11 Top Tourist Attractions in Sausalito & Easy Day Trips
On a sunny day, an image of Sausalito could easily be mistaken for a Mediterranean fishing village. This picturesque seaside town has the ambience of a European vacation resort, especially during summertime, with its quaint boutiques, upscale art galleries, scenic waterfront walk, and yacht-filled marinas. Even locals from "the city" have the impression of getting away when they spend an afternoon here, although it's just a few miles away. Sausalito has been a favorite retreat of San Franciscans who appreciate the good life since the advent of passenger boat service in 1868. Today, visitors will still see elegant houses nestled on wooded hillsides and can arrive the way wealthy Victorians once did. The ferry ride across the bay offers a spectacular approach to Sausalito, with marvelous views of the Golden Gate Bridge along the way. Pulling into the lovely, quiet harbor, visitors enjoy a sense of being far from San Francisco. Sheltered by the Marin Headlands that lie just beyond the bridge, Sausalito is usually warmer than the city but is often breezy in the early evening when the fog rolls in.
See also: Where to Stay in Sausalito
1 Ferry Ride from San Francisco to Sausalito
Getting to Sausalito is more than half the fun. This exciting 30-minute boat ride is the most dramatic way to arrive in Sausalito. The ferry departs from the San Francisco Ferry Building, a worthwhile destination in itself, especially for foodies. Visitors will find many unique gourmet shops and artisanal bakeries. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 2pm and on Saturdays from 8am to 2pm, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is held here. Besides fruits, vegetables, cheese, breads, and flowers, the farmers market also features local food stands such as a West Coast-style deli, an authentic taqueria, and even a pizzeria with a wood-burning oven. Tourists could time their arrival to get lunch at the farmers market before taking the ferry to Sausalito.
After pulling out from the Ferry Building dock just a few hundred yards from the Bay Bridge, the ferry offers a fantastic tour of the San Francisco Bay, with its sailboats, commercial ships, flocks of screaming seagulls, and hovering pelicans. The ride starts out near the Bay Bridge, takes passengers by the famous island of Alcatraz, and finally offers a sensational view of the Golden Gate Bridge to the west. Just before the ride ends, passengers see Angel Island and Tiburon in the tranquil Richardson Bay to the east. Then the ferry ride concludes in the beautiful harbor of Sausalito, where sailboats and yachts are docked in a nearby marina.
For those not inclined to take the ferry ride, two other options from San Francisco include driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or taking a bike ride from Pier 39 across the bridge and cycling for about nine miles (two hours) to the town. Both of these routes allow visitors to stop at a Vista Point with amazing views of San Francisco. Most cyclists take the ferry ride to return to San Francisco. Keep in mind that the last return ferry ride to San Francisco is at 7:30pm (although the Golden Gate Transit bus offers a way back to SF around 10:45pm on weekdays for those who've missed the ferry). The advantage of driving is that it allows visitors to stay in Sausalito for dinner.
2 Shopping and Waterfront Restaurants
Just a few steps away from the ferry landing, the historic downtown of Sausalito invites visitors to go for a leisurely stroll or admire the views from a bench at the water's edge. Tourists delight in Sausalito's charming village ambience and serene seaside setting. Many of the downtown buildings are attractive old Victorians painted in pastel colors. Although the town is small, it is well prepared to welcome the crowds of visitors that arrive on summer weekends. The main drag of Sausalito, Bridgeway, near the ferry harbor has many restaurants, cafés, candy shops, ice cream parlors, art galleries, and touristy boutiques. A quaint hidden alleyway off Bridgeway on Princess Street also has some interesting galleries and boutiques. On the section of Bridgeway that faces the Bay are several upscale waterfront restaurants featuring stunning panoramas of San Francisco in the distance.
