How to Plan a Perfect Sausalito Day Trip from San Francisco
One of the great things about visiting San Francisco is that there’s so much to explore, see, and do. From sights in the city – the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, I could go on! – to the surrounding Bay Area, there is literally a lifetime’s worth of adventures to be had in San Francisco (and the whole Bay Area).
While many people spend their entire trip in San Francisco, savvy travelers strike out on at least one day trip during their visit. Maybe that’s a boat tour to Alcatraz, or taking the BART over to Berkeley. But personally – and obviously unsurprisingly since I run a whole website about it – Sausalito is my favorite San Francisco day trip destination.
My husband and I took a trip to Sausalito and fell in love with it; we enjoyed our time so much that we ended up moving to Sausalito in 2019! Now we get to enjoy that day trip energy all the time, and you’ll often spot us out for burgers in the park followed by ice cream on a sunny day, or paddling our tandem kayak on a calm morning. These are just some of the great experiences you can have during a Sausalito day trip, and I want to help you plan yours.
Below you’ll find a complete guide to spending one day in Sausalito, including how to get here (and back to SF), things to do, suggested itineraries, and other travel tips. I hope that after visiting, you love Sausalito as much as I do, even if you don’t move here.
Note: This post works best for people who want to plan their own Sausalito day trip, rather than doing one as part of a tour. As such, it focuses exclusively on experiences in Sausalito, rather than combining with other nearby attractions like Alcatraz, Angel Island, Tiburon, or Muir Woods. If you want to visit one of those spots and Sausalito in just one day, I recommend looking into a tour group as they’ll give you the best bang for your buck – and ensure you see it all on efficiently.
Ready to dive in and plan your own perfect day in Sausalito? Read on to discover everything you need to know and get excited to explore one of the Bay Area’s best destinations.
How to Get to Sausalito from San Francisco
There are a number of ways to get from San Francisco to Sausalito:
Best of all, you can choose a different way to travel from San Francisco to Sausalito than the one you return by; riding a bike to Sausalito and taking the ferry back is a very common way to visit Sausalito for a day trip from San Francisco.
By Bus (or Car)
Whether you have a private car, rental car, or want to take the bus, you’ve got options to get to Sausalito by vehicle. This is perhaps the least common way to reach Sausalito, but I wanted to include it as it may appeal to some travelers.
The short explanation is that you’ll cross the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco’s Presidio to the Marin Headlands, then take the first exit – Alexander Avenue – to reach Sausalito. It’s a short drive, but worth noting that returning to San Francisco by car means you’ll have to pay the toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. If you choose to drive, you’ll also need to pay for parking; the City of Sausalito has a number of parking lots, and I have a guide to help you understand which one to park at.
A cheaper option is to visit Sausalito by bus. There is one bus service that connects San Francisco and Sausalito: route 130 on Golden Gate Transit. This is actually a route connecting San Francisco and San Rafael (north of Sausalito), but makes several stops along Bridgeway in Sausalito. You can catch the bus in San Francisco at Salesforce Transit Center or the Civic Center, and go by return bus to the same drop-offs.
There are two boat operators that offer direct ferries between San Francisco and Sausalito: Golden Gate Ferry and Blue & Gold Fleet. Both offer several rides each way per day, but my personal preference is Golden Gate Ferry since it’s more frequent and allows you to get to Sausalito earlier in the day than Blue & Gold Fleet (the first ferry of which doesn’t leave for Sausalito until 11:45am).
I’ve got a full guide to the Sausalito ferry coming soon, but for now, I’d check the two companies timetables linked above, and find the ones that work best for how long you want to spend in Sausalito for the day.
Your third option – and perhaps the most adventurous – is to rent bikes and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m also working on a specific guide to doing this, but in short, you need to arrange a bike rental in San Francisco in advance. Then you’ll ride across the bridge, explore Sausalito, and can either ride back to SF or catch the ferry (more on this bike-ferry combo below).
There are several bike rental companies to choose from. Blazing Saddles is perhaps the most well-known; you’ll see their bikes all over Sausalito on the weekend. There’s also Unlimited Biking, which has its rental location quite close to Blazing Saddles in Fisherman’s Wharf. For another option, check out Golden Gate Bridge Bike Rentals which rent from a location on Lombard Street (the straight part, not the curvy part).
