To kick off summer, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite became our ‘basecamp’ for a natural recharge from a very busy work year. And after a year of rain storm after continuous deluge, Yosemite is definitely the place to be this summer. There is water EVERYWHERE. Fast flowing, glacier-melt water all across Yosemite’s valley is the celebratory mirage after several years of drought.
My husband’s youngest brother (there are four of them) tied the knot to his college sweetheart at Tenaya Lodge this June. Instead of just coming up for the wedding weekend, we decided to make a family vacation out of this destination wedding. Only a 3 ½ hour drive from our house in the East Bay San Francisco, getting to Tenaya Lodge is similar to the drive to Lake Tahoe. Perfect for a long weekend. We booked a room for four nights.
All of the guest rooms have refrigerators (great perk for families with babies!) so we stopped at the HUGE Safeway in Oakhurst to stock up on breakfast items to eat in our room. Twenty minutes later we pulled into the driveway in the forest arriving at Tenaya Lodge. The bellman welcomed us at our car and offered either complimentary valet or complimentary self-park. Yes! No parking fees! (But there is a $20 per day resort fee).
We walked into the high ceiling, lobby and checked in. At the lobby desk there were three mini steps leading up to a “Kids Check-In”. So while the parents hand over their credit cards for incidentals, kids get to stand at our height and color woodsy animals pictures. This was a big hit for our four-year-old.
Our room with two queen beds and a Pack-N-Play had a perfect view of the splash pad and pool bar with the evergreen mountain peaks in the background.
On a whim from an email I received from the hotel a few days prior to our stay, I booked our family of four dinner at the Summerdale BBQ event the hotel hosts seven nights a week. The advertising they did via email was just enough to get me interested to book, but oh my goodness, it doesn’t do this event the amazing praise it deserves. Or maybe that’s their plan, to come in with a slightly interested expectation and leave with a “That was amazing!” review. The Summerdale BBQ is definitely a must-do at Tenaya and it has a very reasonable price of $32.95 for adults and $16.95 for children. This price includes three hours of dinner, music, dancing, and activities.
A short hike down wooden steps (or a van escorted drive with the stroller in the back and baby riding shotgun with daddy. Yikes!) lead us to Summerdale. Picnic tables for 100-150 people beautifully decorated with bandana-style decor, wildflowers, and bunting flags and white lights creating a zipline through the trees all made the clearing of the forest floor look like a wedding. In front of the table area was a stage where two men began to play the banjo and guitar. Lyrics from Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Don Mclean set the mood for the evening.
A wooden bar was serving sweet tea, lemonade, coffee, beer, wine, and complimentary bug spray. I completely didn’t even think about putting on bug spray, and of course within minutes of getting there I was already bit twice. Bugs love me. No matter what. A quick spray down with some OFF and I was left alone.
Around the corner from the bar, was an incredible buffet of prepared salads, roasted corn on the cob, biscuits, and just cooked BBQ chicken, pork, and tri-tip. And to top it all off, a cast iron skillet the size of the hood of our car filled with a sizzling fresh baked apple pie. Oh yes, amazing. Oh yes, I can still taste it.
During our three hours at Summerdale, aside from eating firsts, seconds, and even thirds, I got to shoot a bow and arrow with my four year old.
She practically got a bullseye on her first try! I was just excited to hit anywhere on the target!
We panned for gold.
And then our four year old continued to pan for gold through dinner, dancing….well into the night. She made out like a bandit.
We played horseshoes, listened to the super entertaining duo on stage, roasted S’mores by the campfire, kids danced and sang on stage, and met people from around the world, and even people very close to our own home.
Close to 9pm, we decided to walk the stroller up the steps back to the hotel. I’m glad we did since a whole family of deer were grazing right in front of our path.
Since it was just our first night of vacation and the hotel had so much going on at night, we quickly changed into our bathing suits and slipped into the absolutely perfect temperature pool and watched “Moana” poolside. Watching Moana on the big screen while swimming under the millions of mountain stars was enough to relax our whole family and all four of us went straight to bed. No arguing. No stories. No nonsense. Good job Tenaya.
