Just across the Golden Gate Strait lies Sausalito, California. Part of scenic Marin County, this seaside community in San Francisco’s backyard has an abundance of shops and dining opportunities, scenic views, charming houseboat enclaves, and plenty of space for strolls along the water.
Sausalito is a laid-back town with a Mediterranean vibe. Whether you take the ferry across or drive the Golden Gate Bridge, a leisurely day awaits.
Here are some fantastic things to do in Sausalito, as well as where to eat and stay.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all opinions are my own.
What to Do in Sausalito on a Day Trip
1. Explore By Bike
One of my sisters and I recently visited Sausalito for the day. We took the ferry both ways and got around on foot once we were in town. We were happily surprised to see the ferry loaded with bicycles; if we had known about this option beforehand, we would have rented bicycles ourselves. It’s the perfect way to explore this beautiful city.
You can rent a bicycle at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco Bay. Most bicycle rental shops will provide you with a map of Sausalito to help you get around. If you’re an expert bicyclist, you might want to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Otherwise, you can bring your bike on board when you board the ferry to Sausalito.
Pro Tip: Arrive early to browse the marketplace housed in the San Francisco Ferry Building and pick up a snack for the trip. On the 30-minute boat ride, you’ll see Alcatraz Island and stunning views of both Sausalito, and the San Francisco skyline. The ferry also goes to Angel Island State Park, the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay. It offers hiking and amazing views of the Bay Area.
2. Kayaking And Boat Tours
There are a variety of ways to get out on the water in Sausalito. You can rent a kayak and explore on your own or take a tour of the waterfront with Sea Trek Kayak & SUP Center. The Scenic Sausalito half-day trip runs on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Five Stars Yacht and SF Bay Adventures also offer boat tours.
3. Seaplane Adventures
If you’d rather see the water from above, you can take a seaplane ride with Seaplane Adventures. On the 30-minute Golden Gate Tour, you’ll take off from Sausalito and travel over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, past Baker Beach and the Point Bonita Lighthouse, and then over the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco, and the island prison of Alcatraz.
4. Sausalito’s Houseboat Community
You wouldn’t think houseboats would be a huge attraction, but Sausalito’s 500 or so houseboats in five floating home marinas are a sight to see. They’re located in Richardson Bay on the north end of town, and visitors can see what domestic life is like on the water. Most of the time, you’ll only be able to admire the exteriors, but check the Sausalito Houseboats page for public walking tour dates and times. If you catch one, you’ll get to see some of the interiors and learn about the history of the floating homes, which dates back to WWII.
5. Old Marinship Shipyards
The old Marinship Shipyards neighborhood, an industrial waterfront area, is a historic part of town that’s fun to explore. Walk north along the shoreline. Along the way, you’ll find a swimming beach, canoe and rowing rentals, a French restaurant, and various boat docks. You’ll see the once-busy shipyard where many liberty ships were built during World War II. There’s a free exhibit about Marinship Shipyards inside the same warehouse that houses the Bay Model Visitor Center.
6. Bay Model Visitor Center
Be sure to make time for the Bay Model Visitor Center, where you’ll find a 1.5-acre working pneumatic model of the San Francisco Bay. The fully accessible education center is administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is fascinating. Kids and engineers alike will enjoy this free exhibit.
7. Bay Area Discovery Museum
If you have kiddos in tow, take them to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, the children’s museum can be found at Fort Baker, inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Kids can get their hands dirty in all sorts of interactive exhibits, both indoors and out. There’s even a beach!
8. The Golden Gate Bridge
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Battery Spencer Overlook offers one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco Bay area in the background. Park along Conzelman Road if possible, but be prepared to walk as parking fills up fast everywhere in the vicinity of the Golden Gate Bridge. I went there last December during the Holidays and it was simply beautiful as I watched fireworks go off from the Golden Gate Bridge into the night sky.
9. Marin Headlands
Part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Marin Headlands offer sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. The sprawling coastal prairie is made up of rocky cliffs. Hike the trails, picnic at Battery Wallace near the Point Bonita Trailhead, and visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse, which has been shepherding ships since 1855.
Part of the Headlands, Rodeo Beach is a pebbly beach that is popular with surfers and sunbathers alike.
10. The Marine Mammal Center
Nestled in the Marin Headlands, The Marine Mammal Center is the largest marine mammal hospital in the world. The non-profit has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing marine mammals who are injured, ill, or abandoned since it opened in 1975. Open Friday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., admission is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance.
11. The Sausalito Sea Lion Statue
Watching over the city’s waterfront for over half a century, the iconic Sausalito Sea Lion statue is the most photographed piece of public art in Sausalito. Scope it out on Bridgeway, just north of Tiffany Park.
12. Bridgeway Promenade
You won’t lack shopping opportunities in Sausalito — in fact, the waterfront shopping downtown is a draw on its own. Often confused for the Sausalito Boardwalk, Bridgeway is the main drag near the ferry harbor. Here, you’ll find everything from tourist shops selling T-shirts and ball caps and high-end boutiques to specialty food stores, art galleries, and gift shops.
13. Art Galleries
Pick up a Sausalito souvenir or two, and then stop by Studio 333, the largest local artist cooperative in the San Francisco Bay Area. Other neat galleries in the area include Daniel Merriam’s Bubble Street Gallery, Galerie Elektra, Gallery Sausalito, and Hanson Gallery.
Pro Tip: Visit during Labor Day weekend to catch the Sausalito Art Festival. The three-day festival is packed with live music, food, beer and wine, and special exhibitions.
