14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Sausalito, CA
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()
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 from San Francisco.
Sausalito has been a favorite retreat of San Franciscans who appreciate the good life, especially 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. This short trip is considered one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world.
Sheltered by the Marin Headlands, which lie just beyond the bridge, Sausalito is usually a few degrees warmer than San Francisco but is often breezy in the early evening when the fog rolls in.
Sausalito beckons travelers with its charm and beauty. Learn about the best places to visit in this dreamy seaside town with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Sausalito.
See also: Where to Stay in Sausalito
1. Golden Gate Bridge and Vista Point
The most iconic landmark in the San Francisco area is the 1.7-mile Golden Gate Bridge, with its classic arched cables and orange Art Deco towers reaching nearly 750 feet tall.
Crossing the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge connects the city of San Francisco with the Marin headlands. This pristine natural environment of woodlands and coastal scrub, along with the bay, including Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Farallon Islands, is protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
For tourists, the scenic drive from San Francisco to Sausalito is a must-do experience. In addition to driving across the expanse, many tourists choose to walk the length of the bridge to fully appreciate its grandeur and get amazing views of both San Francisco and the Sausalito Coast.
Pedestrians can access the East Sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge, which features security gates at each end and railings alongside the path. The East Sidewalk is open from 5am until 6:30pm daily in the late fall and winter, and from 5am until 9pm from March through early November. Walking across the Golden Gate Bridge is not safe for small children. Visitors should also be aware that the weather can shift quickly.
Another popular way to cross the bridge is via bicycle, and tourists can find several rental shops in the area (although there are no bikes for rent at the Golden Gate Bridge). The East Sidewalk and West Sidewalk are open to cyclists year-round. The bike ride from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco to Sausalito takes about two hours. Cyclists often opt to ride one way to Sausalito and then take the ferry back to San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center is located at the southern end of the bridge in the San Francisco Presidio, and contains both indoor and outdoor exhibits, which explore the history and engineering of the bridge. The Welcome Center is open every day from 9am until 5pm and has limited parking.
The three-hour guided bicycle or e-bike tour from San Francisco to Sausalito is a great option for those who want to learn about the area's history and enjoy the view without worrying about navigation and planning. This tour is led by a local guide and includes the use of a bicycle.
2. Ferry Ride from San Francisco to Sausalito
Getting to Sausalito is more than half the fun, and this exhilarating 25-minute ferry boat ride is the most dramatic way to arrive in Sausalito. The ride is also spectacularly scenic.
The ferry departs from the San Francisco Ferry Building, a worthwhile destination in itself, especially for foodies because of its marketplace. Among the selection of unique gourmet shops and artisanal bakeries, locals' favorite spots include Acme Bread Company, which sells organic artisan bread; Blue Bottle Coffee, an espresso bar that uses small-batch roasted organic coffee; and the fancy Parisian-inspired pastry shop, Miette. The Ferry Building also has renowned restaurants such as The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant.
Tourists will have fun browsing and shopping the Ferry Building marketplace. It's a great place to pick up a sandwich and other snacks for a picnic in Sausalito.
After pulling out from the Ferry Building dock just a few hundred yards from the Bay Bridge, the ferry offers a fantastic scenic tour of the San Francisco Bay, with its sailboats, commercial ships, flocks of screaming seagulls, and hovering pelicans.
The ride takes passengers by the famous island of Alcatraz, and 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.
3. 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 and admire the views from a bench at the water's edge. Tourists delight in Sausalito's charming village ambiance and serene seaside setting, and many of the downtown buildings are picture-perfect 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, is near the ferry harbor which has many waterfront restaurants, cafés, candy shops, ice-cream parlors, art galleries, and touristy boutiques.
A stroll on one of Sausalito's wooden boardwalks is another way to enjoy the scenery. The Southern Boardwalk is near Sausalito's Old Town and is famous for its appearance in a 1947 film starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, among other films. The Northern Boardwalk stretches along the yacht harbors near downtown, and is close to the shops and restaurants of Bridgeway.
4. San Francisco Bay/Delta Model
Built in 1957 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Model is a 3-D representation of the San Francisco Bay. It was designed to test the impact of proposed changes to the bay and its waterways, by simulating tides, currents, and river inflows.
This enormous model is 400 feet wide by 320 feet long and depicts every area of the San Francisco Bay and Delta from the Pacific Ocean to Sacramento. The model uses pumping systems to 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.
A visitor center offers educational programs, workshops, and events. Guided tours are available by reservation for groups of 10 or more people.
Address: 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito, California
5. Fort Baker National Park and Bay Area Discovery Museum
Part of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the site at 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.
