Novelists Isabel Allende and Amy Tan, athletes JR Hildebrand and Tim Lincecum and musicians Janis Joplin and Otis Redding are currently the most-discussed Sausalito celebrities who have lived, worked or had fun here. But that’s just the start of a long list, and the roster of famous residents and visitors in Sausalito stretches back over 125 years. Here’s our Insiders Guide, presented in alphabetical order:
Isabel Allende — The award-winning Chilean novelist and author of The House of the Spirits lived in Sausalito in the 1990s and still lives nearby and maintains an office here. Her works, sometimes classified as “magical realism,” often feature female characters who choose independence and unique paths over traditional cultural roles, Learn more!
Maya Angelou — Although we know Angelou as a poet and a chronicler-of-our-age, in the mid-1950s she lived in Sausalito for a-year-and-change while performing as a calypso musician and dancer in night clubs in San Francisco’s North Beach, a two-part residency wrapped around two years performing in New York and across Europe. She spent much of that time living in a group setting in a houseboat moored at Waldo Point Harbor (now the Gate 5 Road location of Main Dock and Issaquah Dock) with her ten-year-old son, before moving to LA and then New York. Learn more!
Gina Berriault – An award-winning novelist and short story writer, Berriault lived in Sausalito for much of her career. Her 1996 short story collection, Women in Their Beds, received the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Rae Award for outstanding short story. Learn more!
Bill Cosby – Long before he was convicted of sexual assault, Cosby and his wife lived on a Sausalito houseboat during a period in the 1960s when he did gigs at Enrico Banducci’s hungry i club in San Francisco’s North Beach. Like many prominent musicians and actors, he spent a lot of time at The Trident in Sausalito. When Cosby became the first African American to win a lead role in a network series (I Spy), they moved to LA. Learn more!
Diesel — I’m sorry to ruin a great story believed by many Sausalito visitors, but… Diesel is not a celebrated Sausalito band. In fact, it’s not even a band that ever played in Sausalito. Although the song Sausalito Summer Nights was a hit in the 1980s. it was actually written in The Hague, a city in the Netherlands, and only one of its authors had ever even been to Sausalito. In fact, the song is all about an ill-fated drive north from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, car troubles along the way, and how the protagonist in the song’s story wanted to fly, not drive! Sausalito was the dream destination, and the song’s story ends before they ever get here.
George Duke — Duke was a Grammy-winning, genre-busting multi-talented jazz, funk, pop and rock musician and record producer who grew up in Marin City, an unincorporated area just north of Sausalito that shares our 94965 Zip Code. He played with groups as diverse as Cannonball Adderley and Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention, eventually breaking out as a chart-topping solo recording star before turning to production for many high-profile stars including Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson. The video above features his tribute to Sausalito. Learn more!
Fleetwood Mac — The Record Plant recording studio in Sausalito was the site where many major hit albums by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame stars were created. Out of all those albums, bands and stories none was as successful as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (with over 40,000,000 copies sold). And, at a place where triumph and tragedy both grew to be routine, few stories are more heartbreaking.
Phil Frank – For most observers, Phil Frank is remembered as the successful cartoonist behind the comic strips Farley, Travels with Farley and The Elderberries. In Sausalito he’s remembered as a tireless local volunteer for Sausalito civic causes. As one of the most active members of the Sausalito Historical Society, Frank literally went crawling through overgrown Sausalito hillsides and climbing into 19th century mineshafts looking for lost historical sites in town. He passed away in 2007, shortly after announcing that he had brain cancer. A statue of Phil Frank can be seen in downtown Sausalito near the ferry pier, next to the Ice House History Center. Learn more!
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead – Like the Santana Blues Band, the Grateful Dead’s first-ever concert — after changing their name from the prior The Warlocks — was in Sausalito. The concert took place October 15, 1966 (poster above) at the Heliport on Bolinas St. at the north end of town (now the Commodore Heliport). Apart from a short period of concerts, the Heliport was primarily used as a rehearsal hall for the Dead in 1966-67, alongside other local bands. This was convenient, since the band members’ homes were scattered across Marin County and the heliport was (and is) near the Sausalito offramp on Highway 101. Like many local musicians whose shows were promoted by Bill Graham, they also frequented The Trident restaurant in town. Their 1973 album The Wake of the Flood was also recorded at The Record Plant recording studio in Sausalito, which also still stands today. Learn more!
Allen Ginsberg — Although he lived in San Francisco, the famed Beat poet spent a lot of time as a member of Jean Varda and Alan Watts’ social (and occasionally anti-social) group on the old ferryboat the Vallejo at Varda Landing (the entry road which still connects to Gate 5 Road at the north end of Sausalito). He also was an habitué of The No Name Bar near the ferry pier, where they — in the words of drummer Michael Aragon — “played chess, read poetry, wore lots of berets and horned-rimmed glasses, and played bongo drums.” This was about a decade before I made Ginsberg angry with a respectfully-spoken question at a poetry reading, but that’s a story for another day. Learn more!
Graham Gouldman — Although the famed 1960’s English rock composer for The Yardbirds, the Hollies and Herman’s Hermits hadn’t visited here, he still created a beacon for Sausalito. His song Sausalito is the Place to Go To (video above) was recorded during a brief period when he took the money and wrote bubblegum songs like the awful 1968 hit, Yummy Yummy Yummy I’ve got Love in my Tummy. The song Sausalito is the Place to Go To (which is far better than the yummy yummy disaster) had just one historic role: recorded in the UK, it documents the town’s emerging worldwide reputation as a late-60s cultural hotspot.
