Discovering Sausalito: An Easy San Francisco Day Trip

Sausalito Waterfront View

Jonas Santin/Flickr

Many go across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito from San Francisco just for the view. From the Sausalito waterfront, you can see Alcatraz, the Bay Bridge, the San Francisco skyline, and waterfront. At night San Francisco sparkles as you look at the city across the bay.

Getting to Sausalito is worth the trip, too, whether you take the ferry or drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. While views of San Francisco are stunning, Sausalito has its own magic. Sausalito is a small town of only 7,500 residents, whose homes cling to a steep, wooded hillside above shoreline tidal flats. It's filled with restaurants, art galleries, and scenic walkways.

Sausalito is a quiet, charming town reminiscent of hilly Mediterranean villages. This art-filled town provides a break from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and gives visitors an opportunity to escape from the San Francisco fog and soak up the sun in a slightly warmer climate, just across the bridge.

Things to Do in Sausalito

Art is ever-present in Sausalito. Add in the culture of living on the San Francisco Bay and you have an interesting place for a day trip from San Francisco. There certainly is enough to do to keep you busy.

The art galleries and souvenir shops along the Bridgeway Promenade are Sausalito's most-visited attractions. Wander along and step into in art galleries where the doors are usually flung wide open on sunny days. Visit the small shops and stop for ice cream. When you need a break, cross the street and take a rest on a bench with a bay view or enjoy a relaxing meal at one of the Sausalito seafood restaurants. Scoma's, on a pier jutting out into the bay, has been a favorite for years. The views are amazing and the seafood is fresh and local.

To get a different point of view, take a walk north along the waterfront, past the yacht harbor. It's one of the few un-gated marinas in the Bay Area, where you can walk on the docks close to the boats. About a mile north of the ferry terminal, you'll find the Bay Model, a three-dimensional hydraulic model of San Francisco and the Delta that covers more than 1.5 acres. It's fun to watch the tidal action in the miniature bay.

About a mile north of the Bay Model, you'll find Sausalito's floating houses. They're one of the town's least-known and most fascinating places to visit. In fact, it's the laid-back place where musician Otis Redding wrote his hit song The Dock of the Bay while staying in a houseboat in late 1967 to get some peace and quiet. You may be so enchanted by the floating homes you'll want to rent one through a vacation rental site and stay for a few days.

You may have seen Heath Ceramics featured in contemporary design magazines like Dwell and Architectural Digest. Heath is one of California’s last remaining mid-century era potteries and is located in Sausalito near the floating home community. You can tour their factory and visit their factory store.

If you have children with you, the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a children's museum located in Sausalito inside the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is right at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge is a good place to take them.

Best Time of Year to Visit

Since Sausalito is known as an art town, heading there for one of their major art festivals makes for an ideal time to visit. The annual Sausalito Art Festival, held over Labor Day weekend, draws a broad selection of artists and artisans. Twice a year, in May and December, the Industrial Center Building hosts Artists' Open Studios.

Otherwise, Sausalito can be enchanting year 'round. You can watch the weather and plan to go on a clear day. Visiting Sausalito is truly spectacular when the air is clear, and San Francisco is visible across the bay. Sausalito is a popular day or side-trip for those visiting San Francisco, so summer will be more crowded.

Some people wonder whether you can take the ferry to Sausalito in the winter, asking whether it's difficult or too cold. In fact, winter temperatures are only 10 degrees lower than in summer, making it feel warmer than it does on a foggy June day.

Where to Stay

While Sausalito is rich with charm, it's short on places to stay and is usually visited as a day trip from San Francisco. If you want to stay overnight, consider Cavallo Point Lodge. Other popular places include Casa Madrona, The Inn Above Tide, Hotel Sausalito, and Gables Inn. And, there are always the vacation rental houseboats.

Getting to Sausalito

An easy way to get to Sausalito is by ferry. You can catch the Golden Gate Ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Building (Embarcadero at Market) or Blue and Gold Fleet from near Pier 39. The scenic ferry ride takes about half an hour. The ferry is also a good alternative to a San Francisco Bay Cruise at a lower price.

By car, your trip will take about half an hour if you avoid rush hour traffic. To get there, take US Hwy 101 north across the Golden Gate Bridge. Exit at the first exit past the north vista point (Alexander Avenue) and follow the road downhill into Sausalito. Bicyclists can follow the same route.

The trip north across the bridge is toll-free, but if you plan to drive back to San Francisco over the bridge, read the guide to Golden Gate Bridge tolls for visitors to find out how to pay your toll. 

Public parking is available at parking meters and in paid lots just off Bridgeway, on the north side of downtown.

Big Bus Tours out of San Francisco has a hop-on-hop-off tour from San Francisco to Sausalito.