Note: I’ll make a narrow range of dining recommendations below, but if you see a menu that excites you ignore my recommendations and follow your personal tastes. If we have a sponsor relationship with any business I mention below I will note it.
Insiders Tip: As you would anywhere in coastal towns, beware of being drawn to a place solely by a view. Some view restaurants offer fabulous food while others are substandard and overpriced.
A Morning Ferry Ride past Alcatraz to Sausalito
We’re going to start our day by assuming you take the first ferry of the morning from San Francisco, either on the Golden Gate Ferry from the Ferry Building or on the Blue & Gold Ferry from the Pier 39 / Pier 41 Terminal at the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you’re not coming from The City or plan to stay well into the nighttime (since the ferries don’t run past the early evening), you can also drive to Sausalito and read our tips on the best areas for parking here. Multiple bus routes as well as taxis and Uber / Lyft also serve the town.
One international magazine selected the Sausalito Ferry as the second most beautiful ferry route in the world (after the Star Ferry in Hong Kong), and the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco skyline and the wooded slopes of Angel Island all support that rating.
The ferry ride will take you past Alcatraz, the famous now-closed Federal prison, which you can visit to see museum exhibits including the old prison cell block. Depending on traffic on the Bay, weather conditions and which ferry you’re riding you may get an extremely close look at the outside of the old prison or may travel past it at a greater distance, but in any case you’ll pass close enough to see the island clearly.
Your view of the Golden Gate Bridge will be more distant, but I think that seeing it from the water allows you to grasp its true (and amazing) length in a way you cannot do from walking on the Bridge, or from the viewing areas at the Visitors Center and at the northern Vista Point.
If you’re coming into Sausalito on the ferry, skip past the two bike information sections below.
Can I Ride a Bike Over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito instead?
Yes, you can, and you can read our page with all the details here. It’s especially important to read about the new, safer route from the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. The most popular plan is to ride from San Francisco to Sausalito, then take the Sausalito Ferry back to the City.
A number of bike rental companies in San Francisco will rent you a bike and helmet, and often you can pre-pay for your Sausalito ferry ticket back to San Francisco. The maps they give you for the journey are woefully small and inadequate, however, so prepare by reading our page before you head out.
I’m Coming from Marin & Will Ride My Bike to Sausalito
That works, too! In fact, it works extremely well because of the wide and level Mill Valley-Sausalito Multi-Use Path, the main portion of which stretches from Blithedale Ave. in Mill Valley to the northern border of Sausalito.
Portions of the path in Mill Valley are heavily used by pedestrians and even horses as well as bikes, and pathways to and from schools cross the multi-use path. Extra caution is advised in these areas.
Hey, I Got to Sausalito in Time for Breakfast!
You may have caught the first ferry, driven here, or ridden your bike on an early adventure. You must be starving!
Before we start thinking about lunch, let’s get you some breakfast! We’ll assume you have parked your car or bike in the main downtown Sausalito lots near the ferry pier and set out walking from there, at the corner of Bridgeway and Anchor St. (see map below). You’ll be standing next to a lovely park, and we’ll return this way to visit it later in the day.
As in all of my “Great Day in Sausalito” articles, I’m going to give you more than one choice based on your mood and preferences.
If an ideal breakfast for you is a delicious pastry and a cup of fresh Italian-style espresso, you won’t be walking far! Cross Bridgeway at Anchor St. so you’re on the uphill side of the street, then turn right and walk for one block. On your left at the intersection with Bay St. will be Poggio, one of the most honored Italian restaurants in the Bay Area, and they serve a wonderful light breakfast with coffee in their bar area. Best of all, you can sit at their sidewalk tables, which remind me of eating at a similar spot in Florence, Italy.
If you’re looking for a full breakfast with eggs, potatoes, or pancakes hot off the griddle, continue north past Poggio on Bridgeway for one long block followed by three short blocks. After you cross Turney St. you’ll see a building on your left with a lighthouse on top of it, which logically enough is the Lighthouse Cafe. It’s a small, traditional diner whose specialty is Danish cuisine, and you really can order in Danish or Swedish if you wish.
If you want to walk into a bakery filled with the fresh smells of bakers baking, cross Bridgeway at Anchor St. as described above, but then turn left instead of right. Follow Bridgeway south for two blocks and cross Princess St. You’ll pass a series of shops and restaurants and come to the Sausalito Bakery and Cafe, where you can sit outside at sidewalk tables with a view of the Bay, or inside in a comfy booth. They have a short menu of hot items, or you can savor a variety of freshly baked pastries to enjoy with coffee.
While you’re eating your favorite breakfast, review my recommendations below for a morning walk after your meal and for places to go to lunch. Depending on the breakfast spot you chose you may already have walked past some of the sites I recommend, and you may want to explore Sausalito’s neighborhoods in a different order than I suggested for visitors who arrived on the ferry.
