On the surface, the city of Sausalito might seem like a standard tourist hot-spot with waterfront eateries, pricey boutiques, and not much else for the traveler who likes to go off the beaten path. But the truth is, if you venture off the main road, you’ll find the places where the locals hang out and the bayside city’s laid-back, artsy character is revealed. Whether you’re thinking of catching the ferry over from San Francisco, or you’ve checked yourself into HI Marin Headlands hostel for an alternative Bay escape, set aside some time to do some serious exploring of the secret views, local art scene and underrated eateries in Sausalito.
Excelsior Lane Stairs
Get the blood flowing and check out the gorgeous hillside houses along the Excelsior Lane stairs, which start at the Wells Fargo bank near Vina Del Mar Park downtown. Word on the street is that back in the day, Sausalito’s many secret staircases were used as shortcuts to the town’s speakeasies, and today they’re a favorite way to catch breathtaking views of the bay and do an urban hike up to the Headlands.
The Excelsior staircase is one of the longest, and if you’re up for a truly rewarding experience, climb to the top of the stairs, turn right on San Carlos Avenue and go up the stairs at Cooper Lane. From there, keep walking along Spencer Avenue, turn right on Monte Mar Drive and then left up the stairs at the Morning Sun Trail where you’ll find a bench at the top and a magical vista of San Francisco beyond.
You don’t have to climb to the top of the world to sit on a bench with a pretty view in Sausalito because right along Bridgeway Road – the waterfront stretch of road and promenade you see as you drive in from the Golden Gate Bridge – you’ll find little Tiffany Park. It’s a small shady stretch tucked alongside the hill with a couple of benches shaded by trees, making it an idyllic spot for a morning coffee while people watching or just staring at the skyscrapers of the city across the bay.
Caledonia Street is where you’ll not only find the spots where locals dine and do their grocery shopping, but some excellent art galleries featuring Sausalito talent as well. At places like Studio 333 and Robert Allen Fine Art gallery, you’re also likely to run into the artists themselves as you get to tour the studio spaces, while anywhere on Caledonia is a good place for quiet appreciation of the paintings, drawings and photography by renowned and up-and-coming artists.
While the dinner- and tableware made at the original Heath factory in Sausalito might be out of price range for the average traveler, it’s still worth doing the free behind-the-scenes tour to see how the pieces are made, starting from making the clay all the way through glazing, trimming and firing. It’s also a treat just to walk around the showroom on Gate 5 Road and admire the colorful and creative ceramics. Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., and on Friday, you can see a working tour (when the factory is in action) at 11:15 a.m. Visit Heathceramics.com to secure a space on the tour as they are limited to 15 participants.
Taste of Rome
Start your day off right with a good cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast at Taste of Rome, where you’re more than likely to strike up a chat with one of the regulars who come here to sunbathe on the outdoor patio and make the most of the free Wi-Fi. Whether you’re up for a simple two-eggs-and-bacon breakfast or a sumptuous benedict brunch, you can get it here at a wallet-friendly price. Come back on weekend evenings for Italian comfort food and live music for a glimpse into the Sausalito nightlife.
Being in this neck of the woods means that you’ll be tempted by seafood and waterfront restaurants at every turn, usually at a high cost. At the Seafood Peddler however, there’s a daily happy hour that’s so good you’ll find an equal number of Sausalito residents and visitors taking up a seat at the bar from 4:00 p.m. While your eyes feast on the harbor views beyond the big windows, your stomach can enjoy an assortment of raw and cooked oysters, real-deal New England clam chowder and steamed mussels at reasonable prices – especially if you get a bunch to share.
HI USA Tip: Read more of one traveler’s experience of going tech-free and on a budget in Sausalito and why it’s a good idea to add a couple nights’ stay at HI Marin Headlands onto your trip to San Francisco.