Enter a different world as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge and arrive at one of the charming small towns that make up Marin County. Leave behind the urban sprawl and frequent fog of San Francisco and ease into the beauty of this charming small town with a relaxed lifestyle and some of the best views of the Bay Area. The main thoroughfare is Bridgeway and it extends along the oceanfront with beautiful water views on one side — but turn your gaze upwards to the hills and become mesmerized with the houses that clutch the hillsides which overlook Richardson Bay and the skyline of San Francisco in the distance, across the water.
Come with me while we explore Sausalito. It’s worth more than just a day!
Traveling by car from San Francisco? Once past the Golden Gate Bridge, I suggest you take either the Alexander or Spencer exits. Slow down, because each one is convoluted, narrowing at times with space for one car up and one car down — and the road is continuous hairpin bends. But slow down for other reasons: the views looking from side to side and then down towards the water are spectacular. Once past the Marine Headlands, the vegetation becomes green and lush, with canopies of windswept trees. Bunches of greenery drape the hillsides that are dotted with flowering shrubs. And way down in the distance is the Sausalito harbor, with yachts bobbing in the water. That’s ultimately where we are going.
Bridgeway is the main thoroughfare along the water that runs from north to south. Most of the shops you’ll encounter are on Bridgeway, as are the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops — but not all of them! So ask as you go and you will find others that are hidden on a side street or up a hill. The best time to visit Sausalito is during the week — on weekends it becomes congested with visitors, mostly those from San Francisco looking for a respite and the tourists who are visiting San Francisco looking for a change of scene.
Caledonia Street is one street north of Bridgeway and its shops can be found between Johnston and Water Streets. It is less trafficked and more low-key, frequented mainly by local residents.
Waterstreet Hardware and Marine, located in a mid-Century building that was originally used for a school, is a unique mom and pop that has been here since 1971. It is worth seeing for its extensive inventory of landlubber and marine items and the accompaniment of classical music or good jazz in the background that help you lose yourself in the assortment of goods.
318 Caledonia Street, Tel. (415) 332-4318 waterstreethardware.com
Drivers Market & Deli, an upscale organic market, and deli.
200 Caledonia Street. (415) 729-9582. www.driversmarket.com
Fast Food Francais, American Comfort food with a French twist.
29 Caledonia Street. (415) 887-9047. www.eatf3.com
Sushi Ran, one of the best sushi restaurants in the Bay Area.
107 Caledonia Street. (415) 332-3620. www.sushiran.com
Osteria Divino, farm to table Italian food, a huge wine list with live jazz.
37 Caledonia Street. (415) 331-9355 www.osteriadivino.com
Studio 333 is an enormous warehouse that is a combination of event space and a showroom where artists can display their art and handmade creations. It is also an event space that can be hired out. The scene here is constantly changing.
333 Caledonia Street. (415) 331-8272 www.studio333.com
The heart of the tourist activity can be found along Bridgeway at the intersection of Princess Street, with a Benneton (the only chain store in Sausalito), diverse clothing, tourist shops, galleries, burgers, a couple of ice cream stores, and a specialist chocolate shop. If you have a car, or enough stamina to ride your bike up the hill, then keep going on Princess Street: another of the most beautiful drives overlooking the Bay. Driving under canopies of windswept trees, you’ll find that the houses are enviable and the views are killer (a bit like the incline for bikers!) It is worth making the detour to escape into this magic alone.
Spending the Night
Sausalito offers the visitor a lot of choices should you wish to lay your head down here. Are you the sort of person who gives a town a single day then is eagerly off to the next adventure? Or are you keen on taking your time at the cost of less ground covered? If traveling by car, you can easily extend your stay and go on to Muir Woods or Stinson Beach near the town but giving you a comfy jumpstart on your next day. There’s no shortage of hotels in Sausalito, although they may cost you a chunk of change. If they are too expensive, stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Mill Valley that is the next exit after town. But for those wanting to fall asleep across from San Francisco’s glimmering lights, these are a few suggestions:
The Inn Above Tide
301 El Portal. (415) 332-9535. www.innabovetide.com
Casa Madrona, with its own spa.
