Sausalito, California is a small town located directly across the bay from San Francisco. On a clear day, the view is postcard worthy, with the city skyline towering over the infamous prison island of Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge stretching across the horizon. Of course the view was obscured by fog during my visit, but that didn’t detract from my experience one bit. That’s because the main reason I wanted to take a Sausalito day trip was to explore the town’s unique houseboat community.
Visiting the Sausalito Floating Homes
There are around 400 Sausalito houseboats forming a floating village in Richardson Bay. They are connected by a series of wooden docks, several of which are open to the public. Residents have potted gardens on the docks, and the benches are an invitation to linger. The floating homes are as varied as the plants in the gardens. The colors and architectural styles reflect the whims of the owners and range from Classic Coastal to Carmel Whimsy. Many are so large it seems impossible that they could float.
The community officially dates to 1945 when the WWII shipyards were decommissioned. Artists and bohemians moved into the abandoned ferries and lifeboats, and soon a village was born. In 1967, Otis Redding wrote his greatest hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” while staying in one of the Sausalito houseboats! (A few years later, the Record Plant opened a music studio in Sausalito. Many top artists recorded albums there, including Prince, Mariah Carey, Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, and Dave Matthews Band.) It’s a wonder that the area has managed to retain its villagy feel given its place in musical history and close proximity to San Francisco. But strict zoning laws and the oversight of the Floating Homes Association keep the size of the community in check.
Things to Do in Sausalito
The Davey Jones Deli has been a Sausalito institution since it opened inside the Bait Shop Market in 2010. Grab a sandwich to go and enjoy lunch on a public bench with a view of the water. After gaping at the yachts and sailboats bobbing in the harbor, make your way to “downtown” Sausalito. It’s about two miles from Davey Jones Deli to the center of town, and there are plenty of shops and art galleries to browse along the way. If you visit only one, make it Heath Ceramics, which has been turning out high-quality housewares since 1948.
If you’re in need of a sweet treat, join the queue at Lappert’s Ice Cream. It is definitely worth the wait! I had a tough time deciding between the many scrumptious flavors, but ultimately enjoyed a cup of banana cream pie. Next time I might have to try the date, or maybe the Hawaiian sea salt caramel…
How to Get to Sausalito from San Francisco
I was visiting a friend with a car, so we made the short drive over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. (Note that you must pay a toll for each crossing.) Sausalito is just eight miles from San Francisco, so it’s possible (and free!) to bike across the bridge. A more scenic option is to ride the Sausalito ferry. There are two service options, the Golden Gate Ferry and the Blue & Gold Fleet. The companies operate out of different piers in San Francisco, and some departures make extra stops along the way, so it’s important to verify the schedule before you set out. If you opt to drive, there is free parking on an access road next to the Richardson Bay floating homes community.
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The Sausalito floating homes reminded me of Tai O, a fishing village on the other side of the world in Hong Kong. Check out my guide to see how these two waterfront communities compare.
Another place I would love to visit. The houseboats are amazing as are your pictures.
Anna US says
What an indescribable beauty in the photo, I imagine how cool it is to see it all in my own eyes! After reading, I also think about the same trip!