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Sausalito, CA

About SausalitoSausalito, Spanish for “little willow,” is an impossibly charming Marin County town, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Upscale boutiques, art galleries, gift shops and open-air cafés line Bridgeway, the main street, encouraging visitors to linger, shop and stop for lunch or a glass of wine. All the necessary scenic ingredients are present and accounted for: lovely, boat-dotted views of San Francisco Bay, houses picturesquely perched on the hillsides that rise behind Bridgeway, and Mount Tamalpais as a backdrop.

Sausalito's nautical history dates back to the early 1800s, when the area was settled by shipbuilders and sailors. The arrival of the railroad in the 1870s boosted development; ferries soon began plying the waters of the bay, transporting train passengers to San Francisco.

The opening of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 brought a decline in ferry service, but Sausalito's population took a leap when a huge shipyard that produced cargo vessels called Liberty ships for the U.S. Navy was established during the World War II years. After the war, the waterfront became home to a flotilla of houseboats occupied primarily by a bohemian crew of painters, writers and hippies—the beginning of Sausalito's artist colony. Today the houseboat community is concentrated north of the city, and you can take a guided walking tour of these funky floating residences.

The Sausalito Art Festival, held Labor Day weekend in Marinship Park, is not only one of the Bay Area's most popular outdoor art gatherings but is considered to be one of the finest juried art festivals in the nation. Many regional artists have been exhibiting at the festival for decades. This isn't a craft fair; the art for sale ranges from classic to modern to very quirky, and from affordable to seriously expensive. A convenient—and scenic—way to attend is by ferry; the Blue & Gold Fleet, based at San Francisco's Pier 41, offers a package deal that includes round-trip transportation to the festival site as well as the entrance fee. Phone (415) 332-3555 for festival information, or (415) 705-8200 for the Blue & Gold Fleet.

Passenger ferries link Sausalito with San Francisco. Regularly scheduled service by the Blue & Gold Fleet connects the two cities. Golden Gate Ferry also provides service; phone (415) 455-2000.

In addition to its hillside-hugging houses, Sausalito is known for views of the San Francisco skyline across the bay. Two good vantage points are aptly named Vista Point, at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the downtown marina.

Visitor Centers Sausalito Chamber of Commerce 1913 Bridgeway Sausalito, CA 94965. Phone:(415)331-7262

ShoppingBridgeway, the main drag, is lined with shops and boutiques; follow the crowds of sidewalk strollers and pop into any doorway that looks inviting. The menfolk might need to be sent on an expedition of some sort while ladies spend time browsing in Jewelry by the Bay (660 Bridgeway), which offers a variety of styles in different price ranges. The store also features cute gift items like miniature shoes and beaded animals (starfish, pelicans, geckos).

Gene Hiller for Men (729 Bridgeway) is an elegant store that sells conservative but stylish menswear, including beautifully tailored suits by European makers Canali and Eton. Sport coats, dress shirts, shoes, ties, pocket squares—everything a sharp-dressed man needs is here. And the customer service is exceptional. Soxalito (771 Bridgeway) is devoted entirely to socks—dinosaur socks, monkey socks, rainbow flag socks, Golden Gate Bridge socks and many more practical and offbeat designs to warm your toes.

The Scrimshaw Gallery (19 Princess St.) has all sorts of nautically themed artwork, sculptures and collectibles. A collection of reasonably priced prints includes vintage 19th-century San Francisco scenes as well as images of U.S. and Canadian lighthouses. And the scrimshaw designs—engravings and carvings done in bone or ivory—are expensive but exquisite.

NightlifeSmack in the middle of touristy Bridgeway, the No Name Bar is a true local watering hole. Salty old geezers hold court at the bar, and the worn old wooden tables probably would have lots of stories to tell if they could talk. There’s live music most nights, mostly mellow jazz as well as the occasional blues band.

Dive bar aficionados should also check out Smitty's (214 Caledonia St.), a real hole in the wall that nevertheless has its own peculiar charm; it’s a good place to chat up the locals. There are plenty of beers on tap, four pool tables, a dart board and shuffleboard, all free. Karaoke nights are on the first and third Monday of the month at 8 p.m. It’s packed on game days, and the people-watching is always interesting.

Things to Do Bay Model Visitor Center

The Marine Mammal Center

Sausalito Wooden Boat Tour

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Sausalito, CA

Top AAA Diamond Hotels

AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.

The Inn Above Tide

30 El Portal. Sausalito, CA 94965

The Gables Inn-Sausalito

62 Princess St. Sausalito, CA 94965

Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa

801 Bridgeway Blvd. Sausalito, CA 94965

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Hotel Sausalito

16 El Portal. Sausalito, CA 94965

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