801 Bridgeway. (800) 288-0502. www.casamadrona.com
Cavallo Point Lodge
601 Murray Circle, (415) 787-4717. www.cavallopoint.com
16 El Portal. (415) 332-0700. www.hotelsausalito.com
62 Princess Street. (415) 289-1100. www.gableinn.com
Holiday Inn Express
160 Shoreline Drive, Mill Valley. (855) 479-0732. www.ihg.com
Where to eat? More like: will your appetite be big enough to sample all the offerings? There is no shortage of places to dine in Sausalito, from basic ethnic restaurants serving authentic food to haute cuisine and the best sushi restaurant in the Bay Area. Several of the restaurants even have ocean views, should you be so inclined and have the ring in your pocket as an unsuspecting surprise…
Scoma’s, overlooking the water, founded and still operating in the same space since 1969, serves well-prepared, sustainable seafood caught by their own boats that go out every day bringing back a fresh catch.
588 Bridgeway. (415) 332-9551. www.scomassausalito.com
Poggio in the Casa Madrona Hotel, Italian Trattoria for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each one of these feasts in itself is delicious and worthwhile. It is more crowded in the evening, so make a reservation, or sit at the bar. Don’t miss the Negroni. Good food while you people watch.
777 Bridgeway. (415) 332-7771. www.poggiotrattoria.com
Sushi Ran, Caledonia Street, known as one of the best sushi restaurants in the bay area.
107 California Street. (415) 332-3620. www.sushiran.com
Fish, (that’s the name!). The freshest, best quality sustainable seafood, no endangered species, known for its exceptional fish, and chips. Changing menu based on the catch of the day. Cash only. www.331.fish.com
350 Harbor Drive. (415) 331-3474. www.331fish.com
Le Garage, serving French Bistro food, waited on by French-speaking servers A casual restaurant in a converted garage, with a great atmosphere and right at the water’s edge, with ocean views.
85 Liberty Ship Way. (415) 332-5625. www.legaragesausalito.com
Angelinos, serving authentic Southern Italian food, getting excellent reviews for its Chef-inspired dishes. They also have a pastry bar that is open Wednesday – Sunday where the chef’s wife, preapres some amazing pastries.
621 Bridgeway. (415) 331-5225. www.angelinorestarant.com
Barrel House Tavern Restaurant, one of the “on the water” restaurants, with an extraordinary custom barrel ceiling, and an impressive bar that serves imaginative craft- cocktails. Romantic, with a water view.
660 Bridgeway, Tel. (415) 729-9593. www.barrelhousetavern.com
Murray Circle, top drawer fine dining, also serves a six-course tasting menu, inside the not to be missed gorgeous Cavallo Point hotel and spa.
602 Murray Circle. (415) 339-4750 www.cavallopoint.com
Napa Burger, a sophisticated burger restaurant serving a variety of high-quality burgers and toppings with a good wine list.
670 Bridgeway. (415) 332-3226. www.napavalleyburger.com
Bar Bocci, a casual Italian restaurant serving delicious one-of-a-kind sourdough pizza made in their wood-burning oven, Italian specialties, and salads, highly recommended. Tables outside with firepits and a bocci court, on the water’s edge, with great views.
1250 Bridgeway. (415) 331-0555. www.barbocce.com
Copita, tequileria y comida (tequila and food!!) superb, original Mexican food, as one would find in Mexico City. Helmed by Masterchef Joanne Weir, James Beard award winner, celebrity chef, cookbook author, TV personality, who also cooked at Chez Panisse in her early career. A huge tequila bar, serving over 250 high-quality agave tequilas. Great menu, a wood-fired oven, and a tempting selection of dishes. Gluten-free.
739 Bridgeway. (415) 331-7400. www.copitarestaurant.com
The only way to find all the best-kept secrets? Ask for recommendations as you go.
