Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all opinions remain my own.
Just across the Golden Gate Strait lies Sausalito, California. 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’s how to spend a day in Sausalito.
Take A Bicycle On The Ferry
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. 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 onboard when you board the ferry to Sausalito.
Imagine Life On A Houseboat
You wouldn’t think houseboats would be a huge attraction, but Sausalito’s approximately 500 houseboats in five floating home marinas are a sight to see. They’re located at the north end of town, and visitors can see what domestic life is like on the water. This map shows the exact location of the docks. Most of the time, you’ll only be able to admire the exteriors, but check the Sausalito Houseboats page for public tour dates and times -- if you catch one, you’ll get to see some of the interiors.
Visit The 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.
See A Working Model Of The San Francisco Bay
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.
Spend Some Time On The Water
There are a variety of ways to get out on the water in Sausalito.
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.
Eating 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 your caffeine fix, head to one of the most popular coffee shops in Sausalito, Taste of Rome. Stay and sip a cappuccino, or take your cup of joe to go and walk the boardwalk.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll love Coa Chocolate with its vegan and organic options. Another favorite of mine is 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.
Shopping In Sausalito
You won’t lack shopping opportunities in Sausalito -- in fact, the waterfront shopping downtown is a draw on its own.
You’ll find tourist shops selling T-shirts and ball caps, high-end stores with clothing and leather products, specialty food stores, art galleries, and gift shops. EyeItalia showcases Italian home goods and jewelry, Real Napa offers delicious wines, and Cha Cha Cha Kids sells children’s clothing, accessories, and unique gifts.
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.
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?
Where To Stay In Sausalito
If you’ve decided to stay the night in Sausalito, you’ve got options.
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 $435 per night; the Tidal Suite, with a private furnished deck overlooking the water, costs $955 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 and inviting rooms with stained glass windows plus great views.
Prefer to sleep -- literally -- on the water? 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.
Pro Tip: Take the ferry. It’s a ride you won’t want to miss. On the 30-minute boat ride, you’ll see Alcatraz Island and stunning views of both Sausalito and San Francisco.