Planning a Special Sunset & the Ferry Ride Back to SF
Before we start out on our afternoon activities, let’s do some planning to make sure we give you a great experience any time of year.
If you came to Sausalito on the morning ferry and plan to take the ferry back to San Francisco at the end of the day, the time when the last ferries sail to each of the two San Francisco piers varies based on the time of year.
Golden Gate Ferries go to the Ferry Building at the foot of Market St. in San Francisco `The Blue and Gold Ferries go to Pier 41 at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, about 1.4 miles from the Ferry Building. Although you can use Uber/Lyft or a taxi to get from one to the other, it’s usually easier to return on the same ferry service you used on the northbound trip, and tickets from one ferry company are not accepted on the other.
Take a moment to check the ferry schedule by clicking this link. Depending on the time of year and what time you ate lunch, you may have as many as seven hours before the last ferry or as few as four hours. I’m going to give you some different choices for your afternoon in Sausalito, some of which will take more time and some of which will take less.
Now click this link to check what time is sundown in Sausalito today. If your ferry schedule permits, we want to give you a very special last hour before sundown, the part of the day that movie driectors call “magic time” because of the beauty of the sharply angled sunlight as it passes through the atmosphere..
I’m going to give you three choices for your afternoon itinerary, and two different options for a cocktail, snack or meal at sunset.
In each case I’ll assume that you’ll start the second half of your day from the spot between the elephant statues in Viña del Mar Park, since almost all of the restaurants I recommended for lunch are within two blocks north or south of that spot.
Afternoon Option 1: The Golden Gate Bridge Gambit
As you stand on the sidewalk at a spot between the elephant statues in Vina del Mar Park and face the Sausalito hillside, look to your right. One block in that direction is Sausalito’s downtown taxi rank. You can also order an Uber or Lyft ride from anywhere in Sausalito.
Your destination for your ride is the Conzelman Road Northeast Parking Lot at the Golden Gate Bridge. We choose this spot because your Uber or taxi driver won’t have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and pay a toll, but it gives you access to world famous views of the Bridge and San Francisco. Make sure your driver knows that you are going to Conzelman Road, not the better known Vista Point, because Vista Point is close by but requires that expensive Bridge crossing.
When you arrive at the Conzelman Road Northeast Parking Lot you’ll see that you already have a beautiful view of the Bridge. The lot slopes downward towards the Bridge. At the lower left is an entrance to the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the lower right is the entrance that leads down a path into the old Fort Baker area of the GGNRA.
Go to the lower left corner of the parking lot and walk towards the Golden Gate Bridge east sidewalk. The sidewalk on this side of the Bridge is open only to maintenance vehicle or to bike riders based on the time of day. You’ll see a stairway leading downwards, below the level of the Bridge sidewalk. Take these stairs and you’ll be on a narrow walkway that in a few yards turns left and takes you beneath the Golden Gate Bridge so you can cross to the other side.
This walkway can be a very loud place as trucks, buses and cars cross the joints between the plates in the roadway deck above. Some visitors hurry through this walkway, while others enjoy seeing the under-skeleton of the Bridge and the views of San Francisco that peek out between the steel posts, rods and girders.
When you reach the other side you’ll find another set of steep steps, and when you climb them you find yourself at the beautiful Vista Point, which we discussed above.
Option: If you have more time before sunset and/or your ferry back to San Francisco, the entrance to the Bridge’s east sidewalk – which offers access to pedestrians – is just north of the stairway you just climbed. You can walk from Vista Point past the north tower of the Bridge to the middle of the Bridge and then walk back. If time permits you can walk all the way across the Bridge and back, which is free for pedestrians and does not require a ticket.
Vista Point is ringed by a sidewalk that offers spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of the most popular visitor photo spots in all of California. There are also rest rooms and vending machines here if needed. Make sure to give yourself time to take photos here, and sometimes the fog changes its patterns around the Bridge in beautiful ways every few minutes.
The Bridge sidewalks close at sunset each day, so the amount of time you can spend on the Bridge will vary based on the time of year.
Note: The Google Map below shows you flying over the water to walk on the Bridge. As noted, a stairway and a sidewalk are provided and are all you need!
A Cocktail, Snack or Meal at Sunset
If that headline sounds good to you and there’s time remaining on your schedule, we’re about to go to the old Officers Club at Fort Baker, a 19th century military base now converted to a park, which is one segment of the GGNRA.
Depending on how much time you have and how much energy you have left after our walks, there are two ways to get to Fort Baker:
Catch a Ride. While you’re at Vista Point, call Uber, Lyft or a Taxi for the short trip down the hill from the Bridge. Ask them to take you to Farley Bar at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Fort Baker. The ride may take as little as five minutes, even though the topography forces you to take a roundabout route.