Let me float one more idea past you:
If you didn’t start your day in San Francisco, the ferry trip is so beautiful that some visitors will take the Ferry from Sausalito into the City to see these views, walk around there for a while and then take a ferry back to Sausalito in time for lunch.
The Elephants in the Room… I mean the Park
After our ride seated on the Ferry (or your morning drive or bike ride!) we’ll take a walk with different kinds of beautiful views to get our energy flowing and to get an introduction to the five-block-long area that includes the best-known parts of Sausalito. There are many other fun areas to visit here, but these are the neighborhoods where restaurants, shops and landmarks are all most densely concentrated.
If you’ve spent time looking at the Sausalito postcards in the airport or a local shop, our walk will include some of the spots celebrated in those photographs.
When you step off the ferry and walk up the ramp to the dock, you’ll see a small gazebo-like building to your left, at the edge of the parking lot. This is the Sausalito Visitors Kiosk, where you can stop to get a free map of the area. The volunteers who staff the kiosk are knowledgeable and friendly, and they’ll also answer any questions you may have about your visit.
Option: If you took the first ferry of the morning you should have between one and two hours before lunchtime at this point. If you’re arriving a little later you may already be hungry. In that case, feel free to jump down to the Lunchtime section below… but first read this Insiders Tip!
Insiders Tip: If you’re visiting on a busy weekend or during late spring, summer or early fall months, Sausalito will start to get busier in the late morning as more and more ferries and bike riders arrive. By noontime many of the view restaurants and sidewalk cafes’ best tables may be full. If you get hungry a little early, going to your favorite place at 11:30 or 11:45 AM will often get you a prime table that would no longer be available at 11:55 or noon or 12:15. If I have an important business lunch here in town, especially with someone visiting here for the first time, I do this to ensure we get a good spot.
With your stop at the Visitors Kiosk completed and your Sausalito Chamber of Commerce map in your pocket, let’s start your walk. Bear left as you leave the kiosk and continue walking towards the hills (with your back to the ferry) and you’ll walk up El Portal, a street that is only one block long. This will bring you to Bridgeway, the one and only major street of Sausalito, which runs the entire length of the town. Although it is officially named “Bridgeway Blvd.” no one ever calls it that, and the locals simply refer to our main street as “Bridgeway.”
To your right will be a park with a fountain, Viña del Mar Park. The stone elephants and fountain were saved after the demolition of the extravagant-but-temporary 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. The Exposition was a World’s Fair put on in San Francisco to show everyone that the City had been rebuilt after the disastrous 1906 Earthquake and Fire, which claimed both my grandparents’ home and my grandfather’s shop. After the fair closed the architect who designed the elephants and fountain donated them to Sausalito and had them hauled here. The elephants had to be re-covered in more durable material after a few years, and their original role as flagpole bases was changed so that they were mounted with hand-wrought streetlights. The elephants have now become the symbol of the City of Sausalito, and are a favorite photo spot.
Fun Fact: During the time of the Summer of Love in San Francisco in the late 1960’s young people started to gather on the lawn at Viña del Mar Park in Sausalito to play music, smoke, and sometimes leave trash behind on the lawn. (I was one of them… but didn’t leave trash on the lawn!) In response the city fathers built a fence around the park and declared that it was for viewing, not for visiting. The fence remained in place for almost 30 years until in 1996 Sausalito’s leaders determined that hippies and flower children no longer represented a potent and immediate menace and the park was reopened to the public.
A Picture Postcard Walk
After you visit the stone elephants in Viña del Mar Park, the route for our walk will take us south, towards the edge of San Francisco Bay. Standing with your back to the elephants and facing Bridgeway, look to the left and you’ll see gaps in the buildings a block down the road, and those gaps will reveal vistas of San Francisco and the Bay.
Walk in that direction, and on the left side of the street for the next block you’ll see a collection of art galleries, shops, and two restaurants, Napa Valley Burger Co. and Barrel House. If they look interesting check their menus in the windows or by the door as you walk by, in case they seem more tempting than my primary recommendations below.
You may also want to walk in and look at the painting and sculptures at some of the art galleries on this block. They exhibit works from top artists all over the country, but are less likely to hold the work of local Sausalito artists.
At the end of this block you’ll pass the foot of Princess St., so named because Sausalito’s first ferry boat was named the Princess and it docked near this spot almost 150 years ago. Continue walking on this side of the street and you’ll reach the Bridgeway Promenade. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful harbor pathways you’ll see anywhere.
Fun Fact: The building that houses The Trident started life in the late 1800’s as a yacht club. The restaurant gained its greatest fame as a magnet for the music superstars who were in town recording at the famous Record Plant Studios. Janis Joplin had her own reserved table where she always ate (and drank) when she was in town, and Bill Graham threw a party for the Rolling Stones here. In the late 1960’s Robin Williams was one of their busboys. Almost all of the original custom woodwork and the ceiling mural have been retained and restored, so if you’re a fan of rock legends the history here may draw you in.