3 Plaza Viña del Mar Fountain and Park
At the heart of downtown Sausalito, this plaza was named after the town's sister city of Viña del Mar in Chile. Fringed with palm trees, the triangle-shaped square has the feel of a Spanish colonial plaza. The monumental fountain and the elephant statues that guard the square were created for the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Notice how the fountain features drama masks that are all happy faces. Locals and visitors alike enjoy spending a few sunny moments at the Plaza Viña del Mar. Several benches in front of the square offer a place for passersby to relax.
4 The Scenic Walk Along Bridgeway
For magnificent views and photo opportunities, take a stroll from the center of town along Bridgeway, a scenic road with old-fashioned street lamps that hold decorative hanging pots of colorful flowers. This waterfront pathway begins around the ferry landing and goes in two directions: (north) towards the yacht harbors with the marinas and Mount Tamalpais as a backdrop or (south) towards the Bay with San Francisco in the distance. For must-see San Francisco panoramas, head past Excelsior Lane towards the views of the San Francisco skyline. An interesting detour is to take the Excelsior Staircase for a lovely perspective of the Vina del Mar fountain and the yacht marina. Continuing along the pedestrian pathway on Bridgeway, visitors may see seals swimming in the bay. Halfway along the pathway is the iconic bronze seal statue, which is covered in water at high tide. Further down on the other side of the street is a staircase that leads to a hidden bench in a woodsy setting. Just past the staircase, a small park has a few more benches to admire the waterfront views. The pathway ends at a wooden boardwalk, where the view extends from Angel Island across the Bay, with Alcatraz in the distance, to the skyline of San Francisco.
5 Sausalito Art Festival
Considered one of America's best art fairs, this annual outdoor festival takes place every year during Labor Day weekend. The festival is held along the Sausalito waterfront and draws crowds of art lovers as well as those who come for the live music and good food. The Sausalito Art Festival is a prestigious art event, renowned for the high quality of art exhibited and the extensive scope of artwork on display.
6 San Francisco Bay-Delta Model
Built in 1957 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Model is a 3-D representation of San Francisco Bay that was used to test the impact of proposed changes to the bay and its related waterways. The model is able to simulate tides, currents, and river inflows. The enormous model covers 1.5 acres and depicts every area of the SF Bay and Delta from the Pacific Ocean to Sacramento. The simulated tidal action changes every few minutes and can recreate the 24-hour tidal cycle in less than 15 minutes. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers now uses computer-based models, and the Bay Model has become an educational facility open to the public. Interactive exhibits teach visitors about the bay and its hydrologic features. Guided tours are available by reservation for groups of 10 or more people.
Address: 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito
7 Fort Baker National Park and Bay Area Discovery Museum
Part of the Golden Gate National Parks, Fort Baker was originally inhabited by native Miwok tribes. From the early 1900s, the site was used as an active army post until World War II. Nestled on a forested coastal site at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Baker includes 25 historic army buildings and a sheltered harbor with waterfront paths and trails along scenic bluffs. The location takes its name from the Spanish phrase "Punta de Caballo," which means "Point of the Horse," because of the wild horses that roamed here when the Spaniards arrived in 1775. Several of the Fort Baker historic buildings, former officers' residences, have been restored and converted into a luxury hotel, the Cavallo Point Lodge, which also has a top-rated fine dining restaurant.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum is an appealing attraction for families with children. The museum has unique exhibits based on its philosophy that play helps children cultivate creativity and make discoveries. The exhibits are designed for various stages of childhood development. Many of the activities are open-ended and encourage curiosity such as the Imagination Playground that encourages unstructured free play. Highlights of the museum include the Art Studios that encourage creativity through the artistic process and the Bay Hall that offers a child-friendly representation of the Bay Area ports. The Lookout Cove is an outdoor exploration area where children can climb aboard a fishing boat and hike with their family on a scenic trail. The Tot Spot is a child-safe wetland environment where toddlers can crawl through a waterfall, walk on a pond, and explore animal habitats. The Wave Workshop recreates the Golden Gate Bridge environment and teaches kids about the wind, waves, and beach habitat.
