Golden Gate Bridge & Sausalito Bus Tour Information
Many visitors to Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge come via tour buses from San Francisco. For many people this is a great way to visit, but if you don’t know the secrets of picking the right tour and the right bus your experience can be disappointing. We’ve compiled a list of questions below to help you find the best bus tour for your visit.
We noticed that Big Bus Tours, a hop-on hop-off service, has the most extensive coverage of Sausalito. Most services cover only the Golden Gate Bridge or add downtown Sausalito as stops. Big Bus has stops at both ends of the Golden Gate Bridge, and adds stops at Fort Baker and the Bay Model. This allows you to visit the Sausalito houseboats (a few blocks north of their stop at the Bay Model) and more spots on our Fun Things to Do in Sausalito list. They also run open-top double-decker buses in nice weather and closed-in (warmer) buses when it’s cool or rainy. Note: Because of their enhanced services we sought them out and Big Bus Tours is now a sponsor of OurSausalito.
1. Does the bus tour go to Sausalito after stopping at the Golden Gate Bridge, or just turn around and come back into San Francisco?
Some routes cover only the Golden Gate Bridge, while Sausalito bus tours continue all the way across the Bridge to Sausalito. The views from each are spectacular, but very different.
- Some routes will also continue farther north to Muir Woods.
- Some tours of the Wine Country will make a stop in Sausalito on the way north or en route on the return to San Francisco.
2. How many stops will the Sausalito bus tour make?
Some Sausalito bus tour companies stop once in downtown Sausalito, then return to Highway 101 to go back to San Francisco. Others will have additional stops, most often at:
- the Bay Area Discovery Museum and Cavallo Point at Fort Baker on the southern edge of Sausalito, and/or
- at the Bay Model in northern Sausalito.
3. How much free time will you have to walk around Sausalito?
Some Sausalito bus tours may give you only 20 or 30 minutes to get a few pictures of the great views from the Bridgeway Promenade, while others may give you an hour or even two hours in town.
The hop-on hop-off Sausalito bus tour options (see below) give you complete control over your timing.
How long will you want to spend here?
There are lots of great restaurants, and for an unhurried meal you’ll want to stay a couple of hours so you can take a leisurely stroll to and from the restaurant.
If you enjoy art there are many art galleries in downtown Sausalito. It’s easy to spend an hour or two just looking at the two blocks of galleries closest to the Ferry pier.
If you revel in gorgeous views then you’ll want to take a slow walk down the Bridgeway Promenade downtown, which (with a little window shopping) can easily fill an hour with picture-taking and strolling.
Shopping (or just window shopping) here is fun. Although there are a few “typical visitor shops” there are many other unique places, ranging from wine tasting rooms to a store that only sells socks to a year-round Christmas store to a games store to a card and gift shop run by an internationally recognized artist and designer. If you like to shop, allow some extra time for this as well.
4. If it’s lunch or dinner time, have they already selected the restaurant or will you get to choose for yourself?
I’ve seen Sausalito bus tour groups pull up at some of the very best places in town, with great views and wonderful food. I’ve also seen them stop at places that have no real view and offer routine menus, inattentive servers and uninspiring food.
Trust me, you’d rather be on that bus tour to the good place, or to be able to pick your own dining spot!
5. Is there a narrator telling you about what you’re seeing as you travel, or do you ride and watch on your own?
In our family we have one person who loves to hear the narrative and another who wants them to turn off the speakers. Ask the Sausalito bus tour operator what kind of service they offer so you can decide on how you like to travel.
6. Does their bus match today’s weather?
There are many different kinds of Sausalito bus tour vehicles. Some are a good choice any day of the year, others are especially good on some days and not so great on others. Some of the hop-on hop-off companies use different kinds of buses on different days based on the local weather.
Vans — These will often have 8 to 12 seats, and are air conditioned.
Luxury Buses — These are the most common types of visitor buses I’ve seen everywhere in the world, with comfortable seats and air conditioning. Some also have video monitors. If it’s a long trip be sure to ask if the bus is equipped with a bathroom.
Double-Decker Buses — These usually have enclosed bottom levels, and open top levels where you have the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. The bottom level may be air conditioned or have windows that open and close. If it’s a nice day it’s extra fun to ride in the open air on top. If the fog is blowing in on the Golden Gate Bridge it can be cold and miserable. Some of these buses will have an area on top that’s covered to provide shade and other rows of seats that are in direct sun.
Open Top Buses — These are like the double decker buses, but have only a single open-top level. They often have both a shaded section with a roof and side windows, and a section where the seats are completely out in the open.
Cable Car Style Buses — Unique to San Francisco, these are smaller buses styled after cable cars. They often have an enclosed or semi-enclosed center section and open sections with wooden benches at the front and back. Again, on a beautiful day these can be extra fun, but if it’s cold the wind chill factor at 55 miles an hour (80 km) will make your bones ache.
Novelty Converted Buses — These vehicles started their lives doing something else, but now have been converted into visitor buses. My favorite one to watch is an old converted fire engine that comes through town sometimes.
Buses that are also boats that float and travel on the Bay — These bus tour companies operate in and around San Francisco, but do not currently come to Sausalito.
7. Are They a Hop-On Hop-off Bus Tour?
“Hop On Hop-off” routes make pre-scheduled stops at a series of popular locations on a given route, running (most often) every 20, 30 or 60 minutes from morning until late afternoon or evening. You buy a ticket for the day (or longer) and have the freedom to get off wherever you want and stay as long as you want, so long as you catch the last ride of the day back to the stop closest to your hotel or apartment.
Insiders Tip: Try to avoid the last bus of the day on your route. It’s the one most likely to be overcrowded.
8. How High are the Steps? What provisions have they made for disabled seating?
If a family member has a bad knee, is coming off an injury or has trouble with high steps they’ll appreciate having an easier climb onto the bus, especially if it’s a hop-on hop-off experience. Ask the Sausalito bus tour company for specifics so you can compare.
In California almost every bus has to offer appropriate disabled seating, but the kinds of arrangements may vary from bus to bus. Don’t hesitate to ask tour operators what the arrangements are on their equipment.