Exploring Sausalito, Tech-Free and on a Budget

Sausalito Herring Festival

By Marian Schembari

I first traveled through Europe with nothing but a few torn pages from Lonely Planet, meaning I spent a lot of time getting lost and discovering hidden gems. But Today, whenever I travel, "fear of missing out" requires I bring a smartphone so I don't "miss anything."

But instead, I end up navigating, nose to the screen, missing everything.

Which is why I've decided to try something new: exploring my own backyard tech-free, with nothing but the $20 in my pocket, a sense of adventure, and the kindness of strangers to help me find my way.  

Today, I'm exploring Sausalito, a waterfront tourist hot-spot the foot of the Marin Headlands and just across the Bay from San Francisco.

It's Sunday afternoon and Sausalito is buzzing. It's a sea of people and cyclists – both the legit kind with padded spandex, and the struggling kind with fanny packs. The air smells like fish. Pleasantly though, like the memory of a Cape Cod summer.

El Monte Lane SausalitoI park in a residential area and wander toward town, stumbling across a shortcut stairway named El Monte Lane. On one side it's all brick and ivy, and I feel like I've stepped into England with her narrow alleys and crumbling stone.

Hundreds of steps later I find myself in the bustle on Bridgeway, a main thoroughfare and shopping corridor. Today, it's also directly across from what is apparently the Sausalito Herring Festival. (Hence the smell of fish.) The soundtrack is being provided by a young guy on the accordion, bells around his ankles and a voice like Louis Prima.

Booths litter the lawn, serving every incarnation of herring: herring on skewers, herring tacos, herring sandwiches. There are long lines for the food, which baffles me given that it’s, you know, herring. You can also, however, get a delicious basket of fries for $5, and the money supports the Sausalito Community Boating Center. (I later learn Sausalito often hosts events by the water, including the famous Sausalito Art Festival in September and Jazz & Blues by the Bay every Friday during the summer).

I escape the crowds (sort of) by strolling back down the main street. Downtown Sausalito is everything you'd expect from a seaside town. It's freshly painted, colorful and charming, with a long line of art galleries, each selling sailboat paintings and animals made of glass. If it's not a gallery, it's a food shop specializing in one thing, whether it's salt water taffy, ice cream, burgers or chocolate.

I decide ice cream is exactly what I need, but since I can't use my phone to search for The Best Ice Cream in Sausalito, I wander.

Stone Sculptures SausalitoWhich is a good thing, because wandering takes me past a man making sculptures along the waterfront. Apparently this is Bill Dan, who specializes in rock balancing. He pops up around the Bay Area, balancing insanely huge rocks on top of tiny stones. I hang with the crowd and watch in awe for a while.

I eventually spot an ice cream shop and head in. "What's your favorite flavor?" I ask the 'tween behind the counter. Without a word he takes two neon plastic spoons and dips them into Date Caramel. He pops one into his own mouth and hands me the other. "Great," I say. "A small cup of that, please and thank you."

I head back toward the festival, ice cream in hand. I perch myself on a concrete step looking out over the water, where tourists feed the seagulls and kids shriek at the waves. I read my book in the sun while listening to our friend the accordionist.

On my walk back to the car along Princess Street, I take my time, peeking inside quaint inns and a beautiful church, ending my afternoon with sweeping views over the Bay. All in all? Not a bad day.

Next time you and I travel, let's ditch the data plan and look up. Let's take in the world and the people around us. It's beautiful out there.

For the record:

Ice cream at Lappert’s Ice Cream: $3

Fries at the Sausalito Herring Festival: $5

Ferry from San Francisco: $10.75

Total: $18.75



If You Go 

Stay at HI-Marin Headlands. Located on a beautiful piece of National Park land overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the Headlands are just a bicycle ride or easy drive away from Sausalito.