you. I’m sure you’re amazing but you helped me make my point- for a place for groups to get their glamping rejuvenation on, Pine Mountain Camp is the place to be. I do hope, however, that will send me to review you someday. Wish me luck!

Glamping Review: Safari West

Since the very early stages of our courting, my wife and I have talked openly about a shared dream to take an African safari. Elephants! Rhinoceros! Giraffes! All of these animals are critters we have hoped to see in the wild. With two children, however, we likely can’t afford to schlep the kids. And we wouldn’t want to leave them home for such a fantastic adventure.


Naturally, then, we’ve looked far and wide for similar wildlife-oriented experiences here at home. It turns out one of them is around the proverbial corner from our house in Sonoma County, California: Safari West. The 400-acre preserve is home to nearly 700 species of animals, including Grant’s zebras, ring-tailed lemurs, and southern white rhinoceros, to name a few. The place also has 30 canvas-walled tent cabins—imported from Africa, of course—in which visitors can spend the night.


One night this spring, my wife and I did just that. Our cabin—Cabin 19—overlooked the giraffe enclosure; from our deck, where we drank a bottle of local Zinfandel after check-in, we watched the animals cavort with wildebeests and frolic with each other, just few neck-lengths away. Inside the tent’s pale green canvas walls, décor was rustic but elegant, a motif I like to consider bush chic. Two of the tables were hand-hewn from pieces of a felled tree trunk. Overhead lights were made from tree branches. The lampshade had metal silhouettes of animals from the Serengeti. The cabin had two double beds (with electric blankets), a space heater, and an armoire with umbrellas and flashlights. There also was a small-but-spotless private bathroom, which had a copper basin and hot water.


On the night we stayed, we could have taken the car into Santa Rosa for an upscale meal. Instead, we opted to stay on-property and eat at the Savannah Café, a low-lying building that doubles as the mess hall for resort guests. Chefs cooked up a buffet-style ranch barbecue, complete with chicken, corn, beans and more. After an hour, we were so stuffed that we grabbed our flashlights and headed back to the cabin, where we snuggled down on a comfy bed beneath an electric blanket, and dozed off to the cacophonous cackles of flamingoes—nature’s white noise.

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The following morning, we awoke to the same flamingoes bright and early, and wandered down the hill to the Café for a continental breakfast that comprised bagels, fresh fruit and coffee. Fueled for the day, walked around a back portion of the park in which monkeys and cheetahs and other animals (including a porcupine) are sequestered in separate habitats. My wife, an anthropologist, spent much of the time regaling me with details about the monkeys. Her tutorial made the experience significantly more interesting.


Around 10 a.m., we returned to the area in front of the Café and boarded double-decker, open-air Jeep-like vehicles for a “safari” around the property.  Over the next 2.5 hours, our vehicle sputtered up and over the back hills of Sonoma County, inching past gazelles, oryx, antelopes, cape buffalo and other critters. A Safari West naturalist guided our trip, pointing out distinguishing characteristics on each of the animals as we drove by. I found the naturalist helpful—just not as helpful as my own wife.


The tour ended just before lunchtime, and we had enough time to hike back to the cabin and retrieve our belongings before check-out. That evening, on the drive home, my wife and I struggled to summarize our experience overnight at Safari West. No, we agreed, it wasn’t luxury living on the Serengeti. But it sure came close.

Day 2 at Santa Barbara Auto Camp

Scarlet and I woke up after a good night’s sleep and headed to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf up the street for coffee. Then we drove to nearby Burro Beach, which is one of the many pet friendly beaches in Santa Barbara for a stroll. Next, we headed to a restaurant called Scarlett Begonia for breakfast, which is just off State Street downtown and has a patio where Scarlet and I could chill and enjoy breakfast.


While getting the lay of the land, I had noticed several pet groomers in the area and popped in to For Paws salon see if they could fit in a bath for Scarlet. I dropped her off for a doggy spa day and returned to the Auto Camp to give try out the claw foot tub in my Airstream.


A 30 gallon water heater ensured there was ample hot water to fill the deep tub. I took a bath and got ready to explore Santa Barbara. The old Santa Barbara Mission is only about a mile away and was fun to wander around. Then I headed to the Terrace at El Encanto for some lunch before picking up Scarlet.


Once back at camp, I noticed a couple of bunnies hopping around the property. Scarlet, a lab, has a very strong game drive and chased after them and that caused a bit of excitement! I put her on a leash after that.


After the housekeeper came to clean the Airstreams, I got a chance to peak inside of a few units. Suite 3 is a 1962 26′ Airstream Overlander and features a great striped awning and outdoor area. It also had single beds and a redone shower with glass tiles and modern styling. This unit is a great choice for friends who don’t want to share a bed. Technically, you can sleep 4 in all the units (as the sofa converts into a bed) but that in my opinion that would be a bit too cozy assuming all four are adults.


Suite 5 is a 31′ 1964 Airstream Sovereign and is the prototype for future units (There are plans for future Autocamps in San Francisco, Ventura Beach, and Los Angeles). Of all the units I saw, this was my favorite. The modern interior was streamlined and even had fun air. This is the Airstream I’d like to stay in most if I weren’t with my dog.  Plus, it’s a few spaces in from the street so it’s quieter than the first two suites.