We did set our alarm for our first morning at Tenaya. The concierge at the hotel told us to leave between 7am and 7:30 in order to beat some of the rush into Yosemite National Park. We followed her advice and we pulled out of the parking lot at 7:20. WooHoo! Tenaya is only three miles from the gates into Yosemite, but then it’s another 45-60 minutes to the valley floor.
For a single car we paid $30 to gain park access and parking. This parking pass is good for a week. The drive in was stunning. Even our not-so-patient four year old was in awe looking out the window at the racing streams and plunging waterfalls at almost every turn.
We found parking very easily at Half Dome Village (once known as Curry Village). The last time I had come to Yosemite was in college and I remember biking everywhere. The valley is flat and perfect for getting around by bike. So I had the crazy idea to rent bikes with a trailer and tow around our girls all day. The four year old….piece of cake. The barely 12 month old….not so easy. Maybe if the helmet had fit her a little better?
Overall, it wasn’t bad enough to stop our biking adventure. She actually ended up enjoying it once the bike was moving and she even took two naps in there throughout the day!
During our day, we saw many families pushing strollers, and waiting in the lines to get on the Valley bus (this bus takes you from stop to stop). I was really glad we opted for the bikes. The trails are paved, flat, and you can see so much. After we had a picnic lunch in Yosemite Lodge Village, the air started to get a bit thick with heat. Luckily, most of the bike trails are in the shade, so we managed to stay pretty comfortable. We rode the trails around the Nature Center. We didn’t end up stopping since we wanted as much time as possible outside along the rushing water. We parked the bikes in a bike rack and put the baby in the Bjorn to do a 1-mile loop hike to see Lower Yosemite Falls.
I felt like I was touring Niagara Falls – the water was intensely spilling down the mountain, wind whipping our faces, and waterfall mist giving tourists a nice cool down.
We decided to take a family photo below the falls, and as our recruited photographer clicked our picture, our four-year-old daughter’s hat flew off into the current below. Cue the freak out. It was hard to hear our own voices with the live waterfall in the background, but I think everyone heard the cries for the hat. I looked down over the bridge and there were at least half a dozen hats in the waterfall’s domain. I didn’t see ours. But I did see my husband hop over the low wooden fence and descend below into the rocks. I had a short-lived panic, because he was back very quickly….with the hat in hand! “It landed in a good spot,” he said. Geez!
The final stop on our bike tour was the Ahwahnee Hotel (As of March 1, 2016, now known as The Majestic Yosemite Hotel). We went inside for a quick bathroom break and to see the massive fireplace in the lounge as well as the stunningly classic dining room. Back on the bikes for our 3-mile ride back to Half Dome Village to return the bikes. I think one of my favorite views of the day was our ride across a grassy valley with Half Dome in the background. Amazing. There are little cabin houses along this section of valley and several people were sipping cocktails in their rocking chairs taking in the beauty of their front door view.
Just after 3pm, the park was crowded. Cars were circling the parking lot. One car waited about 15 minutes to take our parking space (we had to unload two kids and return two bikes to the other side of the lot). There was a bit of traffic leaving the park. The main road is under construction so it was a bit of a crawl until we left the valley floor. Both kids napped the entire way back to Tenaya.
We immediately changed into bathing suits and spent the rest of the late afternoon poolside. There is a baby pool with a splash pad with a pretty chilly water temperature, but the main pool was perfection. We finished the day with a late dinner out by the pool.
If you aren’t camping in Yosemite, and are looking for a very family-friendly resort, Tenaya is fantastic. I would say you don’t have to leave the lodge during your stay since there is so much to do, but that would be silly. Yosemite is the perfect day trip from Tenaya and renting bikes with a trailer made it so easy to see so much of its beauty.
The rest of our stay was spent with family and friends celebrating my brother-in-law and his new wife. The trees, the lighting, the colors. It was perfect.