About Sausalito, Places to See & Things to Do
Sausalito, California is a small town of 7,000 people tucked at the base of the steep hills that ring San Francisco Bay, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Postal Service boundary that separates San Francisco and Sausalito is near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, although a wide swath of a National Park (the GGNRA) forms a buffer between the two cities within the Sausalito zip code.
We’re often described as being like a European fishing village with great views of San Francisco. Those of us who live here find many more special meanings of “home” within Sausalito, although the beauty of the area is certainly a very special part of it.
This page is a general introduction and overview of Sausalito, with topics arranged in alphabetical order. If you’d like to jump directly to our detailed “Fun Things to Do page, please click here.
Sausalito has clean, modern public restrooms located in the heart of the Downtown Sausalito area, within 3 or 4 blocks of most destinations popular with visitors. They’re also darn practical for residents when you’re running errands downtown.
Click on the headline above to see a map with their location.
Bus Tours of the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito
Many San Francisco tour operators offer different kinds of bus tours of the Golden Gate Bridge, and many of these include Sausalito. Some also include Muir Woods in the same tour. If you want to visit but don’t have a lot of time this can be an excellent option, but there are dramatic differences between different buses and services.
Some are scripted, while others are made up of intersecting loops where you can “hop on and hop off.” Click here to see our page full of Insider Tips on how to pick the best bus tour to save money and make the best use of your time.
OurSausalito.com tracks almost 70 different places to eat in Sausalito with our twice-a-year surveys, which is one restaurant, deli or diner for every 108 residents in town!
Most visitors eat in the Downtown Sausalito area, along the Bridgeway Promenade, or in the Caledonia St. neighborhood, and the links in this paragraph will take you to summaries of each of these areas with lists of the restaurants there.
For people who work in the office buildings in the Marinship area there are favorite delis, cafes and diners that serve the morning and mid-day crowds.
The Sausalito Ferry has been voted the #2 Best Ferry Ride in the world (after the Star Ferry in Hong Kong), and over 300,000 people ride the ferries to Sausalito each year. Many people also choose to ride a bike from San Francisco to Sausalito and then take their bike onto the ferry and return to San Francisco by boat. Ferries connect to both the Ferry Building and to the Blue & Gold Fleet terminal at Pier 39 / Pier 41 at Fisherman’s Wharf.
The ferry pier is in the heart of downtown Sausalito, so if you come by ferry you can walk comfortably to most local restaurants and attractions. Some bike riders also choose to take rideshare vehicles or taxis back to San Francisco instead of the ferry, and many local taxis are equipped with bike racks.
Many of our visitors come to Sausalito from San Francisco by bus or ferry, but others come directly from local airports. You can spend anywhere from about $10 to $100 or more for the trip. Click on the section headline above for detailed descriptions of the options for getting to Sausalito from each location.
We have a complete article on Sausalito History at the link above. Prior to the coming of Spanish soldiers, ranchers and missionaries the area was inhabited by Coast Miwok societies.
When California was part of Mexico, Sausalito’s fresh water stream was a popular place for ships in San Francisco Bay to replenish their drinking water supply, and the small willow trees in that area were called “saucelitos” in Spanish. The name stuck, and survived after California was taken over by the United States. The modern spelling was adopted when Saucelito was officially changed to Sausalito in 1887.
There are four hotels in Downtown Sausalito, plus a resort in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (the GGNRA) just south of the city. Two of the facilities (Cavallo Point and Casa Madrona) have spas located within the hotel.
All five of these hotels score well on our bi-annual hotel surveys, and some have held their positions near the top of the list for several years.
The majority of Sausalito’s hotels are listed on Hotels.com, and it’s easy to compare prices there for your selected dates and see any discounts or special deals that are being offered. We frequently see prices on Hotels.com that are significantly lower than the numbers from our spot surveys. As a result, we sought them out and Hotels.com is now one of our sponsors.
Many of the famous Sausalito houseboats are moored at piers that are open to visitors, and these are among the most popular places to see in Sausalito.
Each summer the Sausalito Houseboats Tour gives visitors access inside unique award-winning floating homes, whimsical fantasy boats and remodeled historic working boats. This is the only way for architecture fans to see the interiors of these unique homes.
How Long Should I Stay in Sausalito?
Every year or two we will find traffic detours because a movie or TV show is being filmed here in Sausalito. The most famous scenes where you can re-trace the steps of the stars (click the link above for more details):
— You can eat at either of the two restaurants that were combined for a scene in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (1972),
— Stand on the boardwalk used for an important scene in Lady from Shanghai (1947) with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, which has been rebuilt but is in the same location.
— Stroll through Fort Baker, used in the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise as the location of Starfleet Academy.
Muir Woods is a must on many visitors list of places to see, with stunning forest of old-growth redwoods located a few miles away from Sausalito, nestled in a valley on the side of a local mountain. The huge trees, and quiet forest make this more than just a nature walk for some people, for whom it becomes a spiritual experience. One stand of trees is even called Cathedral Grove.