Past The Trident, where the road bends gently to the right, you’ll come to the Sea Lion Statue, by the late local artist Al Sybrian, who in turn was influenced by the style of local sculptor Benjamin Bufano. Another symbol of Sausalito, the Sea Lion is surrounded by the waters of the Bay at high tide, while at low tide its base is perched atop the rocks. The statue, with the beautiful skyline of San Francisco beyond it, is also a favorite photo spot.
Option: If you’d like to walk a few blocks farther before circling back on the other side of the street, continue walking along the shore and you’ll come to a place where the street makes a sharp right turn. In front of you a boardwalk extends for one block, suspended above a narrow beach. This is the area where Sausalito was originally founded in the 1830’s. The Boardwalk is also the location for a famous movie scene with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, 1947’s The Lady from Shanghai. When you return to the southern end of the Bridgeway Promenade, walk back the way you came until you again reach the Sea Lion statue.
Starting from from the Sea Lion Statue, we’ll now circle back to choose a place for lunch. Look carefully in both directions before crossing the street here because there are no crosswalks in this area. Both cars and bicycles can come whizzing by with their drivers and riders watching the view instead of the road, so use extra caution.
When you’ve crossed the street and reach the side of Bridgeway that lies at the base of the hill. turn back to the right, in the direction of the ferry pier. You’ll pass more shops and the Real Napa Wine Tasting Room, one of three places on our walk where you can stop and sample flights of different wines, most from the nearby Wine Country.
I bet you’re getting hungry! Let’s pause here for a moment so you can choose the ideal lunch spot.
More good news: you have several great choices within two blocks of where you’re standing, and a famous sushi restaurant just a few more blocks farther north!
If you’re craving a deli sandwich rather than a big lunch: Grab a sidewalk table right by where you’re standing, at Venice Gourmet Deli, with a fabulous view of the Bay and San Francisco. If the tables are full you can add your name to the wait list and wait on a bench with the same great view. My favorite meal here is the Italian House Special, which comes on a local sourdough roll, and if there’s a guy at the next table with a yellow lab at his feet I may be dining alongside you.
If you want a million dollar view and a white-tablecloth fine dining lunch: Re-cross Bridgeway at the Princess St. crosswalk (about 20 yards or 18 meters north of Venice Gourmet Deli) and go to Barrel House, at the foot of Princess St. After entering the front doors climb the stairs or take the elevator up to the second floor dining room, with magnificent views of San Francisco. If the weather is good they have a few tables on a small deck outside, perched directly above the Bay and with a full view of the San Francisco skyline.
If you crave a gourmet burger and want lots of different choices, just to the left of Barrel House is Napa Valley Burger Co., whose menu has more varieties than every Food Network Bobby Flay cooking program combined. You can get anything from a traditional burger to one with exotic toppings or an organic kobe beef burger. It’s also one of Sausalito’s oldest restaurant locations, with different eateries there going back to before World War II.
Or… if you’re craving a simple organic flame-grilled burger where you can actually watch the flames dancing around the meat as it cooks, stay on the “uphill” side of Bridgeway, cross Princess St. and walk a block farther north. On your left you’ll come to a tiny place simply called Hamburgers. There may be a line, but the fun lies in watching your burger as it cooks on the spinning grill, right in the front window. There are just a couple of tiny tables inside, but on our walk you passed several beautiful benches right by the Bay. I love to get a burger here and take it to one of those benches for a scenic meal.
If you’re looking for smaller servings, enjoy Mexican food that is not “the usual” and want to try the restaurant of a celebrity chef, right next to Hamburgers is Copita, where the executive chef is PBS TV host Joanne Weir. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and their sidewalk tables are popular.
If you’d like to eat at one of the highest-rated Italian restaurants in the Bay Area, continue going north on Bridgeway. You’ll pass the elephants of Viña del Mar Park, and one block past Hamburgers and Copita you’ll find Poggio Trattoria on your left. With a constantly updated menu based on seasonal, locally sourced organic ingredients this place is a perennial on Michael Bauer’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants list.
If “American comfort food prepared with classic French methods and sauces” sounds irresistible, then Fast Food Francais is your destination. They also have some small sidewalk tables that are fun on a nice day. Starting from Poggio, continue walking north on Bridgeway one block until you reach Caledonia St., which angles off to the left at about a 45 degree angle. Bear left onto Caledonia (do not take any of the steep streets up the hill!) and after a block you’ll reach Johnson St. and Sausalito’s police and fire stations. Half a block down on your left, those French sauces and American comfort food are waiting!
If the only acceptable answer is a sushi place, we have one of the top-rated sushi restaurants in California. From Fast Food Francais follow Caledonia St. for one more block, cross Pine St. and on your left you’ll see Sushi Ran, which serves lunch and dinner and has a fabulous reputation.
Finally, if you saw a different place you loved on our walk, follow your instincts and go there for lunch! For example, if you’re a fan of Rock history The Trident is just a half block down the street from Barrel House, behind you and across the street.