Coffee Shops and Breakfast “Places”
Equator Coffee, serving their own imported, sustainable brand of coffee and tea and the most delicious in-house pastries, sandwiches, and light meals.
1201 Bridgeway. (415) 729-9656 www.equatorcoffees.com
Angelinos also has a well-known pastry bar serving some of the best pastries and pies this side of the bridge, prepared by the Chef and owner’s wife. The bakery inside Angelinos is called CIBO and is highly regarded in the Bay Area for outstanding baking! It is open Wednesday – Sunday.
621 Bridgeway. (415) 331-5225 www.angelino.com
Sausalito Cafe and Bakery, with a middle Eastern Pastry chef, phenomenal pastries, a selection of housemade deli, and a line worth standing in.
571 Bridgeway. (415) 331-9522. No website.
Taste of Rome, 1000 Bridgeway, with a menu of Italian specialties, good pastries, and excellent coffee.
1000 Bridgeway. (415) 332-7600. www.tasteofrome.co
The Lighthouse Cafe, a good menu. Make sure to try the Danish pancakes and Danish meatballs.
1311 Broadway. (415) 331-3034. www.lighthouserestaurants.com
Fred’s Place, an old favorite that locals love, serving breakfast and lunch.
917 Bridgeway. (415) 332-4575. No website
But don’t restrict yourself to this list: again, ask for recommendations when you arrive in Sausalito. Everyone has an opinion about the best bar or the best eatery.
It is exhilarating walking along the oceanfront, breathing the sea air, watching the bobbing sailboats in the bay. For those who are serious about hiking, the area has at least 443 hiking trails in the hills to suit all fitness levels. People in Marin County are avid hikers, so you will seldom be alone on the trails. Along the way, there is beautiful vegetation that changes with the seasons but above all, it is the views that are absolutely captivating. Families of deer roam free on the hillsides… do not be fearful if you encounter them, they are more fearful of you! A free map of the trails is available in some of the stores if you ask.
Over the weekend Sausalito becomes congested with an influx of visitors, and sometimes it seems every one of them brought a bike. A crowd of cyclists comes over on the ferry with their bicycles and tend to take over the roads on their way to test their endurance on the many cycling trails that traverse the hillsides. One can rent bikes on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and ride across the bridge, a distance of eight miles, or to rent a bike in Sausalito after taking the ferry, try:
A Bicycle Odyssey, including electric bikes.
1417 Bridgeway. (415) 332-3050. www.bicycleodyssey.com
New Old School E-Bikes, including electric bikes.
1617 Bridgeway. (415) 250-6672. www.newoldschoolbikes.com
Mike’s Bikes, including electric bikes.
1 Gate Road (415) 332-3200. www.mikesbikes.com
Cyclists are an important part of the local economy: here are three suggestions for places serving amazing sandwiches for their ravenous but light-weight appetites!
Golden Gate Market, a place that’s been here “forever,” recently underwent a total makeover, and is now a small, high-end market with a tempting selection. Cyclists are welcomed and love the Golden Gate Market for excellent coffee, amazing sandwiches, and the emphasis on sustainability.
221 2nd Street. (415) 332-3040. www.ggmsausalito.com
Davey Jones Deli, inside The New Bait Shop, grab and go sandwiches as well as an extensive deli counter.
1 Gate 6 Road, (415) 331-2282. www.daveyjonesdeli.com
Mollie Stone Supermarket, an upscale market with prices to match. Their deli counter is extensive and they will construct a “mean” sandwich for you. There is also an in-house bakery with temptations that will replace the calories burned-off on the hills.
100 Harbor Drive. (415) 331-6900. www.molliestones.com
California Caviar Company
Indulge yourself while in Sausalito by trying farm-raised sustainable caviar and roe at the Bump Bar. Order a flight of caviar to sample three or four different varieties served with chilled champagne. The Bump Bar is conveniently located on Bridgeway and while they take walk-ins, it is preferable to make a reservation. Wine and beer are also available as is a small dinner menu.