Bill Graham — Although he eventually had a large home in nearby Corte Madera, rock music impresario Bill Graham kept a houseboat in Sausalito for many years. It is most famously remembered as the spot where Otis Redding (see below) wrote the classic song, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. Graham would also throw over-the-top parties at The Trident restaurant in Sausalito for artists in town for his concerts, the most famous of which was for Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Learn more!
Paul Hawken – The co-founder and CEO of natural garden and lifestyle company Smith & Hawken, he now works from his base in Sausalito to support solutions to the challenges of Global Warming. Learn more!
Sterling Hayden — A denizen of Sausalito for over 25 years, Hayden was a famous movie star from the 1940s through the 1960s. After naming fellow actors who were communists at the 1950’s communist-hunting House hearings, his life spiraled downward in self-hatred and he went through a nasty divorce. After living in the Netherlands and in France, Hayden returned to Sausalito around 1961 and rented a pilot house on the old retired ferryboat The Berkeley, which was docked here. He used the space as an office to write a memoir — the book sold well, but unpaid back taxes devoured the royalties. Hayden then lived on a nearby houseboat called “The Pirate,” but later moved into a modest apartment. Alcohol sabotaged many of his dreams and emptied his bank account, and eventually he was more of a “character” around town rather than a celebrity. He died here in 1986. Learn more!
Rita Hayworth & Orson Welles —
Edith Heath –
William Randolph Hearst —
Dan Hicks —
JR Hildebrand — Originally from Sausalito and raised here, Hildebrand is a veteran of the Indy Car racing series and the Indianapolis 500. He was 2nd in the Indy 500 in 2011 when his move around a lapped competitor took him into the wall while leading on the final lap. Learn more!
Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones — The Stones were the most famous members of rock royalty who were celebrated at The Trident restaurant in Sausalito with a lavish party by music promoter Bill Graham. Graham hosted these events for artists in town for his national and international concert tours. Bobby Lozoff, the bartender at The Trident, invented the Tequila Sunrise there. When Jagger attended the 1972 party he was served the new creation, which Lozoff said was designed for their traveling lifestyle because it was so simple that band members could make it for themselves with Jose Cuervo tequila, orange juice and a drop of grenadine. Three days of partying in Sausalito and San Francisco later (including all of the Trident’s employees boarding buses to attend one of the concerts for free), The Stones resumed their tour and spread the joys of the Tequila Sunrise around the world (see video with Lozoff above). Learn more!
Janis Joplin —
Timothy Leary — The psychedelic professor, author and bon vivant was a leading member of Jean Varda and Alan Watts’ 1967 “Houseboat Summit” (along with Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder) on the old ferryboat The Vallejo at Varda Landing at the north end of Sausalito. Learn more!
John Lennon and Yoko Ono — https://www.santana.com/The ex-Beatle and his wife attended the masquerade ball at the 1972 grand opening of The Record Plant recording studio in Sausalito, where they arrived dressed as trees. Lennon usually recorded his solo albums at the original New York Record Plant studio.
Tim Lincecum –
Mary Tuthill Lindheim –
Rod McKuen — If you ever wonder about the Beat generation and Beat poetry, Rod McKuen is their “romantic,” appearing in clubs alongside more cynical peers and friends like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg (whom I once pissed off royally, but that’s another story). McKuen’s Beat-era piece about Sausalito in the above video is a great example of a cross between a story and a poem, something you might hear recited at a “salon” on the old Charles Van Damme Ferry, alias “the Ark” in Sausalito back in the day, and he also had a long music career despite damaging his vocal chords. His most famous poem, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, also refers to Sausalito. Learn more!
Juanita Musson —
“Baby Face” Nelson –
Pink Floyd — The band famously stayed at the Casa Madrona Hotel in Sausalito while playing concerts in San Francisco in 1967, where a photographer named William Baron took a famous series of informal group portraits.
Otis Redding – There are many versions of the story about how Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay was written and recorded by Otis Redding, but most of the stories agree that he wrote the song while staying on Bill Graham’s houseboat in Sausalito. Several different local houseboat piers and docks still claim to be the famous Sausalito location.
Carlos Santana — Still called the Santana Blues Band, the group played their first-ever gig — for rock impresario Bill Graham — on March 1, 1967 at The Ark in Sausalito, alias the old ferry boat Charles Van Damme, which was then used for many purposes including a concert and dance venue. They returned again on January 26-27, 1968. After their performance at Woodstock their success exploded in 1969 and they toured the world playing larger venues. His song Samba de Sausalito was first played in concert in June of 1973, and the studio version was released in 1974. Although he has lived in Mill Valley, San Rafael and Tiburon (all nearby, north of Sausalito) for several decades, Carlos Santana has occasionally turned up for short unannounced Sausalito performances, most recently at a Caledonia St. restaurant. He has now moved part-time to Las Vegas due to his performance residencies there. Learn more!
Tupac Shakur — Shakur lived in Marin City for several years as he was growing up, the unincorporated area at the north end of Sausalito that is part of the local school district.
Shel Silverstein –
Sally Stanford –
Al Sybrian —
Amy Tan —
Jean Varda –
Grover Washington Jr. — Although the song Sausalito was a success for Washington, there’s no record of him spending any extended time here and he is not listed as one of the six composers of the track.
Alan Watts –
Lew Welch — Major Beat era poet and stepfather to Huey Lewis, lived in Marin City