Take Another Walk. Reverse your steps and go back under the Bridge through the walkway that leads from Vista Point to the Conzelman Road Parking Lot, where you were dropped off by your driver. When you arrived we pointed out the path at the downhill side of the lot, at the right. Take this path, which is rather steep, and you’ll cross below the Golden Gate Bridge again, far below the walkway we crossed earlier. You’ll come down to a road along the edge of the Bay, the “other end of Conzelman Road,” with a pier on your right. At this point the road’s name changes to Moore Road, but it continues as if it were the same road in the same direction.
Follow Moore Road past the pier to a stop sign. Ahead of you is a broad, green lawn and beyond it is a row of big cream-colored wooden buildings with big decks and balconies, the Cavallo Point Lodge. Cross the lawn or follow the curving road on either side of it (called Murray Circle) to reach those buildings, then look for the signs to Farley Bar.
Although it is part of the old Fort Baker Officer’s Club, Farley Bar is not named after a military officer. In fact, it’s named after a cartoon character, Farley, from the comic strip of the same name that ran in regional newspapers for many years. Farley was created by the late Sausalito cartoonist Phil Frank, and the hotel management group that won the contract to create the Cavallo Point Lodge inside the national park chose the name as part of its outreach to win support from the local community.
If it’s a relatively warm evening or they have the deck heaters running you’ll be able to enjoy a juice or cocktail on the front deck of the building. If it’s cooler and the heaters are off you’ll want so sit inside, hopefully near one of the windows, to see the views of the tops of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The Farley Bar interior is warm and welcoming.
If our timing has worked out right and the sun is going down, the skyscrapers of San Francisco will be bathed in bright light streaming in through the Golden Gate. The Bridge’s towers will have a bright orange glow, a bright color they take on at no other time of day, since the sun rises behind the East Bay hills and only reaches such a low angle at sunset.
Farley Bar is adjacent to Murray Circle restaurant, a high-end sophisticated dining room where the menu features fresh, locally sourced and sustainably grown local ingredients.
If you’re hungry and you have time you can have a meal at either Farley Bar or Murray Circle, although they are relatively expensive spots. Farley Bar’s burger is one excellent choice. Or you may want to just sip on a drink and have a snack.
When it’s time to catch your ferry, call on Uber, Lyft or a taxi to bring you to the ferry pier. Depending on time of day and traffic, it will be a five to ten minute drive.
Afternoon Option 2: The Houseboat Hunter
We’ll start this adventure by walking north along Bridgeway from Vina del Mar Park for about a block and a half, till we reach the corner of Bridgeway and Bay St. Turn right on Bay St. and walk towards the Bay. You’ll pass the Ice House Sausalito History Museum on your left and come to the southern end of one of Sausalito’s two boardwalks. As of January, 2017, the storefront here will house Book Passage, one of three outposts of a local bookstore chain.
Turn left on the wooden boardwalk and follow it to its end, at the foot of Johnson St., about a block and a half away. The boardwalk here passes next to a marina with every kind of boat, from sailing ships available for charter to expensive motor yachts to beautiful restored sailboats to more standard small craft.
When you reach the end of the boardwalk, look to your right across the marina. At the end of the pier lies Sausalito’s most famous remaining houseboat, the Taj Mahal. Its name comes from, well, it’s called that because from this angle it looks like a miniature floating version of the Taj Mahal in India. It sits at the edge of this marina in part due to its large size, which would fit less well on the piers of the floating home community, the closest edge of which lies a few blocks farther north.
The Taj Mahal is now a private home and we don’t want to bother the residents, but you can walk down the dock a ways to get a closer look and take photos. When you’re done, walk back up the dock and follow Johnson St. one block towards the hills to once again reach Bridgeway. From this corner you can call Uber, Lyft or a taxi for the next phase of our adventure. Ask the driver to bring you to the corner of Bridgeway and Gate Five Road.
You can also walk north on Bridgeway to reach this intersection, which is located by the onramp to northbound Highway 101. The walk is almost two miles in length, however, and although you’d walk by our office the views are not as scenic as those we like to show you.
A Whole Neighborhood of Floating Homes
You can read about the history of Sausalito’s floating home community here. It is spread across a series of docks, the majority of which are clustered together close to where you’re standing at the corner of Gate Five Road and Bridgeway.
When you’re ready to head back to downtown Sausalito, or when it’s about an hour before sunset (if your ferry schedule allows you to stay late enough), walk back to the corner of Gate Five Road and Bridgeway or the corner of Coloma St. and Bridgeway, whichever is easier. From here you can order an Uber, Lyft or taxi ride. Ask them to bring you to the Spinnaker Restaurant, near the Sausalito ferry pier.
