There are so many things that you can do in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sometimes, it’s the little gems that offer the most amazing experiences. Getting out of the city and exploring some places off the beaten path can make a great addition to your itinerary. For example, just a little bit north of the Golden Gate Bridge is the quaint City of Sausalito. But you may ask, is Sausalito worth visiting?
Sausalito is definitely a great addition to your San Francisco itinerary. The small city is a popular waterfront destination that offers shopping and restaurants, historic sites, and fun outdoor activities for the whole family, making visiting there worth it.
From strolling the boardwalk to wine tasting, there are lots of reasons to visit Sausalito. Continue reading to learn about the history of the area, things to do, and where to stay.
Sausalito is a small city located in Marin County near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city is home to about 7,000 people but receives tens of thousands of visitors each year. The town has many trendy boutiques, art galleries, a scenic waterfront, historic locations, and a marina that is full of beautiful yachts.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area surrounds the city, so there is little chance of further expansion or development. The town was built on a steep wooded hillside and has waterfront property on Richardson Bay (which is connected to San Francisco Bay). Most people compare Sausalito to a lakeside European resort town. Since Sausalito is located just 10 miles from downtown San Francisco, it is the perfect escape from the hubbub of the city.
The word Sausalito is derived from the Spanish word sauzalito, which means “small willow grove.” Willows tend to grown near freshwater. The settlers of the area used the willows in the area to find a freshwater spring that became their source of drinking water.
Things to Do in Sausalito
Whether you are staying for the whole week or just a day trip from the city, there is an abundance of things to do when visiting Sausalito. Start by visiting the Sausalito Visitor Center located just a short walk from the ferry terminal. From there, you can get more information or pick up a map of the area.
Stroll the Boardwalk – One of the most popular activities is to take a walk along the Sausalito Boardwalk. The boardwalk runs alongside the water and has views of San Francisco in the distance. Along the way, stop at some of the local shops and restaurants.
Marine Mammal Center – The Marine Mammal Center is a unique facility that rescues and provides medical treatment to injured or abandoned marine wildlife. The center is open to the public daily and has exhibits and a 45 minute guided tour. You will learn about marine mammal life and what the center is doing to protect and care for them on the tour. This facility is an excellent place for kids who love animals.
Bay Model Visitor Center – The city also has a massive model of San Francisco Bay that is 400 feet wide by 320 feet long. The US Army Corp of Engineers built the model to test the impact of proposed changes to the bay and the effect on waterways, currents, and tidal flows. The model is full of actual water that simulates a full-day tidal cycle in about 15 minutes.
Fort Baker National Park – Fort Baker was home to a military base that was active until after World War II. Today, it’s home to a public park and features 35 renovated historic buildings. In addition, the park features a hiking trail with a self-paced cell phone tour (calling the phone number on the signs to hear an audio clip about that stop on the path).
Bay Area Discovery Museum – The Bay Area Discovery Museum found at Fort Baker National Park is a terrific destination to take your kids to. The museum features over 7 acres of fun exhibits and activities, including an obstacle course to let the kids get out some energy.
Wine Tasting – Sausalito is a great place to enjoy some of the best Napa Valley wines available. There are numerous tasting rooms on Bridgeway. Go by yourself or join a wine and cheese tasting tour.
Join a Walking Tour – There are free and inexpensive walking tours available to give you an overview of the city and find out about its history.
Relax on the Beach – Nearby Rodeo Beach is a popular surfing spot and known for its rocky colorful sand beach. Unfortunately, the currents on this beach can be quite strong, so use caution, especially if you are visiting with children.
Muir Woods National Monument – Muir Woods is one of the most popular stops for people visiting Sausalito. The park is just 14 miles north of the city is a great place to go hiking. With six miles of trails, the park is home to one of the last redwood forests with trees standing 200 feet tall.
