801 Bridgeway, Sausalito, CA 94965 Reservations & Hotel: 800-288-0502
Casa Madrona did not appear on the Top Three on the OurSausalito.com Best Hotels List for Winter, 2013
Fast Forward SummaryTM: The experiences at Casa Madrona have been steadily improving, although our notes below on how to book remain relevant. On February 9, 2010 the Casa Madrona Hotel was sold at auction to new owners, ending the bankruptcy nightmare that had created so many problems for the property, and (after some mis-steps with guests and with their restaurant tenant) we see many improvements.
If you don't want to go to the trouble of making sure you get a certain kind of room in a certain part of the hotel, skip this choice and look at other Sausalito hotels. We have personally stayed here multiple times as part of coporate events and each time we had an absolutely great time, but other guests have had issues with some older rooms.
If you're intrigued by a place that is part modern hotel, part Victorian gingerbread fantasy that belongs in a Bond film, then read on. Call ahead here to reserve a specific kind of room and tell them about the discount price you saw online and where you saw it -- do not book through discounters since you lose that control of what room you'll get.
Why go to the trouble? Casa Madrona is a dream location for those who seek this kind of architecturally unique great-views place and has some of the most wonderful rooms we've ever stayed in. But it also has some run-down distant-stairway rooms to punish those who did not plan ahead or who expected all the modern amenities at a discount compared to other downtown Sausalito properties.
The Two Sides of Casa Madrona: The Details
No, those aren't two different hotels pictured in this article. The evening photo above shows the original hotel, which was assembled from older buildings, houses, cottages etc. and sprawls across a hillside above Bridgeway, the main north-south street in Sausalito. The original house at the core of the hotel dates to 1885, and was converted into a hotel in 1906. (Yes, that 1906 in San Francisco.) The rooms in this area come in all shapes and sizes, many with balconies, others with unique fixtures. Everything here is old and one-of-a-kind. Some rooms are "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" charming, classy and the home base for a wonderful vacation. But others, especially those at the top of the hill, are antiquated, worn-down and hard to get to.
The daytime photo above shows the newer wing where you'll find the spa and Poggio Trattoria. This modern section of Casa Madrona was originally built in 1924 as Mason's Garage and filling station, serving people driving to the nearby ferry that carried cars and people to San Francisco. In the 1950's it became the Village Fair shopping complex, for many years a popular four-story open-air shopping and restaurant area that pre-dated the concept of malls. We spent many a happy hour there with our family. Village Fair featured the miniature "crookedest street in the world" leading up from street level... a feature that was preserved as a stairway in the recent renovation that integrated the building into Casa Madrona.
The hotel is about a three block walk from the Sausalito Ferry pier, with regular service to San Francisco. Our complete guide to the San Francisco ferry is here.
Staying in the Modern side of the hotel will give you just what the name describes: a familiar, modern hotel room in a very convenient location.
Both the greatest highs and the most disappointed lows of guest reactions to the Casa Madrona come from the Victorian side. The image at left -- taken on a foggy morning that turned into a glorious blue day in May of 2010, shows the view.
Just as with the Cavallo Point Lodge (which has some parallel good-rooms-and-bad-rooms issues), we recommend investigating the wide variety of rooms in advance and deciding what part of the hotel you want to stay in to avoid surprises and unfulfilled expectations.
Room sizes on the Victorian side range from tiny to huge, and many of them have unique shapes and accoutrements. If you call ahead before you book the hotel will share more information about your room. Sometimes a slight price difference will get you a significantly larger room. Many visitors specifically ask for a room with a balcony and/or a built-in fireplace.
If you're booking a Victorian Bay View room ask if it is a direct view of the Bay or if it's tucked in at an odd angle. For example I recall seeing one room (as I looked down from our romantic balcony) that looked like it had a fabulous view from its big balcony, but not much of a view from the room itself. That's perfect for some guests, disappointing for others.
Much of the Victorian side of the hotel is a 120 year old wood structure. If you like things new and modern, ask for the Modern side. The walls are not that well soundproofed on the Victorian side, they are on the Modern side. Traffic noise can be an issue on the Victorian side; double paned glass windows make the Modern side as soundproof as any hotel I've stayed in.
The Victorian side does not have air conditioning in the rooms. This is normally not an issue, and very few homes in this area have AC because most days of the year the afternoon breeze cools houses naturally.
Because the Victorian side of the hotel climbs up the hillside like a creeping rose bush, there are some weird little passageways, steps, etc. to get to certain rooms. For the highest level Bay view rooms you take the elevator to the 5th floor, then take a stairway, wind along a path and take a series of additional stairways to reach your room. Not all that fun, especially if you carry your own bags! This is also an issue at the Cavallo Point Lodge, albeit to a less extreme degree.
If you or your out-of-town guests have any mobility problems, call ahead to the hotel and make sure you can get a Victorian room with easy access, or one of the Modern rooms, which are arranged off traditional hallways.
Given all the "be careful" issues I've described, why do people stay on the Victorian side? Because staying in the better rooms here can feel like you're living on the set of a really romantic movie, and some weeks the room rates are the least expensive in downtown Sausalito. There are balconies that overlook San Francisco Bay and would earn a front page spot on any travel brochure. Built-in fireplaces. Charm that you can't just manufacture with antique (or modern) furniture and lots of marble.
Google Map Instructions: Use the "+" and "-" buttons to zoom in and out, the arrow keys to scroll the map, and the SAT button to see the satellite view.
Something else that people should know about Casa Madrona? Did you have a once-in-a-lifetime dream stay here, or a disturbing nightmare visit? Disagree with any of our suggestions? Please leave a comment below so our readers get the full story.