On sunny Saturdays or Sundays, the bayside town of Sausalito is busy with tourists, strolling the waterfront, searching through the myriad shops and galleries, packing the cafes. This is the Sausalito most visitors know. To find another, one that is serendipitously serene, you have only to stay the night. As the sun drops behind the Marin Headlands, the ferries take away the last day-trippers, and weekenders can dine peacefully by water's edge, do some leisurely Christmas shopping, have a drink and soak in some live music at the famous No Name Bar, and relish the town's empty mornings. During the day, join the hustle and bustle, or escape the crowds by land or by sea.
By land: A good place to start a Sausalito visit is the Visitors Center on the fourth floor of the Village Fair, a complex of more than 40 shops, smack downtown. An exhibit offers a good history of the town. Along Bridgeway, get T-shirts at Crazy Shirt, refrigerator trinkets at the all-magnet store, or ice cream at Lappert's.
A waterfront walking path weaves alongside restaurants, past the marina, and through the small community park. Rent a bicycle at Wheel Escapes, 30 Liberty Ship Way, (415) 586-2377, and follow the bicycle path into Mill Valley, or ride the roads into the Headlands.
The San Francisco Bay Model, (415) 332-3871, is a 1.5-acre model of the Bay, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study its tides, currents, and shifting sandbars. Entrance is free.
The Bay Area Discovery Museum, (415) 487-4398, has interactive exhibits for children. Tots can explore the Underwater Sea Tunnel and life-size Discovery Boat, or the Communications Center. You'll find the museum at 557 East Fort Baker, in converted military buildings.
Coast side, near Rodeo Beach, is the Headlands Center for the Arts, (415) 331-2787, and the Marine Mammal Center, (415) 289-7325, for sick or endangered marine mammals.
Hiking trails wind through the rugged 12,000-acre Marin Headlands, a portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Near Sausalito, there are trailheads at the Golden Gate Bridge, Rodeo Beach, and Tennessee Valley. For info: GGNRA Visitors Center, (415) 331-1540.
By sea: Ferries serve Sausalito all day. Check their schedules for a convenient time or call Golden Gate Ferry, (415) 923-2000, or Red and White Fleet, (415) 546-BOAT, for ferries to and from San Francisco.
To get closer to the water, rent a kayak from Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center at Schoonmaker Pt. Marina, (415) 488-1000. Paddle Richardson Bay, or slip in and out among ships, sailboats, and houseboats moored along the piers. Take an evening starlight or full-moon trip, or a guided tour around Angel Island.
Next door to Sea Trek is Captain Case Powerboat and Waterbike Rental, (415) 331-0444. Guided tours of the SF waterfront and the Golden Gate Bridge are also offered.
Also near Schoonmaker Point, you can rent a sculling shell to row across Richardson Bay from the Open Water Rowing Center, (415) 332-1091. Wannabe scullers can take lessons.
A multitude of Sausalito companies charter boats, or offer sailboat rentals and tours. The Sausalito Visitors Center has a list.
In the air: Commodore Seaplanes, Inc, (415) 332-4843, is at the north tip of Sausalito. Golden Gate tours are $74 per person, sunset champagne flights are $104 per person.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Pick up the AAA Mill Valley, Tiburon, Sausalitomap for directions, and the AAA California/NevadaTourBook for lodging.
Where to stay:
Sausalito has four lodgings. The Inn Above Tide, (415) 332-9535, is next to the ferry boat landing. All rooms have waterfront private decks-nice for watching the afternoon fog roll in and envelop Alcatraz, or at night, the City sparkling across the Bay. Rooms start at $185.
Casa Madrona, (415) 332-0502, is something of a Victorian house, with cottages scattered over the hillside. Each room is different; one is a British country manor, another an artist's loft. Rates begin at $105. The Casa Madrona's restaurant, Mikayla, is known for its cuisine, long wine list, and Sunday brunch.
Sausalito's famous landmark, the Alta Mira, (415) 332-1350, has been a hotel since the 1880s. With 30 cottages, rooms, and suites, it is perched above town on Bulkley Avenue. The restaurant, popular with the brunch crowd, offers panoramic views. Rooms start at $80.
At press time The Hotel Sausalito was scheduled to open November 1.
Where to eat:
For water-side dining, there's Horizons, Houlihan's, Scoma's, Margaritaville, the Spinnaker, and the Winship.
Choose Feng-Nian for Chinese, or Sushi Ran for Japanese. The Chart House is two blocks off the main street on Alexander, and serves to-die-for mud-pie.
Gate Five, north of downtown on Harbor Drive, is a favorite with locals for California seafood. Brunch on the deck of the Alta Mira works. Locals breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe, on Bridgeway.
For the holidays:
Local artists will exhibit their work at Winterfest, December 13-15. On December 14th, the Inns of Sausalito will hold an open house from 3 to 6. Santa andhis elves will arrive on the Golden Gate Ferry at 6:00, and at 6:30 the 8th Annual Lighted Yacht Parade begins.
For more information call the Visitors Center at (415) 332-0505, stop at the kiosk, next to the ferry boat landing or visit the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce Web site.
Illustration by CSAA Cartographic
This article was first published in November 1996. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.