It's a glorious day in San Francisco, which means it's an even more glorious day across the Bay in Sausalito at the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge. I find that a lot of my San Francisco friends say, "I love Sausalito, but I haven't been there in years. I keep meaning to go but just never take the time." So take the time. This article will help you plan your ferry ride, and we offer a list of great restaurants and delis to consider visiting when you get there.
The Sausalito Ferry
You could always drive from San Francisco to Sausalito, but the ferry ride can actually be faster and the cost of the round trip ticket is about the same as gas and toll. You can take two different ferries from the City to Sausalito. Sailing from the Sausalito side I enjoy both, and vary my choices based on how much time I have and where I need to go in San Francisco. There are snack bars and room for bikes on all the ferries.
Golden Gate Ferry from the Ferry Building
The Golden Gate Ferry takes the route to the east of Alcatraz before angling west to Sausalito on this 25-minute voyage. On cool evenings the upper rear outside deck has heaters running under a glass roof so you can have "the best of both worlds" riding inside and outside.
Blue and Gold Ferry from Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf
This route can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour so read the schedule carefully since some ferries also make an extra stop in Tiburon, bringing you close to the shores of Angel Island State Park. Some trips are served by dual-hull catamarans, which ride extra smoothly on the Bay, and the direct trips often take the route to the west of Alcatraz so you have The Rock on one side and The Bridge on the other.
Both ferry services use the same pier in Sausalito. You'll see it referred to as “The Ferry Terminal” but all that's there is a pier and a million dollar view of the Bay and San Francisco. One caution: During the winter the ferries don't run late, so be sure to check the schedule and allow enough time to get back for your return trip.
Reading on the Ferry
A great read while you're on the trip is Houseboats of Sausalito by Phil Frank, part of the Images of America series. If you're a fan of architecture or of San Francisco Bay Area history, it's a fascinating trip from the 1800s through the Summer of Love and today's architect-designed floating homes. It's loaded with vintage and modern photos. Frank was a popular local historian and cartoonist who passed away recently, and he manages that rare combination of good humor and historical accuracy.
Walking in Sausalito
Here's all you need to know to never get lost in Sausalito: Our little town is sandwiched between the cliffs of the Marin Headlands and the shore of San Francisco Bay. If the Bay is on your left you're facing south; if it's on your right you're facing north. Bridgeway is the main street, and in some places practically the only street! Almost every restaurant in town is on Bridgeway or within a block on either side.
As you disembark from the ferry you'll be facing towards the hillside. Unless you've decided to eat at the Spinnaker (see below), walk one block towards the hill and you'll be standing on the corner of Bridgeway and El Portal or Bridgeway and Anchor, depending on which side of the little park you choose to walk. That puts you in the heart of Sausalito.
If you're heading to the Spinnaker, don't walk the block to Bridgeway. Instead, head to your right along the shore of the Bay after you disembark from the ferry. After walking through a small park you'll see the restaurant to your right, atop a pier jutting into the Bay.
Restaurants in Sausalito
There are many excellent restaurants, from casual to elegant, within easy walking distance of the ferry pier in Sausalito. The prices aren't cheap, but you came from San Francisco, so you're already used to that! A few restaurants in Sausalito are tourist traps that offer routine food and inattentive service, but most are good and several are real gems.
A few of our close-to-the-ferry favorites, running north to south:
• Poggio Trattoria, 777 Bridgeway – About one block north on the far side of the street from the ferry, at the base of the Casa Madrona Hotel. Consistently rated in the top 100 Bay Area restaurants, the beautiful dining room co-mingles the casual and the elegant. One of the few places where the Manager visits your table, asks about your meal, and then actually listens to what you say.
At lunch try sitting at the sidewalk tables, which are the closest thing I've experienced to Italy on this side of the Atlantic. The hand-made pizzas start at only $10, have thin crust and fresh toppings, and are oval instead of round. They bring back memories of Florence.
• Spinnaker, 100 Spinnaker Drive – You’ll see it to your right as your ferry pulls into the landing in Sausalito, built on top of a pier above the Bay. It has fabulous views, great seafood, and a more formal experience than many other places in town, with tasty, crisp Caesar salad made in a big bowl at your table.
If you're looking for casual and laid back, save Spinnaker for the next time your parents visit or it's your anniversary. Look for the herons that stand patiently on the rocks below the restaurant watching the shallows for small fish.
• Hamburgers, 737 Bridgeway – Across from the Ferry landing. Don't be fooled by other places that may have "Hamburgers" on their marquee or window. There is only one legendary Hamburgers in Sausalito, and it occupies a little space on Bridgeway, only about eight feet wide. Their rotating fire grill is right in the front window, and after you choose your burger or chicken or sausage, you can watch (and smell) as the flames lick it into juicy goodness.
There are only three little tables inside, but the locals take their meals to one of the parks near the ferry pier (or anywhere along the shore) to eat al fresco by the water. At $6.50 for the burger, it's one of the best deals in town.
• Il Piccolo Teatro, 739 Bridgeway – Next door to Hamburgers and across from the ferry. Take the idea of a tapas bar and make it Italian instead of Spanish. I'm tempted to craft a full meal here just from the appetizers, and the panini are great, too.
They also have cool sidewalk seating, and in addition to the de riguer heaters in cold weather, they also have monogrammed blankets! (If you see another place called Il Piccolo somewhere else in town, don't be confused. It's a rival cafe.)
• Venice Gourmet Deli, 625 Bridgeway – On the far side of the street, a long block down to your left as you reach Bridgeway. Meaty, tasty sandwiches, and all the temptations of an interesting wine shop.
All I can say about the rest of what they offer here is that it's an eclectic mix that ranges from the wonderful to the bizarre. Another great spot to score a lunch and then go sit on the edge of the Bay and enjoy.
• Angelino's, 621 Bridgeway – Two doors past Venice Gourmet Deli. As you walk this way you'll see the view across the Bay to San Francisco open up in a stunning panorama. Angelino's is another excellent Italian restaurant with homemade pasta and authentic flavors. The tables by the front windows have great views – as long as the Fed Ex guy doesn't park his truck in front!
• Scoma's Sausalito, 588 Bridgeway – On a pier above the Bay, visible to the left of the ferry as it pulls into the pier at Sausalito. If you've been to the Scoma's in Fisherman's Wharf, I'd pick a different place here for the sake of variety. This is fine seafood at premium prices. The building was used by a ferry company back in the 19th century, and is a Victorian gingerbread architectural treat.
• Horizons, 558 Bridgeway – Next to Scoma's. Occupying this space that used to house the legendary Trident Restaurant (a center of San Francisco Rock culture during the 60's and 70's), Horizons has a fabulous deck in back that is suspended over the Bay. You’ll find great views of San Francisco, and the best "outdoor seating with a million-dollar-view" in town. They have American food with salads, sandwiches, and a variety of entrees.
That's it: Two ferries, one book, and eight places to eat. Use the comments box below to let us know how your day in Sausalito went. We'll see you on the ferry!