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Sausalito: A Hidden Gem In San Francisco Bay

by Lu Sobredo

The landscapes of the Mediterranean regions are comprised of towns in Italy, Spain, Greece, France, Croatia, and others. They are a photographer’s dream. To me, they conjure up beaches, mild climate and gourmet treats. 

What if I tell you that you can visit a small Mediterranean village without leaving the United States’ mainland. Interested? Just come to California. Northern California that is. 

In the San Francisco Bay Area immediately North of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge you will find nestled in the hillsides by the Bay, the town of  Sausalito. It was a shipyard-building site in World War II, although you would hardly find a trace of it. Today’s Sausalito is site to multi-million dollar homes on the hillsides, houseboats and yachts on the bayside, and not much in between except for a few modest sailboats in and around Richardson Bay.

The View from Richardson Marina, Sausalito. ©James Sobredo

Jogger at Sunrise. ©Lu Sobredo
My favorite time to take a stroll on the promenade in Sausalito’s  downtown is at sunrise. It is the perfect time to look out across the Bay to the City of San Francisco while it glistens in the new day. Unless the proverbial fog blocks your view. Early morning is when a few locals are out and about walking their dogs, jogging and dropping in at their favorite bakeries for coffee and pastries. A peaceful time before the tourists flock the area. When they do, I’ve been known to linger long enough to people-watch and at times strike up a conversation with happy travelers. 

Stand on the promenade along Bridgeway Blvd. and gaze towards the southeast and you’d discover some of the most scenic outlines of the San Francisco Peninsula, Angel Island, the lonely looking Alcatraz Island. On a clear day you might get a glimpse of Treasure Island that anchors the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to San Francisco. 

Houseboats in Foreground & Alcatraz at Distance. ©James Sobredo

Moon Over Bay Bridge and Alcatraz Island.©James Sobredo
Look to the north of Richardson Bay for the imposing yet serene view of Mount Tamalpais, Mt. Tam to locals. From a distance, the outline of the mountain is referred to as the sleeping lady. See for yourself on days when not covered by the floating thick fog in summertime. It is even more breathtaking at sunset.

Mt. Tam at Sunset. ©James Sobredo
Across from the marinas of Sausalito are multi-million-dollar houses appearing to sprout from the hillsides of the towns of Strawberry, Belvedere, and somewhat hidden from view is Tiburon. Enjoy a scenic landscape and seascape reminiscent of an idyllic Mediterranean seaside enclave. 

Places to eat are plentiful from touristy hang-outs to where the locals prefer to go. After 13 years playing local resident and occasional tourist, I have my go-to places in town. When friends from Europe, Asia and other parts of the U.S. come to visit, more likely than not, we would take them to see the sights and share a meal or two with them in Sausalito. 

It’s a blessing to know the ideal time to visit downtown, right before the tourists descend or when they vacate this scenic town. Granted, my husband and I don’t mind an occasional friendly encounter and delightful conversations with tourists from other countries. Some of the tourist-visited restaurants are not mentioned here, but you will find them on the main drag—Bridgeway Blvd. What I’ve included are my preferred eating places. These places grace the main boulevard or not too far from it in town.

In 2018, Poggio was included in the Michelin Guide after being awarded the Bib Gourmands. The distinction is given to  restaurants offering exceptionally good food at moderate prices. 

Poggio has been our top choice for many years. It is a northern Italian trattoria, a restaurant known for using seasonal and natural local ingredients. Seasoning of organic herbs often come from their own herb garden. A mix of casual and formal dining, the place exudes a unique neighborhood charm. We go there for an occasional breakfast, but frequently for lunch or dinner. Choose between al fresco dining, cozy indoor booths or hang out with the locals at the bar. Events for groups could be accommodated in a private setting.

Daily Menu. ©Lu Sobredo
The Chef and restaurant management staff reportedly visit Italy to explore new innovations in Italian cuisine and unique dishes trending there. Uniquely Northern Italian dishes keep the restaurant fresh, relevant and responsive to customer preferences. Curious guests keep coming back and engaged. Prices are reasonable with choices of medium priced dishes at $10 to $30 plus on the menu. There are menu items which are higher priced. Always intricately presented for flavor and colors that appeal to the senses, menu could change daily.

Seasonal Crab Salad. ©Lu Sobredo

Deboning Sea Bass. © Lu Sobredo
However, my family tends to look for seasonal dishes on the menu. Of course, we have go-to items on the menu such as squid pasta served in its own dark ink and anything fish. We are also partial to Mattone—grilled half chicken with heirloom tomatoes, basil and arugula, and Gnudi with beef ragu (my young adult son’s favorite since he was a tween). 

Tommy’s Wok
This is my palate’s preference if having a yen for delicious Chinese food. Clean food with a distinct quality of taste using only high-end ingredients. The owner Annie and her staff take care of their guests, mostly folks from the neighborhood and occasional tourists. 

Dinner With Our Son. ©Lu Sobredo
I frequently order shrimp fried rice and roast duck served with steamed buns. Cost varies from $4 dollars for appetizers or combination dishes around $15 dollars and up. Parking is limited, but you can park your car elsewhere and walk there.

Anchorage 5
A true Sausalito tradition, some of Anchorage 5 Restaurant’s windows are like port holes, round windows like you'd find in staterooms of ships or cabins of sailboats. Other decorative pieces have a nautical theme. A hidden gem for casual family dining, it is only a short detour from Bridgeway.

View from Our Favorite Booth. ©Lu Sobredo
The proprietors, a husband and wife team have become our friends. Luis and Regina are welcoming, friendly and just simply accommodating. It is a local favorite. Occasionally, a celebrity might just drop in. Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors basketball team has been seen with his family there for breakfast. Omelettes, pancakes and Mexican dishes appear on the menu. I think they make the best oven roasted turkey and avocado on sourdough I’ve ever tasted. Prices averaged at $13. 

