1 Great Hour to 1 Great Day in Sausalito
You’re visiting Sausalito and you want to make the most of every moment… and every dollar. We’ll be your local friends and show you around town.
Most “Great Days” itineraries are written by authors who visit an area and then fly home to write about the most expensive places and the traditional “everybody goes there” spots. I’m an area native and a local, and I’m going to tell you about the places we like to go and where we take our friends.
1 Great Hour in Sausalito (or 2!)
We’ll offer choices for different tastes and moods
1 Great Day in Sausalito: Morning
We’ll start with a ferry ride and a walk with breathtaking views
1 Great Day in Sausalito: Afternoon
After lunch we have options for every taste, plus a gorgeous sunset
1 Great Day in Sausalito: Evening
Can you stay for dinner? We’ll finish the evening with a short, lovely walk
About Our Little Town
Welcome to Sausalito! My family has lived or worked here for four generations over 110 years. I can personally certify that this is a wonderful and beautiful spot. I can also assure you that our people are at once friendly, quirky, brilliant, diverse, creative, non-conformist, tolerant, patient, fun-loving, and occasionally a little too stubborn for our own good!
With a population of just 7,000, Sausalito’s history (click here to learn more) begins as a 19th century harbor and supply depot in Spanish Alta California, and after becoming part of the U.S. it added a railroad hub linking northern California to San Francisco. Ferry service grew, and wealthy San Franciscans built houses on the hill with a view of The City. The hard-working freight workers and the fast-sailing elite were joined by Portuguese fishermen and a growing artist community. Today the railroads may be gone, but the Portuguese families’ descendants and the artist colony have remained.
During World War II Sausalito became the site of a massive shipyard called Marinship, which was built hurriedly on newly created land by filling in shallow sections of San Francisco Bay. After the war that shipyard was just as hurriedly abandoned, with many service and support vessels left to rot in their slips. The vacuum was filled by entrepreneurs and artists, speculators and squatters, shipbuilders and philosophers. By the 1950’s Sausalito had firmly established its split personalities, with a creative community living in improvised housing in the old ships and shipyard, middle class families occupying the northern and southern parts of town, and high-income families on the hills that faced San Francisco and offered big views.
In the 1960’s the Summer of Love also flooded Sausalito with young people, and major musicians like Janis Joplin and The Kingston Trio played or were based here. Robin Williams was a busboy in a local restaurant by the Bay. The Record Plant recording studio brought even more rock royalty like the Rolling Stones to visit, and many of the best-selling albums of the last thirty years were recorded here. Influential writers and bookstores like The Tides set up shop and published here.
By the 1980’s the old shipyard and the converted houseboats that bordered it had big problems with decay and sanitation, and a rougher element grew on the fringes of the tightly-knit creative maritime community. Confrontations between county officials, sheriffs and those living on the water produced something of a compromise that created today’s safer and sweeter-smelling collections of floating homes, but the process left deep scars that still sting for some in the community today. “Funky” is a word that, depending on context, can mean “gross” or “raw and fun and new.” The 1980’s took a slice of both kinds of funky out of Sausalito, and in some ways we’re still struggling to find the right equilibrium between them.
How Not to See Sausalito
Here are our top tips for avoiding disappointment when you visit Sausalito.
1. Don’t Make Sausalito an Afterthought
“We took the afternoon ferry from San Francisco and had dinner in Sausalito, but we realized we should have taken the first ferry in the morning.”
“We stopped by for an hour on our way back from the Wine Country, and we realized we should have spent a whole day here. We were tired and couldn’t really enjoy ourselves apart from having a nice dinner.”
Sausalito can easily fill an entire day (or more) for visitors who enjoy art and the striking vistas of San Francisco across the Bay. If you’ve been on any kind of an extended trip like the long drive to the Wine Country, giving Sausalito its own afternoon is a lot more fun.