Several of the Fort Baker historic buildings, former officers' residences, have been restored and converted into a luxury hotel, Cavallo Point. This four-star hotel has a top fine-dining restaurant, Murray Circle, which specializes in modern California cuisine prepared from local ingredients. The restaurant's elegant dining room offers a refined ambience, while the outdoor porch seating affords views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum is a wonderful attraction for families with children. Based on the philosophy that play helps children cultivate creativity and make discoveries, many of the exhibits include activities that encourage curiosity and imagination.
Highlights of the museum include the Obstacle Course, which gets kids moving; the Art Studios, which encourage creativity through the artistic process; and Bay Hall, which offers a child-friendly representation of the Bay Area ports.
The Lookout Cove is an outdoor exploration area, and the Gumnut Grove includes three treehouse play structures for kids aged five to 10 years old.
Address: Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds Road, Sausalito, California
Official site: https://bayareadiscoverymuseum.org
6. Day Trip to Muir Woods
This federally protected forest, 14 miles north of Sausalito, is one of the last remnants of the redwood forests that once covered much of the Northern California coastal valleys. Muir Woods National Monument is the only remaining "old-growth" forest in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of the few remaining in the world.
Magnificent ancient redwood trees thrive here in the cool, misty coastal environment. With auburn-hued trunks and leafy canopies, these majestic giants soar to over 200 feet in height and their crowns peek above the fog to reach the sun. Wildflowers, bay laurels, and sword ferns also flourish in this lush, shady primeval forest.
Muir Woods has six miles of well-groomed hiking trails, which may be approached in smaller loop walks. Hikers may take the Redwood Creek Trail from Muir Woods all the way down to Muir Beach, a small sheltered sandy beach with picnic tables and hiking paths overlooking the ocean. During the winter (from December to February), visitors sometimes spot migrating whales off the coast of Muir Beach.
A grove of pine trees near Muir Beach conceals a romantic seven-bedroom lodging. Designed in 16th-century English country style, the Pelican Inn transports visitors to another time and place. The property owner hails from Great Britain, and much of the hotel decor (including antique furniture) was imported from England. The restaurant serves traditional English country fare.
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 National Monument. The center has its own small organic farm and offers overnight accommodations, meditation classes, dharma talks, and other programs in the Buddhist tradition.
Tips: Muir Woods National Monument requires advance reservations for parking or to ride the shuttle bus from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Parking and shuttle bus spaces are limited, so it's best to plan as much ahead of time as possible. Tourists should also note that there is no Wi-Fi or cell phone service at Muir Woods.
7. Marine Mammal Center
The Marine Mammal 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 24,000 marine mammals in its hospital facilities.
The center responds to calls from people who report incidents to the rescue hotline. Each year, the center cares for around 1,800 diseased or injured marine mammals (seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, and whales).
A dedicated corps of veterinary staff and volunteers provide medical attention and care to distressed marine mammals during a recuperation period. Treatment is provided with the goal of releasing the animals back into the wild.
The Marine Mammal Center is open to the public daily from 10am until 4pm, and visitors can choose to 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.
The center is found in the Golden Gate Recreational Area near the unspoiled Rodeo Beach, a perfect spot to enjoy a packed lunch (although not a safe beach for swimming).
Address: 2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, California
8. The Scenic Walk along Bridgeway
For magnificent views and photo opportunities, take a stroll from the center of town along Bridgeway. This scenic pathway skirts the bay and features 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.
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.
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.
9. Plaza Viña del Mar Fountain and Park
At the heart of downtown Sausalito near Ferry Pier, 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 elephant statues that guard the square were created for the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition and moved to this spot after being rescued from demolition. The fountain also 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.
10. 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.
An excellent place to admire the talents of local artists is Gallery 111, a collection of art studios that represent the work of over 100 artists. The Industrial Center Building brings together a diverse community of artists: painters, sculptors, weavers, jewelry makers, and photographers. The art studios are bright, spacious lofts, and many have sparkling views of the marina.
Address: 480 Gate 5 Road, Sausalito, California
Official site: www.sausalitoartfestival.org
11. Marin Headlands
The Marin Headlands occupy the southern portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, providing beautiful views of San Francisco from its many cliff-side coastal trails and vantage points. The area is prized for its wild, unspoiled landscapes and fresh ocean air.
The Marin Headlands Visitor Center, located at Fort Barry, provides tourist information about local attractions and things to do and presents exhibits about the natural history, as well as about the indigenous Miwok people. Next door, art lovers will enjoy a visit to the Headlands Center for the Arts, which hosts exhibitions, workshops, and artist-in-residence programs.
Fort Barry is also home to the Nike Missile Site, located across from the Rodeo Lagoon. This site is one of 300 Nike missile sites that the United States built between 1953 and 1979. The country's only completely restored Nike missile, this site (SF-88L) now houses a museum about the Cold War that is open to the public on Saturday afternoons from 12:30pm until 3:30pm.
