On a clear day, Sausalito offers spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline, ideal for impressing out-of-town guests. The tourist vibe, however, may impede Bay Area residents from taking Sausalito seriously as a weekend getaway.
“I don’t think we have enough of a draw on social media,” said Teri Goldstein, owner of Travels with Teri (travelswithteri.com) walking tours in Sausalito and an international tour operator. “We have a bad reputation” because of the hordes of tourists getting off of tour buses “Blazing Saddles-style.”
In contrast, Goldstein presents her “colorful, local” insiders’ view of historical Sausalito with her daily $30-per-person walking tours that highlight the other side of town.
“I have regulars, educated people who come over on the ferry once a year to take my tours,” she said.
Scratch the surface and there’s plenty to do in Sausalito, according to Goldstein. She lists outdoor activities and sites like sailing, kayaking, hiking through the Golden Gate National Recreation Center’s Marin Headlands, trekking from lodge to lodge in western Marin, exploring the Point Bonita Lighthouse and discovering Rodeo Beach and Black Sands Beach.
Just north over the Golden Gate Bridge off the Alexander Avenue exit, Sausalito inspires comparisons to Mediterranean fishing villages. Up and down the Bridgeway Promenade, the main street, visitors can meander in and out of clothing boutiques, souvenir shops, the Barrel House Tavern, a gourmet cookware store and high-end art galleries.
Consume with a view
Giovanni’s Pizzeria at 629 Bridgeway is tiny, but it’s a good place to pick up a pie to eat outside. The Bridgeway Promenade not only delivers a beautiful vista of Richardson Bay – a prime spot for watching last year’s America’s Cup – but the neighborhood also hosts some legendary restaurants.
The Trident at 558 Bridgeway, formerly Horizons restaurant, sits in a white turn-of-the century building with a psychedelic ceiling. Now Zagat-rated, 1960s- and ’70s-era musicians and actors once frequented the place – Janice Joplin had a regular table there, and comedian Robin Williams worked as a busboy. The interior custom woodwork serves as a backdrop in Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” Recently purchased by the owners of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe, the restaurant rents out its upstairs for private parties.
At Taste of Rome at 1000 Bridgeway, locals lined up for lattes and salads. It’s the ideal spot to hang out, listen to live music and do as the Romans do. The menu includes antipasti, salads and excellent spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs or Italian sausage. Other options include breakfast food like the Omelet Sardegnola with shrimp, bell pepper, mushrooms, roasted garlic, onion and cheddar. The eatery’s sweets offer a taste of the dolce vita.
Other restaurants on the promenade boast panoramic views, including Scoma’s Sausalito at 588 Bridgeway, which is a bit formal.
An insider tip: Local residents flock to Lighthouse Café at 1311 Bridgeway for hearty breakfasts. Open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the menu features Danish hash and Scandinavian touches. Danes Annette and Gerner Andresen bought the place in 1992 and intertwine American classics like burgers with Danish meatballs and Norwegian salmon.
Off the beaten track
Caledonia Street, in Sausalito’s New Town area, is a 10-minute walk from the throngs on Bridgeway. Gallery stops include Studio 333 at 333 Caledonia, which showcases the work of local artists, and Robert Allen Fine Art at 301 Caledonia.
The street features several low-key restaurants as well as a cinema, CinéArts Marin Theatre. Arawan Thai, Sartaj India Cafe and Sushi Ran all looked promising on a recent weekend. The Zagat-rated Sushi Ran earns high marks for its eclectic Japanese menu, including wine and sake. Offerings are divided into earth, sea and land dishes like shaved tako and king trumpet mushrooms. Sushi, nigiri and sashimi all arrive from Chef Taka Toshi’s sushi bar.
For coffee, try the newly renamed Osteria Divino at 37 Caledonia St. The cafe serves breakfast, Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner, with live jazz and blues nightly. Offering Florentine dishes like minestrone soup and panini sandwiches with organic veggies, the cafe offers a nice respite from the fancier and pricier tourist traps.
Connecting the dots
Some of those triangular white dots out on the Bay belong to sailboats chartered through Captain Kirk’s San Francisco Sailing (sfbaysail.com) tours at 310 Harbor Drive. The private, customized three- to four-hour trips on a 50-foot sailboat pass under the Golden Gate Bridge and sail past Alcatraz. The weekend rate for Captain Kirk’s Bay Wolf charter is $225 per hour, with a three-hour minimum, for one to six passengers. Sandwiches, chips and crackers are included in the price, as well as wine, beer and soda.
Other charter companies include SF Bay Adventures (sfbayadventures.com ) at 1001 Bridgeway B2, which offers the “Opening Day on the Bay” special for $99 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 27. The sail on the schooner Freda B includes a blessing, parade viewing and sail.
If you’re interested in boats from a landlubber’s perspective, sign up for a Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour (sausalitowoodenboattouur.com) at 2350 Marinship Way. The company conducts tours for $50 per person 12:30-3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The historical tour takes guests to the World War II Liberty shipyard and local houseboat communities. Owner Victoria Colella and her guides advertise tours that travel dock to dock and stop at art studios like the one owned by American Expressionist Walter Kuhlman.
Sleeping in Sausalito
Sausalito’s lodging options range from small historical inns like Hotel Sausalito (hotelsausalito.com) at 16 El Portal to the LEED-certified Cavallo Point Lodge (cavallopoint.com), housed in the former U.S. Army post at Fort Baker. Most have rooms with ocean views, spa tubs and, this being Marin County, a host of wellness amenities.
If you like bed and breakfasts, try to get a room at the 24-room Gables Inn Sausalito (gablesinnsausalito.com), tucked among the Buckeye trees at 62 Princess St. Wine and cheese hour runs 5:30-7 p.m., and a hearty breakfast is included. Built circa 1869, it was the town’s first hotel for local shipyard workers and tourists.
Manager Mike Rogers recommends the Bay Room, $395 a night this time of year, for unparalleled San Francisco skyline views. It has a wood-burning fireplace and oversized spa tub. Housed in two separate three-story buildings, the cute Gables Inn attracts mostly European travelers in the summer, according to Rogers.
“In the winter, we see San Francisco, Oakland and other Bay Area residents looking for a nice change,” he said.
I showed up at Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa (casamadrona.com) at 801 Bridgeway on a sunny afternoon and parked out front at a metered spot that was free after 6 p.m. Valet parking is $24 per night at the 69-room hotel.
My king-suite hillside cottage cost $319 a night and had a delightful balcony overlooking the parking lot, marina and Richardson Bay. The adjoining sitting room had a working fireplace, which added to the coziness of the four-poster bed with pillow-top mattress.
From the bed, I had an unimpeded view of the yachts docked in the harbor, and because it rained during my visit, I felt like I was in a ship’s alcove. Getting to the cottage was not that easy – one has to ride an elevator and then drag suitcases up and down two short flights of stairs. Those with mobility problems might prefer staying in the main part of the hotel.
Coincidentally, the night I was there, general manager Stefan Muhle was preparing to unveil the newly renovated mansion, built in 1885. The mansion accommodates 24 guests and can be reserved as a private residence for corporate retreats or honeymoons for $24,000 a night.
The two-bedroom Alexandrite Suite, a 5,000-square-foot space, can be rented for $10,000 a night. The guest rooms include a deck with views of Alcatraz and Angel Island, a nine-panel media wall, floor-to-ceiling glass patio walls and a private fitness center. Personalized concierge service includes a luxury Mercedes with driver at your disposal and a private chef.
For more information, visit sausalito.org.