Regina Making Sure Her Guests Are Served with Care. ©James Sobredo
This place has become our family’s favorite. We have also become possessive of our preferred booth there, where we can charge our cell phones and laptop.

Taste of Rome
This Cafe is known for its Italian American dishes in a casual intimate setting. Some nights especially weekends, you’ll be entertained by local bands while people are munching on pizza slices or savoring seafood linguini. Locals flock the place right around the time tourists leave, usually after the last ferry returns to San Francisco around 7:30 p.m. Although that might change during summer when daylight is longer. The place serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most menu items are $10-$18.

Linguini with Clams. ©Lu Sobredo
The locals also show up when the Golden State Warriors team is playing on television. We root on the team as a community. Maybe we tend to be  oblivious of the live band when it’s basketball season and the game is on TV. We manage to enjoy both—the game and the band, although new band members might have issue with it, unless the cheers from the crowd for a Steph Curry-made three- pointer coincides with the end of a song. The band vicariously basks in the crowd's joyous expression of cheer and support mostly for what’s transpiring on TV, but sometimes in appreciation of them. It tends to be a win-win for the band as they get their captive audience, for the restaurant because drinks and food are ravenously consumed, and the customers have their fun and camaraderie. Don’t be surprised if guests get up and dance to the music or while cheering for the game. Join in.

Sausalito Bakery and Cafe
This bakery is a place of nostalgia for me for 12 years. I tend to be a morning person; my hubby is naturally a night owl. Our young son tended to be my breakfast companion when waking up early to catch the sunrise or just to walk the promenade on Bridgeway before tourists take over the landscape. 

Freshly Baked Apple Strudel at Sausalito Bakery. ©James Sobredo
Josh, the owner serves up a generously-sized cinnamon buns and apple strudels freshly baked from the kitchen. Walk by the place in the morning and you’d be in good company of early morning tourists and mostly locals getting a whiff of the pastry scent. This is where I go by myself these days now that my son has completed college and is off to explore his life journey.

Son & Mom at our Marina Before my RA. ©James Sobredo

Breakfast at the Sausalito Bakery. ©Lu Sobredo
The Cafe serves breakfast and lunch until the afternoon. The freshly made, mouth-watering fruit and vegetable items are exquisitely displayed enticing guests to stay. 

Getting to Sausalito is convenient by ferry from the City of San Francisco. Others pick up a tour bus from the City and/or rent a bicycle if you dare venture the Golden Gate Bridge, hills and curvy roads. Sausalito is a bicycle-friendly place and where world-class cyclists or serious cyclists like to train. Of course you can always drive in. 

Last Ferry Back to the City. ©James Sobredo

A Yacht in the Bay by Sausalito. ©James Sobredo
Folks flying into the airports of San Francisco or Oakland prefer to rent a car. When arriving at San Francisco International airport early enough, no later than 9 or 10 p.m. from travel to Europe, we don’t mind taking the Marin Airporter bus back to Sausalito. If coming from anywhere else in Northern California, a car is welcome, although parking spaces are a premium. Others who come from other sides of the Bay might sail or motor in. Moneyed guests show up with their enormous yacht. So you have a variety of choices.

New guests like to stop by the marinas where they ogle with cameras aimed at the stately yachts, houseboats and live-aboard boats. Time your visit just so, and you might be able to join the open-house tours for a fee. Come see the works of our local artists at the popular Sausalito Art Festival in the month of September on Labor Day Weekend. Most Saturdays you can visit the farmers’ market and walk around to check out and taste samples of fresh organic produce to live music. Those with young children would appreciate the Children’s Museum by Cavallo Point. 

Houseboats in Richardson Bay. ©Lu Sobredo
Planning a wedding or just wanting to pamper yourself to a luxurious weekend get-away, check out Cavallo Point Lodge or just take in the expansive view of the Bay and  the Golden Gate Bridge from a totally different vantage point. 

A View of the Bridge at Cavallo Point. ©James Sobredo
If you like hiking or camping, the Marin Headlands, Mt. Tam and Stinson Beach are not too far way. And of course, to the South of the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side are Ocean Beach, Legion of Fine Arts Museum, and Lands End. Stay long enough to wait for the sunset. It is worth the guilty pleasure it brings.

Ocean Beach at Sunset. ©James Sobredo
You might have noticed, I did not recommend hotel accommodations except to mention a place of interest—Cavallo Point which boasts a lodge where weddings take place. I personally have not stayed there. 

Sausalito has incredible hotels and bed & breakfast places. However, they do tend to be expensive unless you could find discounted prices during offseason. There are reasonably priced places in the surrounding areas, depending on your budget. Find a way to get here even for a day trip, and you would be in for a treat to a Mediterranean-like town. And for some of us, without leaving California. 

See you on Bridgeway Blvd. Make sure to watch out for bicyclists. If I happen to play tourist the day you visit, I might just be free to give you a personal tour.

©Essay by Lu Sobredo

Disclaimer: Please note that business places I mention in the essay are my personal choices and I receive no compensation of any form from any of them. The comforting news for those of us who travel with disability, Sausalito is disability-friendly.

About the Author 
Lu Sobredo is writer/publisher at Lu Travels Abroad, a blog dedicated to folks whose limitations do not hamper them from traveling. About a year into early retirement came the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Her world collapsed from under her as the disability rendered her nearly-immobile and wheelchair-bound for almost three years. Her family's life changed. Her total life changed, but she did not let RA define her. With much will & love from family, friends and an awesome doctor, she regained some functionality--her new normal. She will have RA all her life. And she now writes about life, health and travel with RA.


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