A Drink, Snack or Meal and (if the fog permits) a Beautiful Sunset
You may have noticed the Spinnaker Restaurant when you arrived on the ferry, since it sits atop a pier that juts out into the Bay parallel to the ferry landing.
As you enter the front door and turn right, you’ll see a spectacular view of San Francisco looking back across the Bay. During the busy months of the year and on holidays you’ll normally need to make reservations here in advance, but it’s often easy to come in and get a small table in the bar without a reservation… and the view from the bar is almost exactly the same as the view you’d get from a table in the main dining room.
Once you’re settled you can choose between having a drink, a snack or a full meal in the bar. If the restaurant has a free table you could do that as well, and if you tell them which ferry you’re taking they’ll do their best to guide you through the menu to choices you can enjoy in the time available on your schedule.
For now I’ll assume you’re having a refreshing drink in the bar and watching the sailboats buzz past the restaurant, their passengers waving to the diners. Across the Bay the towers of San Francisco’s offices and condos gleam brightly in the setting sun as light pours in through the Golden Gate. The lights of The City will gradually come on, ferries will come and go. Sea birds may be hunting for food, with pelicans diving in the Bay and herons perched on the rocks waiting for dinner to come to them.
Depending on the time of year, you may also see sea lions swimming past near the shore of the Bay. They’ll stick their heads up out of the water, check out what’s going on and take a few deep breaths. Then they’ll dip their heads and dive again, resuming their search for food.
When you’re ready for the return trip on the ferry (or to go to the car you’ve parked in one of the main city parking lots) you’ll be just a block or two away as you leave the Spinnaker’s front door.
Afternoon Option 3: The Art and Artisans Aficionado
We started our visit to Sausalito this morning with a walk through downtown and the big view areas of the Bridgeway Promenade. This option is for you if you’ve been eating lunch and thinking, “I don’t wan t to fo anywhere else this afternoon! I want to go back and have time to really look at those art galleries and crafts shops!”
So that’s exactly what we’re going to do. You’ve already seen much of the area, and may have favorite shops or galleries you want to return to and visit. in addition to the blocks you walked this morning, there are two areas you’ll want to visit.
Princess Street. You crossed the foot of Princess St. this morning, where it divides Downtown Sausalito from the Bridgeway Promenade. When you return there, turn up the hill and visit the shops that line each side of the single block that is a retail area. On the northern side look for the narrow alley that leads to still more shops.
The Caledonia Street Neighborhood. Some locals are not thrilled that we spend so much time on OurSausalito.com discussing this area. In a town that gets a million visitors a year and where downtown can be packed on warm summer days, Caledonia St. has been informally set aside as “a second downtown for the folks who live here.”
In fact, for about 20 years from the 1970’s to the 1990’s Caledonia St. was removed from the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce visitors maps to reduce the number of visitors who wandered there. Complaints from local merchants eventually reversed this decision and visitors from organizations other than the KGB, MI6 and CIA were once again able to find them.
Starting from Vina del Mar Park, cross the street to the “uphill” side of Bridgeway. Follow it north and walk about a block and a half and you’ll reach the intersection of Caledonia St. and Bridgeway. Along the way you’ll pass both the Bacchus and Venus wine tasting room and the Madrigal Family Winerty tasting room, two more of our options for wine tasting in Sausalito.
Bear left and follow the level Caledonia St. one block to the corner of Johnson and Caledonia St. Straight in front of you are five blocks of shops, galleries, restaurants, dry cleaners, salons, an organic market, a charming little hardware store, a frame shop etc. Even with Caledonia St. restored to the official maps, there are far fewer visitors in this area.
Some blocks may interest you more than others, but it’s a lovely walk and you’ll get a feel for the “real” Sausalito. If you feel like a snack or a glass of wine there are several cafes with sidewalk tables, and the Sausalito Gourmet Deli sells wine and has a lovely shaded patio with a fountain out back.
When the time starts to approach sunset (if you have time before your return ferry to San Francisco), retrace your steps back to Vina del Mar Park. This time, however, we’re not going to return to the stone elephants in the park. Instead, you’ll turn left on Anchor St. at the northern end of the park and follow it for one block, past the small Bank of America branch building.
At the end of that block you’ll see a broad driveway in front of you, and a sign at the right will identify this as The Spinnaker Restaurant. Follow the sidewalk along the edge of the Bay, next to the driveway, and it will lead you to the front door of the Spinnaker.
To find out what awaits you within, scroll up to “A Drink, Snack or Meal and (if the fog permits) a Beautiful Sunset in the section above.