Neatly perched houses dot the green hillsides that tumble down to the bay in this harbor town. The views are stunning whether you ferry, bike or drive but don’t be deterred by the crowds downtown. Beyond the upscale boutiques and flocks of tourists lies a laid back boating community and a history of Bohemian culture. WWII brought the construction of a shipyard that built 93 Liberty Ships and swelled the population. In the decades following the war, cheap rents attracted musicians, artists, writers and hippies who brought with them a counter-culture that shaped Sausalito. Otis Redding wrote "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" on a Sausalito dock. Alan Watts, Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg threw infamous houseboat parties and Shel Silverstein produced poems and songs in his floating workspace. Today these houseboats, or floating homes, offer a look into a unique community, while on land, local artists display their craft and a neighborhood bar introduces you to the locals.
Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour
A wonderful, whimsical stroll through houseboats and history, author and artist Victoria Colella’s three hour walking tour fills your imagination. A member of the Sausalito maritime community for many years, Victoria brings a local knowledge and passion for the area and its nautical past. The tour goes dock to dock exploring the communities, hearing tales and learning the ways of the wooden boat; all to the melody of your tour guide’s flute. Then it’s all hands on deck to get a feel for the Bohemian culture with a poem recitation and dance that round out the tour before tea and cookies are served. Avid boaters and curious landlubbers alike will enjoy the journey. Tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays from 12:30pm to 3:30pm and are available to book online. A third edition of the Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour book, written and illustrated by Victoria Colella, is available for purchase on the website. Most communities are open to the public, so please be sure that if you visit the houseboats on your own to be mindful and respectful of the inhabitants by staying on the main docks.
Studio 333 (333A Caledonia St.)
This gallery and studio goes back to Sausalito’s artistic roots by offering an affordable space for local artists to create and sell their work. There are two locations of Studio 333 in Sausalito, the original studio opened in 2002 on Caledonia St. and a newer shop in downtown. The Caledonia St. location is a co-op gallery featuring over 40 local artists which hosts open studios and private events, while the bustling Downtown location features jewelry, leather goods, scarves and other locally made products.
Smitty’s Bar (214 Caledonia St.)
Off the beaten tourist path enough to be a local hideout, this dive bar (in the best of ways) offers pool, darts, shuffleboard, sports on TV and cold beer on tap. A family owned and run operation, the bartender makes you feel at home and the person on the next barstool over is likely to a tell a good story, or three. Check their website for karaoke nights or special events.
Bay Model Visitor Center (2100 Bridgeway)
A throwback to a time before computers, this three-dimensional model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta simulates the tide and currents. Built in 1957 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it was a tool to test proposed changes to the Bay, including plans to build two large dams. The model succeeded in proving that the plan was not viable, thus saving the Bay as we know it today. Computer based models have taken its place in the research department, but the model still acts as a public education center with 1.5 acres of waterways, walkways and exhibits for visitors.
Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.