The waterfront enclave of Sausalito, just north across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, affords visitors small-town charms with big-time views of San Francisco, the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, and the San Francisco Bay, including landmarks Angel Island and Alcatraz. While away a weekend perusing the shops and art galleries along Bridgeway Boulevard (Sausalito’s main drag), walking among the upscale neighborhoods with killer views, and enjoying leisurely meals at seafood-inspired restaurants and cafes.
The Harbor Shop
Stopping by a town’s visitor center is always a good way to get oriented, but The Harbor Shop—located a few yards from Sausalito’s said center—is sort of a “visitor center plus.” In addition to selling souvenirs, the shop’s staff members are happy to provide maps of the area and point you in the direction of just about any sight you’d like to see. (100 Bay St.; 415-331-6008; store.harborshop.com)
The Excelsior Lane Steps
Sausalito is a great walking town. Stroll along the shore, near (or all the way across) the Golden Gate Bridge or through the scenic neighborhoods.
Take the steps up Excelsior Lane, off Bridgeway Boulevard to Bulkley Avenue. The climb will get your heart pumping, but the view that awaits is worth the effort. Hug the curb as you walk the windy streets and soak up the sights of the harbor below, San Francisco on a clear day. Swoon over the homes, boasting a variety of architectural styles, that you pass along the way. It’s OK to be a little envious: You’re looking at million-dollar homes with million-dollar views.
Located in the heart of town and with room rates starting at $155 for a queen standard, Hotel Sausalito is a prime place to hang your hat without losing your wallet. The 94-year-old hotel was rumored to have been a bordello, a Prohibition watering hole and an artist colony of sorts in days of yore. Having undergone several renovations, today Hotel Sausalito has a warm, contemporary feel. The 16 rooms—bright, cheery and decorated in “French Riviera” style—are compact but comfortable; suites start at $265. (16 El Portal; 888-442-0700; hotelsausalito.com)
Shops and Galleries
No trip to Sausalito would be complete without at least taking a peek into the many shops and art galleries clustered along Bridgeway Boulevard, Princess and Caledonia streets, and others nearby. Admire the stunning photos taken by award-winning nature and landscape photographer Rodney Lough Jr. at his namesake Wilderness Collections Gallery. Check out the paintings of local scenery and florals by husband-and-wife artists Bob and Rosemary Tapia at Tapia Art Gallery, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year—making it the oldest gallery in Sausalito, according to Bob Tapia. Is it ever too early to start thinking about Christmas? Not at The Holiday Shoppe, with its vast collection of everything Christmas and then some. And if you like to shop for wine or do a little wine tasting, stop in at Bacchus & Venus, which specializes in small-production California boutique wines and doubles as an art gallery.
Sausalito is a natural for seafood. Eco-conscious fish fans can feel good about dining at Fish.; the waterfront restaurant serves locally purchased, sustainable seafood and organic produce. A cash-only, counter-service-casual kind of place where drinks are served quirkily in Mason jars, Fish.’s exudes a casual vibe but the food skews more highbrow. Try the cioppino, a perfect cool-weather option that will set you back 35 bucks. (350 Harbor Drive; 415-331-3474; 331fish.com)
Low lighting and the glow of candles give Horizons a romantic air at night, though the restaurant’s dark-wood interior—meant to resemble an old yacht—reminded us of a ’70s ski lodge
(minus the cozy fireplace and hot cocoa). Nearly every seat here offers spectacular views of gorgeously illuminated San Francisco. On Monday nights, all bottles of wine are half price, including half bottles. A little vino makes a nice accompaniment to Horizons’ California cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. (558 Bridgeway Blvd.; 415-331-3232; horizonssausalito.com)
Imagine buying handcrafted, modern tableware found at such upscale eateries as Berkeley’s Chez Panisse—but at Chez Target prices. Hit Heath Ceramics at the right time and you just might be able to. Its factory store sells “seconds” as well as prototypes, discontinued items and samples at a 30 percent or more discount. (First-quality tableware also is available.) The store also sells “homeware” and tiles, with tile overstock available at a discount—perfect for your mid-century-modern remodel. Free tours of the factory, which was established here in 1948, are available Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11, but we’re told the best one is Friday afternoon at 12:30, when you get to watch the craftspersons in action. (400 Gate 5 Road off Harbor Drive; 415-332-3732; heathceramics.com)
Insider Tip—Sausalito’s north side is home to five floating home marinas on Richardson Bay. The 400-plus homes, ranging from simple to elaborate, sit in berths on the water—though unlike true houseboats, they never set sail. Famous people who’ve called the floating homes home include author Shel Silverstein, actor Sterling Hayden and musician Otis Redding, who possibly penned his famous “The Dock of the Bay” while sitting on the dock of this bay.
Getting There: Take Interstate 80 west to Highway 37 west to Highway 101 south. Exit at Marin City/Sausalito. Turn left on Bridge Boulevard, then right on Bridgeway
Boulevard, which takes you into town.