Both formal tours and visitors who are traveling on their own frequently visit Sausalito and Muir Woods on the same trip. Click on the link at the start of this paragraph for more information.
Live music is playing in Sausalito almost every night of the week, usually at multiple venues. As you’d expect in the San Francisco Bay Area the quality of the performances is very high.
Our five biggest events of the year are:
The Sausalito Art Festival, held each Labor Day Weekend, is the largest outdoor art festival in the United States. Major music stars perform each year as well.
The 4th of July Parade, Picnic and Fireworks combine a traditional local July 4 celebration with the largest 4th of July Fireworks show in Marin County.
Jazz and Blues by the Bay, a music performance series held each summer.
The Annual Sausalito Houseboat Tour, which allows you to see the interiors of architectural gems, whimsical concept boats and historic working-boat remodels.
There are eight neighborhoods with places to see and things to do in Sausalito, and clicking on the section title above will take you to a menu that leads you through them one by one.
Three of those eight neighborhoods are closest to the Ferry pier. These areas get much of the attention from visitors, and hold a majority of the restaurants, hotels and shops in town.
But these three areas don’t come close to holding all the cool spots in town. There are treats like the Bay Model, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, the Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth boardwalk from the movie “The Lady from Shanghai”, and Fort Baker that are all NOT in those three central neighborhoods, so be sure to keep your eyes and mind open to the entire town.
In that context, the adjacent central neighborhoods (listed from the southernmost to the farthest north) are:
The Bridgeway Promenade, with many of our most famous views of the San Francisco skyline.
Downtown Sausalito, the location of the Ferry pier.
The Caledonia St. area, which serves as a “secret” destination where local residents shop without dealing with the weekend and summer crowds.
The Personality of Sausalito
Not all towns have a personality, but Sausalito has a very clear one. Actually, it has several personalities, all rooted in its history!
150 years ago Sausalito was a fishing village and a harbor for the sailboats of prosperous San Franciscans, with extensive boat repair facilities. That maritime tradition continues today, and the descendants of the early Portuguese and Italian fishermen from that old fishing village remain active in town.
125 years ago Sausalito drew visitors with its beautiful vistas and diverse small shops. This year over a million visitors will come to Sausalito.
100 years ago Sausalito was a transportation hub linking San Francisco to the Wine Country and points north. With the Sausalito Ferry and the Golden Gate Bridge both anchored here, that tradition continues today.
65 years ago Sausalito had a diverse group of artists and art galleries that helped set a creative and colorful tone in the life of the town, with many living in the houseboat community that grew out of a World War II shipyard. The artist community is still large and more diverse today, and the floating homes form entire neighborhoods in northern Sausalito.
Through all those years the people who live and work here — from my grandfather in 1905 to the OurSausalito team today — have felt that we are privileged to be in a very special place.
We also discussed some of these options in the “How long should I visit?” section above, but click the headline above this paragraph for a much longer list of fun and interesting destinations and activities.
Sausalito is sometimes dismissed as a tourist town with no good shopping spots… by people who drove through here for a few minutes and never even bothered to window shop.
I admit that I’m a cynic about shopping, and anywhere I go I’m often ready to dismiss stores as being formulaic, unoriginal and even pretentious. Nevertheless, I’ve lived in three different Sausalito neighborhoods (giving me a chance to get bored with anything mundane) and I still enjoy walking around some of our favorite little shops and seeing what surprises they have that weren’t there the last time. Yes, I admit that there are some shops here that offer traditional souvenirs and that completely bore me — but there aren’t enough of them to ruin the overall experience, even for a a local.
The Visitors Kiosk & the Ice House Visitor Center & Museum
The Sausalito Visitors Kiosk is staffed by local volunteers during daytime hours (with extended hours during the summer months) and is co-sponsored by the City and by the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce. It’s located adjacent to the Sausalito Ferry pier, so for many visitors it’s the first building they see as they leave the pier and enter the city. It’s also adjacent to the large downtown parking lots.
The volunteers have free maps that they’ll be happy to give you, and will answer any questions you may have about how to get where you’d like to go. If asked they’ll also share personal opinions about good places to eat and shop.
Just a block away is the Ice House Visitor Center and Museum, which has exhibits and is run by the Sausalito Historical Society. The volunteers there are also a great resource for suggestions and directions.
Sausalito’s weather has the Northern California “Mediterranean Climate”, with warm, dry summers and relatively mild winters. In most years we get occasional rain from November through April.
We always recommend dressing in layers, so you can add or subtract clothing if the weather gets too warm or cool. I usually keep a sweater or windbreaker in my car in case the afternoon breezes turn from cool to cold.
Sausalito has three very different wine tasting rooms, each witgh its own personality and emphasis. One is tied to a culinary school on the shore of San Francisco Bay that gives it great small-plate dining to go with the wine. Another pairs an art gallery with wine tasting. A third has spectacular views out its front window. Click on the headline for this section to learn more.