A former fishing village boasts a vibrant waterfront and an esplanade lined with posh shops and restaurants.
From Bridgeway, the main street of Sausalito, Calif., you can see why this bayside town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is often compared to a Mediterranean fishing village. Bay-windowed homes cling to steep hillsides and look out to sky-and-water-framed views of Alcatraz and the San Francisco cityscape. Sailboats, kayaks, and ferries glide by just offshore while shops and galleries lure visitors. But whether you want to enjoy the views or the local scene, winter is the perfect time to explore Sausalito and avoid the summer crowds.
Along the esplanade, the aroma of grilled fish wafts out of waterfront eateries, and high-end shops and galleries display their wares. One versatile place, Studio 333 on Caledonia Street, carries custom design furniture and the work of more than 20 local artists. Nearby, Edith Caldwell’s Five Star Station sells old and new art, clothes, and furniture in a 1920s gas station. You’ll discover wine country–inspired creations at Bacchus & Venus on Bridgeway, where for as little as $10 you can sample flights of California boutique wines.
Head north of downtown to leave behind the strip of ritzy stores and explore the waterfront, including its thriving houseboat community. On a walking tour with artist-author Victoria Colella, you’ll also see a wide variety of classic wooden boats and the harbor area where Liberty ships were built during World War II. "We have some amazing treasures," Colella says, "like the 1888 Yellow Ferry, the oldest surviving wooden-hull ferry on the West Coast."
A little farther on, the calm of Richardson Bay is perfect for smaller craft. If weather permits, consider a full-moon kayak paddle with Sea Trek Ocean Kayaking Center—they will outfit you fully, and novices are welcome.
Despite the four-digit Brioni suits and Movado watches for sale on Bridgeway, you can locate bargains in town. Stroll along Gate 5 Road until you reach the Heath Ceramics factory—in business since 1948—selling seconds of elegant pottery at reduced prices. Nearby, the Industrial Center Building houses 80 artists’ workspaces and invites the public twice a year during open studios. The ground floor holds West Marine Products, a great place to find seaworthy gifts such as a brass-and-copper bosun’s whistle for $16 or a $15 flashlight that turns on when you shake it. Back on Bridgeway, check out the Bay Model Visitor Center to see a 3-D over-view of San Francisco Bay with tides surging in and out.
For a taste of Sausalito’s Mediterranean soul, dine at Cork, which serves antipasti, panini, and other small plates. Sushi Ran, on Caledonia, is not cheap but prepares tasty sashimi for a well-heeled clientele. Stop by if you’d like a glimpse of the jet-setters who keep much of this town an exclusive, expensive enclave.
Photography by Catherine Karnow
This article was first published in January 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.