Muir Woods and Sausalito in the same day? This is a frequent guided tour itinerary. If you just take a short walk in Muir Woods in the morning you can still have lunch in Sausalito and get a chance to see much of the town. But if you do one of the longer hikes, I think you’ll enjoy your trip more if you give Sausalito “its own day.” (And we also think that Muir Woods is such a compelling place that it deserves more than a brief visit.)
2. Do Call Ahead for Reservations
“It was a warm summer evening and the restaurants all looked great, but we tried two different places with great views and were told there was a long wait.”
This applies if you’re here during the summer, Christmas week, spring break, major holidays and at other popular travel times.
Despite being a small town, during peak visitor tines getting a good table fir dinner in downtown Sausalito is the same as it is in New York, London, Florence or Hong Kong. The top view restaurants can have long waits for walk-ins. During the summer months the top restaurants near the Ferry can also be very busy at lunch.
If we want to go to one of the top Sausalito places and it’s a popular time of year, we try to make reservations a day or two in advance. If it’s a special occasion or holiday we’ll book ahead by a week, especially if we want to see the sunset from a picture window right on the Bay.
In the fall and winter this is less of an issue, but it still pays to plan ahead.
You can check our restaurant rankings to plan your trip in advance, and we have links and phone numbers for each restaurant so you can reserve your table.
Insiders Tip: The last ferry leaves for San Francisco relatively early. If you drive instead of taking the ferry you can take a later restaurant reservation and have a wider choice of places in town.
3. Don’t Get Caught in the Wrong Hotel
“The travel website said the Water’s Edge Hotel in Tiburon was close to Sausalito. We got there and it’s a long drive past Sausalito!”
Tiburon is very close to Sausalito… if you’re traveling by boat or helicopter! By car going to Tiburon is a long drive (or a lovely bike ride) around the edge of Richardson Bay.
This is why OurSausalito.com is moderated by people, not computers. If Sausalito is the focus of your trip, do not stay in Tiburon.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise
If you’re arriving in Sausalito tonight, it’s mid-summer, the streets are full of people and you don’t have a dinner reservation, don’t despair. Last-minute calls to the top places often score slots from canceled reservations, and sometimes you just get lucky. The restaurants on and around Caledonia St. in particular often have tables available on warm summer evenings when downtown and the Bridgeway Promenade area may be booked up.
If you’re walking around Sausalito at 2:00 PM and see a place that looks great, it never hurts to walk in and ask in-person if they have an open spot for dinner, or a waiting list for a cell phone call to fill in for any cancellation. We’ve gotten tables at the last minute that we were shocked were still open, and all we did was ask.
5. It’s Like the Louvre: There are Crowds in Summer but Some of the Best Places Are Open and Waiting for You
If you visit the Louvre in Paris the galleries with the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo are almost always crowded. Walking around the vast museum, however, you might find yourself in a gallery all by yourself in front of a classic Rembrandt, Velasquez or El Greco painting you’ve always wanted to see.
During June, July and August there are a lot of visitors in the six blocks at the heart of downtown Sausalito, closest to the Ferry. Other great Sausalito neighborhoods remain largely unaffected because only the local residents go there.
Some people love to come this time of year to be part of all that energy and activity and to be around people from all over the world, but it’s less fun for others. We like walking down Bridgeway and hearing seven or eight different languages spoken in the span of just a few minutes.
The best weather is actually in September and October most years, and by then the crowds have started to thin out.
Insiders Tip: If you dislike crowds in the summer, come early in the morning. The streets don’t start to fill up until after a few Ferries have arrived for the day, and the first bike riders from Fisherman’s Wharf will not have reached town. Before 10:00 AM is relatively peaceful and quiet, and things don’t start to get crowded till close to noon.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Come in Winter
Sausalito is not one of those summer towns that rolls up the sidewalks and locks the shop doors every winter. November through February are the least crowded months, and all the same great restaurants and art galleries are open then as well. The houseboats are still floating at their docks.
All four seasons are beautiful here. It so happens that I’m updating this section of the article on a rainy winter day. At times today the clouds and fog over the Bay are creating an El Greco sky that is beautiful and inspiring. Which is, of course, why his View of Toledo is to the left of this paragraph!