One of the most visited attractions in the Marin Headlands is the Point Bonita Lighthouse, which has been guiding ships safely through the Golden Gate Straits since 1855 and is still used by the U.S. Coast Guard today. The lighthouse provides unparalleled scenic views of both the headlands and the San Francisco shore.
From the Point Bonita trailhead (about a mile drive from the Marin Headlands Visitor Center), hikers can set out on the half-mile Point Bonita Lighthouse Trail to reach the lighthouse. The trail juts out into the headland, alongside Bonita Cove and the Pacific Ocean. The views are thrilling, and you may spot seals and porpoises in the waves or whales in the distance.
Please note: This dramatic coastal trail has very steep sections with portions near unstable cliffs, so caution is advised. The trail may not be appropriate for all fitness levels. Driving access to the lighthouse is only available on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoons.
Address: Fort Barry, Building 948 Sausalito, California
Official site: www.nps.gov/goga/marin-headlands.htm
12. Day Trip to Tennessee Valley
An offshoot of the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just five miles 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, making the beach accessible to most visitors.
Tennessee Valley is a peaceful nature site known for its abundant bird life and lush vegetation and is home to three camping areas.
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.
13. Sausalito Houseboats & Bohemian Artists' 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, and flotillas of houseboats became vibrant artists' colonies.
Sausalito houseboats are still home to communities of artists, as the idyllic scenery of the waterfront provides inspiration to painters, photographers, and sculptors.
Sausalito has around 400 floating homes docked in five residential marinas. The houseboats have all the amenities of a regular home. 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, and on special occasions, some houseboats are open to the public for art viewings.
14. Sausalito Visitors Center
This small blue and white building in the center of town is a railroad "cold cargo" storage car that dates to the 1890s. It was later converted into a retail ice seller's shop in the 1920s.
Today this building is known as the Ice House Museum. Maintained by the Sausalito Historical Society, the Sausalito Visitors Center provides sightseeing information to tourists and also educates the public about Sausalito's history.
Tourists will learn about the region's indigenous peoples, the Miwok, as well as the arrival of immigrants in the 1850s, when it was primarily a sailors' and shipbuilding town. Exhibits further explore its transformation into a summer vacation destination in the Victorian era and the postwar Bohemian influences of artists' colonies.
Address: 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito, California
Official site: www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com
Where to Stay in Sausalito for Sightseeing
- Overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, the Cavallo Point - The Lodge at the Golden Gate is also close to the Bay Area Discovery Museum and Vista Point. This four-star luxury hotel provides lodging in historic buildings with turn-of-the-century architectural details, as well as in sleek contemporary-style suites and rooms. Most of the accommodations offer panoramic views of San Francisco or the Golden Gate Bridge. Guests will enjoy the gourmet restaurant, spa, yoga classes, cooking school, and hiking or cycling on the property.
- The Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa is a four-star boutique hotel tucked into a hillside with gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay. Just steps from the Bridgeway and across the street from the Sausalito Visitors Center, this luxurious boutique hotel occupies a landmark building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel offers suites and cottages that are decorated in an elegant contemporary style and feature waterfront views.
- The Gables Inn Sausalito provides comfortable accommodations in a quiet relaxing garden setting near Bridgeway Street and just a couple of blocks from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Close to several unique shops and galleries, this three-star hotel's location is ideal for exploring Sausalito by foot. Accommodations are spacious and include a buffet breakfast.
- About two miles from Sausalito, the Holiday Inn Express Mill Valley San Francisco Area provides three-star accommodations that especially appeal to families. Amenities include a heated swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, a cycling center that loans bikes, and a DVD movie library. Accommodations include a complimentary buffet breakfast.
- Near the Vina del Mar Park and the ferry landing, the two-star Hotel Sausalito is a European-style hotel that offers cozy rooms in a historic building dating to 1915. Its location is ideal for shopping and sightseeing by foot. For those who are traveling by car, a paid parking lot is available next to the hotel. Tourists will also appreciate the variety of cafés and restaurants nearby.
- For value and convenience, the Travelodge by Wyndham Mill Valley/Sausalito is a great choice. This family-friendly two-star motel is located in Mill Valley, about a two-mile drive from Sausalito. Accommodations include free parking and complimentary breakfast. The 24-hour front desk allows guests to check in anytime.
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Visiting the SF Bay Area with Kids: Sausalito is among the top day trips from San Francisco, but staying here and planning excursions into the city is a great alternative for those who prefer to have quiet nights. A vacation based in Sausalito is an appealing option for families who can easily wind down in the evening after a day of exploring San Francisco with the kids.
San Francisco Sightseeing: Among San Francisco's top tourist attractions and things to do are museums, charming neighborhoods, and historic landmarks. Despite its notoriously hilly landscape, a walking tour of San Francisco is one of the most enjoyable ways to discover its unique character. Just remember that you can always hop aboard one of the iconic cable cars to continue the sightseeing with ease.