Address: Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito
8 Marine Mammal Center
The Marine Mammal Center was founded with a mission to expand knowledge about marine mammals and to inspire global conservation efforts. The center's primary work as an animal rescue center is to rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. Since 1975, the Marine Mammal Center has rescued more than 18,000 marine mammals along the California coastline, rehabilitating on average 600 marine mammals every year in its exceptional hospital facilities. A dedicated corps of volunteers provides medical attention and care to distressed marine mammals during a recuperation period. Common reasons for animal rescues are entanglements in ocean trash, boat strikes, and malnutrition. The Marine Mammal Center is open to the public daily from 10am to 5pm. Visitors may explore the exhibits and viewing areas on their own or take a 45-minute docent-led tour of the center. Docents share stories about the seal and sea lion patients who have been rescued and rehabilitated by the center. Tourists could combine a visit to the center with a hike in the Marin Headlands. The center lies in the Golden Gate Recreational Area near Rodeo Beach, a perfect spot to enjoy a packed lunch (although not a safe beach for swimming).
Address: 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito.
9 Sausalito Houseboats & Bohemian Artist Colonies
Houseboats have been part of Sausalito's waterfront since the 1880s when they were used as warm-weather recreational boats and then pulled ashore during winter. After WWII and during the era of peace and love in the 1960s, the houseboats began to attract a free-spirited Bohemian crowd. Little flotillas of houseboats became vibrant artists' colonies. Sausalito houseboats are still home to communities of artists as well as other residents who appreciate the peaceful, alternative lifestyle. The idyllic scenery of the waterfront provides inspiration to painters, photographers, and sculptors.
Sausalito has around 400 floating home docks in five residential marinas. The houseboats each have a permanent berth, are subject to property taxes, and have all the amenities of a regular home. They range from simple dwellings to two-story homes with decks and barbecues. Many of the houseboats are colorful and feature whimsical exterior decor with potted plants and artwork displayed on the decks. Two interesting houseboat communities are at Galilee Harbor and Waldo Point Harbor, tucked away in between the yacht marinas. Visitors may take a self-guided tour around the houseboat docks, accessed from Napa Street (for Galilee Harbor) and from Gate 5, Gate 6, and Gate 6 1/2 Roads (for Waldo Point Harbor). On special occasions, some houseboats are open to the public for art viewings.
10 Gallery 111 Art Studios
At Gallery 111, visitors can admire the talents of local artists. An impressive collection of art studios, the Industrial Center Building Artists Association brings together a diverse and vibrant community of artists. Around 85 artists work in the Gallery 111 studios, including painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelry makers, and photographers. The art studios are bright, spacious lofts and many have sparkling views of the marina. The Gallery 111 building is open to the public during business hours. On a typical day, a few artists can be found working in their studios. It is possible to schedule guided tours to have the chance to meet several artists and see their studios. The gallery also hosts an open studio the first weekend of December every year.
Address: 480 Gate 5 Road, Sausalito
11 Sausalito Visitors Center and Historical Exhibit
A small kiosk-like house in the center of town, the visitors center offers tourists a place to gather sightseeing information, including points of interest in Sausalito as well as hikes and nature sites in the area. The visitors center also has a small historical exhibit featuring many old photographs. The presentation tells the story of Sausalito from the arrival of immigrants in the 1850s, when it was primarily a sailors' and shipbuilding town, to its transformation into a summer vacation destination in the Victorian era and to the postwar Bohemian influences of artists' colonies.
Address: 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito
Where to Stay in Sausalito for Sightseeing
We recommend these inviting hotels near Sausalito's top attractions, like the harbor and waterfront shopping and dining:
- Cavallo Point: eco-friendly luxury, gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, organic spa treatments, cooking school, outdoor fitness program.
- Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa: 4-star boutique hotel, harbor-view rooms, hillside cottages, stylish elegance, valet parking.