Stroll along the marinas and boardwalks and take in the sights. After all that walking, you might want a little pampering. Why not get a spa treatment at one of the full-service spas in town?
15. Muir Woods National Monument
While not in Sausalito itself, Muir Woods National Monument is just 8 miles north of town and makes for a perfect day trip to relax amongst the redwoods.
16. Battery Spencer Trail
Battery Spencer Trail is one of the best viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge and the perfect location to add to your Sausalito day trip, but don’t be surprised if locals can’t tell where this hidden gem is.
It takes a short drive through the Marin Headlands along the steep Conzelman Road to reach the parking area for Battery Spencer. Once you get to the Battery Spencer parking area, the trail is an easy 0.5-mile hike to the viewpoint from where you will feel that you can almost reach out and grab the Golden Gate Bridge.
17. Sausalito Art Festival
The annual Sausalito Arts Festival is one of the longest-running outdoor arts festivals where you can find delicious foods, fine art, and live music. More than 150 artists are typically showcased each year and the categories range from mixed media and ceramics to drawings and paintings and much more.
Sausalito Art Festival has been recognized as one of America’s premier outdoor art festivals for 68 years and is a winner of countless awards. However, it was shut down recently by the pandemic, and then by a homeless encampment that moved into its traditional location.
Best Restaurants In Sausalito
Fresh seafood is always on the menu in Sausalito. There are several great dining spots within walking distance of the ferry landing. After lunch at one of these restaurants, peruse the shops that line the streets — you’ll want to stop for an espresso or perhaps chocolates or ice cream on the way back to the ferry.
My sister and I had lunch at Scoma’s Sausalito. The service was exceptional, and the food — whole steamed crabs, grilled seasonal fish, rich chowders — was seasonal and fresh. We ordered two appetizers: the beet salad with arugula, chevre, citrus, avocado, fresh mint, Marcona almonds, and a balsamic vinaigrette with shaved horseradish; and the oysters Sausalito baked with garlic, spinach, and creamy Parmesan.
I live in Kansas City, so I’m always craving fresh seafood. For the main course, I was torn between the California petrale sole and the day’s special, the mahi-mahi. Our server said that the mahi-mahi was his favorite, so I went with that. It was exactly what I needed. For dessert, my sister and I shared the tiramisu, a huge wedge of indulgence.
Afterward, another server took our photo outdoors with the water in the background. We left with creative shots we wouldn’t have thought to take ourselves.
For cocktails with an impressive view, stop by The Trident. Or if you’re wanting a picnic, grab a deli sandwich at Venice Gourmet and take it across the street to Yee Tock Chee Park.
Editor’s Note: The sights at the above restaurants truly are special. Scoma’s Sausalito and The Trident were voted two of the world’s top restaurants with a view in our 2022 Best of Travel Awards.
Lappert’s Coffee & Ice Cream
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, try the tropical-flavored ice cream — like Rum Raisin, with dark rum-soaked raisins in a light-rum-flavored sweet cream at Lappert’s Coffee & Ice Cream.
Sausalito offers a couple of options when it comes to wine tasting. Both Real Napa and Bacchus & Venus are within a few blocks of the Ferry pier.
Hotels In Sausalito
If you’ve decided to stay the night in Sausalito, you’ve got options.
The Inn Above Tide
For a luxurious night on the water, consider The Inn Above Tide, just a minute’s walk from the Sausalito ferry. You’ll love the elegant suites — some with decks — at this bayside hotel. Standard rooms start at $455 per night; the Bay View room, with a private furnished deck overlooking the water, costs $815 per night. The scenic vineyards of Sonoma and Napa are just a short drive north.
The Hotel Sausalito is a historic boutique hotel with park and harbor views. Located in the heart of downtown Sausalito, the hotel features 14 luxurious rooms and two suites with handcrafted furnishings by local artisans. The hallways are lined with renditions of Matisses and Monets by Napa Valley artist Kelleen Sullivan. For $149 per night, you’ll get to stay in one of the warm, inviting rooms with stained glass windows and great views.
Rent A Houseboat For The Night
Prefer to sleep on the water — literally? For a truly unique lodging experience, rent this houseboat. For $395 per night, you’ll get to stay in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom houseboat that sleeps six. The master bedroom has a fireplace and hot tub, and the houseboat has three levels with a rooftop garden and incredible views.
If you prefer to stay in a vacation home, check out our top picks:
How Much Time Do You Need in Sausalito?
Thanks to its small and rather compact nature, seeing what Sausalito has to offer can easily fit in a day trip from San Francisco. If you want to explore at a more leisurely pace, it’s best to take a weekend to fully enjoy this small Californian town.
What Can You Do In Sausalito In Winter?
Same as the rest of the year. Even though November through February are the least crowded months, everything is open. Sausalito is not one of those summer towns that roll up the sidewalks and lock the shop doors every winter.
What Is The Best Way To Watch a Sunset In Sausalito?
It’s on one of the sunset cruises throughout the good weather months. This is an awesome way to see Sausalito from the water, enjoy spectacular views in a casual and fun atmosphere, and watch the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
Can You Enjoy Art in Sausalito?
Yes, Sausalito is the perfect day trip for art lovers. Whether it’s poetry, painting, music, or acting that appeals to you, you will find exciting areas, art galleries, and festivals that hint at why Sausalito is known as the artsy, quiet younger sibling of San Francisco.
Are There Food And Wine Tours in Sausalito?
Certainly. If you can’t decide on a restaurant to have your meal, a local guide will take you through the streets of downtown Sausalito to visit renowned restaurants, taste delicious dishes, and sip on paired wine.