Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel Is A Charming Throwback

We were still lying in bed at the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park when we heard someone outside whistle “The Star-Spangled Banner” from start to finish, with perfect pitch and clarity.

The whistler, we later learned, was Marvin, who has worked at the hotel for 20 years. He whistles the anthem as he raises the flag on the front lawn, and he has so perfected the performance that he finishes the song  just as the flag reaches the top of the pole.

It was an amazing thing to hear, but we wanted to see it, too. The next day, our last at the hotel, we arrived on the lawn at 8 a.m. to watch the performance. Alas, Marvin had the day off and the flag went up without musical accompaniment.

This left us with another reason to return to the Wawona, among many that had accumulated.

The atmospheric hotel, built in the 1870s, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It sits, in its slightly shabby Victorian splendor, a few miles inside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park. From there it’s a good half-hour drive into Yosemite Valley, where much of the action and the most compelling views are.

No doubt there’s much to be said for waking up in the valley, beneath the towering cliffs. But Wawona also has its charms, being a short drive from the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. It’s also less crowded and less expensive than most of the lodging in the valley.

The hotel has 104 rooms, and we had one of the 50 with shared bathrooms and showers. This worked out fine for us, especially because the hotel provides warm bathrobes for excursions to the spotless bathrooms in the chill of the evening and morning.

The hotel is not luxurious. Some of the rooms are quite small and there is no air conditioning. The buildings are old and the walls are thin. The first floor porch of the main building is pleasant, even elegant, but the second-floor balcony outside the room where we stayed is covered in a most horrendous green outdoor carpet.

In short, people who want the comforts of a Marriott will be better off elsewhere. But if you prefer some atmosphere and character, this may be the place for you.  

The Wawona also has a heated outdoor swimming pool and a lovely dining room with a terrific staff. Dinner is pricey but a very hearty buffet breakfast is included in the cost of the room.


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