Point Bonita Lighthouse – The Point Bonita Lighthouse is located in the Marin Headlands. The lighthouse was built in 1855, and it was the third lighthouse constructed on the West Coast. Visitors can reach the lighthouse by walking a short path that has sweeping views of the bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Bay Area Answers Fun Fact: Famous outlaw Joaquin Murrieta (sometimes referred to as Robin Hood of the West) fled to the area near Sausalito. Some believe he was the inspiration for the fictional character Zorro.
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History of Sausalito
The Coast Miwok people long inhabited the area surrounding Sausalito. European settlers started coming to the region in the late 1700s. At first, relationships were friendly, but they soon turned violent. Fighting slowly destroyed the native population, and by the early 1900s, their civilization was entirely wiped out.
After the Gold Rush, the city was established as a place to cross the Golden Gate Strait. Instead of wagons having to travel hundreds of miles around San Francisco Bay, boats could be used to cross the water in less than 30 minutes.
Prior to the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, the town served as a transportation hub and was connected by roadways, train lines, and a port for ferries. The ferry line was considered an extension of the famous US Highway 101. During Prohibition and because of its separation from the San Francisco peninsula, it was the perfect place for rum runners to hide out and smuggle alcohol.
When the Golden Gate Bridge completed construction in 1937, the US Highway 101 was rerouted, and no longer went through Sausalito. Despite this, the city continued to develop quickly as it was used as a shipbuilding center during World War II. After the war, the town became a hub for artists and the social elite to escape the cityscape of San Francisco.
How to get to Sausalito from San Francisco
Because of its proximity to San Francisco, visitors have plenty of options when it comes to transportation to and from the City of Sausalito. If you have a rental car or are driving your own vehicle, you can reach Sausalito in about 20 minutes from San Francisco. Cyclists can choose to take the scenic route by riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. From the Presidio, cyclists can arrive in Sausalito in about 35 minutes. The ferry is by far the most popular option and takes about 30 minutes.
Riding the Sausalito Ferry
The Sausalito Ferry is considered one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. It’s a great way to take in views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The ferry connects Sausalito to both Embarcadero and Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. The cost to ride the ferry is $13.00 for adults and $7.50 for children (kids under 5 ride for free).
Bikes are permitted on the ferry, so it’s a good option if you want to bike to or from Sausalito but don’t have the time or energy to make the roundtrip ride.
Service animals are also welcome on the ferry. Non-service pets are allowed, but only if they are kept in a handheld kennel or other airline-approved carrier. Loud barking or disruptive behavior is not permitted.
Is Sausalito Dog-Friendly?
The City of Sausalito is very dog-friendly. There are plenty of outdoor spaces and parks for you to walk your pet. Many shops and restaurants are also accommodating to pet owners. One of the tops spots for dog owners is Rodeo Beach, where dogs are permitted to run and play in the water off-leash.
Where to Stay in Sausalito
There is a wide range of luxury and budget hotels in and around Sausalito. However, if you are looking for a unique experience, you might opt to stay in one of Sausalito’s famous houseboat communities. Because of the limited amount of area to build, the city eventually expanded onto the water. Today, there are several houseboat communities that contain over 400 floating homes. Some of these houseboats are available for rent with Airbnb.
Here’s something that you might not of known. The city planned to fill in some of the bay to expand the land. Some of the planned streets are still designated as city property which means some of the houseboats are “illegally parked”!
Best Time of Year to Visit Sausalito
The weather in Sausalito is pretty consistent all year round. The temperatures in the summer rarely exceed the upper 60s, and winter lows average around the mid-40s. The summer months are the best time to visit when the weather is warm, and there is less rain. November through March is the rainy season receiving 3-4 inches of rain each month.
Escaping to Sausalito
If you are visiting the City of San Francisco or the Bay Area, Sausalito can be the perfect retreat. Take in the views as you cross the bay by ferry and enjoy the great things the city has to offer. Sausalito is also a great place to use as a base to explore the area north of the Golden Gate Bridge.