- Hotel Sausalito: 2-star European-style hotel, steps from the ferry landing, cozy rooms, cafes and restaurant nearby.
- HI Marin Headlands Hostel: budget hostel, dorm-style and private rooms, comfortable beds, communal kitchen, games room, on-site laundry.
This federally protected forest, 14 miles north of Sausalito, is one of the last remnants of the redwoods forests that once covered much of the Northern California coastal valleys. Muir Woods contains beautiful, ancient redwood trees, appreciated for their auburn-hued trunks and leafy canopies. Wildflowers, bay laurels, and sword ferns also thrive in the shady forest that is often shrouded by cool misty fog. Muir Woods has three miles of well-groomed hiking trails, which may be approached in smaller loop walks. Hikers may take the trail from Muir Wood all the way down to Muir Beach, a small sandy beach with camping and picnic areas. During the winter (from December to February), visitors sometimes spot migrating whales off the coast of Muir Beach.
A wonderful place to stay within walking distance of the beach is the Pelican Inn. Designed in the style of a 16th-century English cottage, this charming hotel could easily pass for a historic inn found in the Devon or Cornwall region of England's west country. For those seeking an even more secluded retreat in nature, the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center is tucked away on a quiet hillside about three miles from the Muir Woods State Park. The center has its own small organic farm and offers overnight accommodations, meditation classes, dharma talks, and other programs in the Buddhist tradition.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
A popular hiking area, 18 miles north of Sausalito, Mount Tamalpais State Park boasts 50 miles of trails with gorgeous mountain scenery and breathtaking panoramic views from the peak. Hikers walk through redwood groves and oak woodlands. Those seeking a challenge may climb to the summit at 2,571 feet for incredible panoramas. On a clear day, it's possible to see all the way to the Farallon Islands 25 miles out in the Pacific Ocean as well as San Francisco and the bay, and the cities of Berkeley and Oakland in the East Bay.
Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary
About five kilometers away from Sausalito in Tiburon, the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary is a pristine wetland and open water environment. This protected nature site provides essential habitat for California birds. With its half-mile trail and secluded beaches, the Audubon sanctuary is a great place for bird watching, nature walks, and hiking. Visitors may also join a guided bird walk on the first Thursday of every month, take a drawing class or educational program, visit the gardens, or have a picnic. The property has a historic landmark, Lyford House, a Victorian built in 1876 that is open to the public once a month for tours.
Address: 376 Greenwood Beach Road, Tiburon
An offshoot of the Marin Headlands just five miles away from Sausalito, the Tennessee Valley has a 1.7-mile nature walk to Tennessee Beach. The gentle trail begins at the parking area and is mostly flat the entire way. Tennessee Valley is a peaceful nature site known for its abundant bird life and lush vegetation. In springtime, this is a wonderful place to see wildflowers such as the California poppy, buttercups, and lupine. For more challenging hikes, other trails lead up into the hills above Tennessee Valley.
Stinson Beach is a quiet seaside community 15 miles from Sausalito, reached by a winding coastal road with gorgeous ocean views along the way. Although Stinson Beach itself is quite small, its picturesque protected location makes it a favorite spot to sunbathe, picnic, and hike. Well-maintained facilities on Stinson Beach include restrooms, showers, picnic areas, and barbecue grills. Because of its powerful waves, Stinson Beach is popular with surfers. However, most people will not want to swim or wade here because the water is cold (the average summer water temperature is 58 degrees Fahrenheit) and can have dangerous rip currents. Swimmers should check the water safety warnings posted on the beach before entering the water.
Nike Missile Site SF-88
About five miles from Sausalito in Mill Valley, this site operated Nike missile firing batteries during the Cold War from 1953 to 1979. These Nike missiles were designed to be the last line of defense against Soviet bombers. The site has been restored and opened to the public as a museum. Tourists may visit the Nike Missile Site SF-88 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 12:30pm to 3:30pm. An educational open house is held on the first Saturday of every month.
Location: Mill Valley, off Field Road