100 Spinnaker Dr., Sausalito (See Map Below)
The Spinnaker is one of the enduring Great View Restaurants in all of Northern California, and a Grand Dame of Sausalito. This is a more old-school, dignified dining spot rather than an edgy scene, though many diners are dressed casually. The locals bring family from out of town here when they visit, and local business people choose it to impress visiting clients. That said, it’s all about the views, and not a restaurant that will interest someone looking for $2 million worth of light fixtures and cutting edge food trends.
Insiders Tip: If you plan to dine at The Spinnaker, you really want to get a reservation, and tell them if you’re willing to wait for a window table. During busy summer days and weekends year-round walk-ins with no reservation can easily wait for an hour or more for their table, and some of them get impatient — not the way to have a good time.
The Spinnaker is also great for lunch for ferry riders who come in from San Francisco and enjoy the great view after sailing right past the restaurant windows as the ferry approaches the pier.
If people ask me to recommend a place in Sausalito one of the first questions I ask is, “Does a great view of the Bay matter a lot to you?” If the answer is yes, you already know what I’ll say. I put Spinnaker at the top of the list, along with Barrel House and The Trident.
If you’re looking for a place with a Michelin Star or that’s on Michael Bauer’s lists and the view is secondary, you can check out our top-rated dinner restaurants here.
The Spinnaker is built on top of a pier jutting out into San Francisco Bay, a location that no one would be allowed to build on today. The pier faces east, so…
– If you look to the south you get the San Francisco skyline,
– If you look east you see the mansions of Belvedere Island,
– To the north is a beautiful view of Mt. Tamalpais,
– The tops of the Golden Gate Bridge towers are in the southwest.
Fog Alert: If you’re planning to go to The Spinnaker, you can check these webcams any time to see if morning fog persists or the afternoon fog has decided to visit. Fog on the Bay is most common in the summer, and the skies are most clear in September-October. Sometimes it’s completely clear, sometimes the San Francisco skyscrapers can be seen above the fog, and sometimes what you see is the fog. You can even get those days pictured on postcards where you have dramatic visions of wisps of fog curling around the Sausalito hills.
Some of my favorite things about the Spinnaker, once your jaw stops dropping halfway to your knees when you first see the views from the windows:
1. Caesar salad made table-side for two or more people. Watching the servers make the dressing largely from scratch in front of you is fun, although their performance is dignified rather than flamboyant. And the salad itself is fabulous and tasty. Confession: I tried to replicate what they do at home and failed miserably.
2. If sunset aligns with your dinner plans during your visit to The Spinnaker, make a reservation for a half hour before the sun goes down and watch the San Francisco city lights slowly twinkle into place on the horizon. For some visitors this can be a highlight of a week-long trip… if the fog cooperates that evening!
3. The clam chowder is great, especially during the winter when it warms you up.
4. Arrive early for your reservation at The Spinnaker and have a drink by the window in the bar, where the view is as good as in the dining area. More time to take in the scenery and relax, and you’re more likely to get a window table by waiting. Even when it’s busy, you can usually hear each other talk without raising your voice. Note: I hear they have now instituted a $10 per person minimum in the bar area if you are not also having a meal.
5. The Spinnaker restaurant is a three minute walk from the Ferry pier that connects Sausalito to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (Blue and Gold Fleet) and to the Ferry Building in San Francisco (Golden Gate Ferry). But be careful: the ferries do not run that late at night, especially on the weekends. Our complete guide to the Sausalito Ferry is here.
6. Autumn and Winter: On a rainy windy day it’s hard to beat a big bowl of New England clam chowder and a slab of French bread at a window table here. It’s like a Moby Dick ride at Disneyland, only you’re dry and warm and everything you see is real.
7. Shrimp Louis salad. Crab Louis salad. Really good, and at prices below what I’ve seen in San Francisco. Oh, and one of the competing stories of the creation of Louis dressing has it being invented in San Francisco in 1908.
8. Ferry boats come and go, by day or night. After dark tour boats come by with their Christmas lights all aglow. Kayakers paddling right beneath your window. Sailboats going by and people waving.
9. Sing it with me, “Free valet parking!”
Other comments and notes:
Many times at night there will be one or two herons standing patiently on the rocks below the Spinnaker restaurant window. Every so often their head will dart down when they think they see a meal. Once in a great while I’ve seen a seal or sea lion stick its head up nearby to check out the goings-on. There’s even a picture of one in an (excellent) blog post about Spinnaker here!
Even the tables one row back from the windows here have a fabulous view. Just past the Maitre D’ stand there are a series of tables against the wall where two people sit side-by-side looking directly at the San Francisco skyline. They’re not window tables, but for guests who like the side-by-side aimed-right-at-the-view alignment they’re a great alternative if the wait to be “on the glass” is going to be a long one.
If you’re local, give the view to the north of the restaurant a try after you’ve been here a few times. Everyone flocks to the San Francisco skyline, but Mt. Tamalpais seen across the Bay is fabulous.
Here’s another video shot from their table by a family visiting the area:
Something else that people should know about the Spinnaker? Have you seen Elvis piloting one of the sailboats that buzz the east end of the building? Disagree with any of our suggestions? Please let us know!