1403 Bridgeway. (415) 332-08213. www.californiacaviar.com
No Name Bar
The “No Name Bar” has been at this location since 1959, and as its name suggests, they could not decide on a name. One of the founders was Neil Young. a musician, an activist, and one of the most influential songwriters of his generation. It has a long musical history and has always been a hangout for musicians, authors, and artists. They have good live music: jazz, blues, plus rock and roll. The interior is decorated with music memorabilia and, has some well preserved architectural details. Cash only. 757 Bridgeway, Tel. 415/332-1392. www.thenonamebar.com
The colony of floating homes in Richardson’s Bay in Sausalito is essential viewing. It’s worth noting that they are legal and an integral part of the community with their own association. Houseboats have had a presence here since 1880, but the numbers increased after the second world war, following the closure of a factory that was making warships. A few ferries and barges remained in the bay and people began converting them into floating houses. Originally occupied by bohemians from San Francisco in the fifties and hippies in the 60s, they subsequently became a permanent community of inhabitants such as one would find in any other suburban neighborhood. Many are architecturally interesting, with upscale finishes.
The most talked-about of all the floating homes is the Taj Mahal. a smaller replica of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. The docks at the floating homes are open and one can walk around freely. The ‘neighborhoods” are spotlessly clean with well-tended potted gardens out front — just remember to be respectful and quiet as people are living here. You may get lucky and be invited in by one of the floating homeowners! Viator, a tour company does tours costing about $65.00 per person where one can learn the history and admire a few of the more exceptional boats. There are also local guides who do tours.
Most of the docks can be found around Gate Road 5 and Gate Road 6. They are clearly marked and there is ample parking.
Northern Gate 5 Road, Liberty Dock, Issaquah Dock, Sout 40 Dock, Man Dock. Gate 6 Road, Wade Point Harbor. Johnson Street (for the Taj Mahal).
I should not write about this, but I will! If you look out at the Bay from one of the higher up view spots, you will notice several little boats bobbing in the bay that are not anchored to any dock. Many of them are poorly maintained and have been here for years, and it is a blight on the community. Housing is unbelievably expensive in the Bay Area and living illegally on a boat circumvents the problem. This is an illegal floating neighborhood, where people live rent-free or far below the mean, paying no taxes or berthing fees. It is a real problem and several schemes have been suggested to mitigate the situation, which seems to persist despite attention drawn to it.
Heath Ceramics has been in Sausalito since 1948, in the same Bauhaus building that is still used for their factory, making handcrafted, stoneware dinnerware, and tiles. The glazes are distinctive and unique to their own manufacture. It is expensive, but being stoneware quality is almost indestructible and chip-proof and with care should last a lifetime and beyond – “generational” dinnerware! If you are overcome with sticker-shock, Heath Ceramics also sells “seconds” at a reduced price that is almost as good as first quality. Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco uses Heath Ceramics dinnerware in their restaurant where it is subject to heavy-duty wear – that proves its durability. The retail showroom is well organized and displayed where one can see all the different glazes and everything they make, including wall and floor tiles. Heath ceramics will arrange to ship purchases home.
400 Gate 5 Road. (415) 332-3732. www.heathceramics.com
Do not leave Sausalito until you have done a sunset cruise on the Bay to watch the sunset against a magnificent backdrop of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Sausalito itself, not to mention the islands and mountains that make up the Bay Area proper. The views from the water are spectacular. It can be a little breezy on the cruise, so take a wrap. Sometimes dolphins accompany the boat, so keep your eyes ready Arrangements can be made through Viator.com and other outfitters.
How to get to Sausalito
From San Francisco, take the 101 Freeway going North – it is a short 4 miles after the Golden Gate Bridge. Take the Spencer or Bridgeway exits.
Golden Gate Ferry. www.goldengate.org/ferry
Blue and Gold Ferry. www.blueandgoldfleet.com
The crossing from the Ferry Building takes about 30 minutes. Like the sunset cruises, it can be breezy so dress accordingly.
Tickets: $12.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and children 5 – 12 years.