Whichever bike rental company you choose, I recommend arranging for the full-day rental option so you don’t have to worry about rushing back if you’re enjoying your day in Sausalito.
By Bike & Ferry
The most popular* way to travel from San Francisco to Sausalito for a day is by biking across the Golden Gate Bridge then taking the ferry back. Without getting to into the weeds, I recommend renting from one of the bike rental companies in the Fisherman’s Wharf area (Blazing Saddles or Unlimited Biking are the two I recommended above) and then – here’s the important part – riding the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry back to San Francisco at the end of the day.
It’s critical you choose Blue & Gold Fleet as their San Francisco Terminal is right near Fisherman’s Wharf; if you ride back on Golden Gate Ferries, you’ll end up way down at the San Francisco Ferry Building and have to ride down the Embarcadero to reach Fisherman’s Wharf. (It’s a nice ride, but best when it’s not a surprise extra ride at the end of a long day.)
*I have zero data on this, but it’s what I would do and what lots of people do and that means it’s popular, right?
The Best Things to Do for One Day in Sausalito
Below I’ve listed some of my favorite things to do in Sausalito – though this list is far from exhaustive. You also won’t be able to do everything listed below with just one day in Sausalito, but this will give you a sense of all the different ways you can enjoy your time in this sunny city by the bay.
1. Admire the View from the SF-Sausalito Ferry
Whether you ride the ferry one way or both ways, be sure to grab a spot on the outer decks or near a window so you can admire the views along the way – and especially as the ferry gets close to the Sausalito terminal.
Here you’ll get a sense for why so many people say Sausalito looks like tho coastal towns of Italy, like those in Cinque Terre. Colorful hillside homes are punctuated by big swaths of green trees, and you might even spot Karl the Fog (the Bay Area’s famous marine layer, who was named back in TK) peeking over the top of the hills.
On the ferry, you’ll also get sweeping views of San Francisco, a look at Alcatraz Island, and maybe also Angel Island, which is another popular day trip from San Francisco (and also a place you can visit from Sausalito).
2. Stroll Along Bridgeway Promenade
Bridgeway is the street that runs along the waterfront in Sausalito; it’s the best place to take a walk on a nice day and get oriented to town. Some people confuse this with the “Sausalito Boardwalk, “which doesn’t exist (but here’s an explanation of why people get confused).
While Bridgeway runs almost the entire length of Sausalito, most people walk along the stretch between Yee Tock Chee Park in the north and Tiffany Beach in the south.
3. See the San Francisco Bay Model
If you love geography and exploring the Bay Area, make the journey up to the San Francisco Bay Model in the Marinship neighborhood; this working scale model of the San Francisco Bay was once used for scientific research but is now open to the public for education. You can explore the whole Bay Area in a day from here! (Well, a scale model of it anyway…)
4. Take a Self-Guided Historic Walking Tour
If you love history, the self-guided Sausalito historic walking tour is a must-do. The path is a short 1-mile route from the Historic Ice House (now Visitor Center) with six informational plaques in total. It gets you oriented to both the modern city of Sausalito and its storied past – and has cool historic photos to show you what life was like in past chapters of the city’s history.
5. Visit the Famous Floating Homes
Sausalito is famous for its floating homes, so these should naturally be on your itinerary for a Sausalito day trip, right? Well, the reality is that most of the coolest homes are located at the far north end of town, about 3 miles from the ferry terminal – so most people never journey far enough to see them. If you chose to reach Sausalito by bike, you can definitely make the journey; otherwise, I recommend trying to spot the Sausalito Taj Mahal (located in Sausalito Yacht Harbor) or heading up to Gallilee Harbor, a co-op marina with a few interesting homes on the water.
6. See the Sausalito Elephants
While exploring the central part of Sausalito, you might notice two matching statues of elephants and wonder what they’re all about. Aside from being the symbols of the city, they mark the entrance of small Viña del Mar park, named for Sausalito’s sister city in Chile. These are iconic and worth grabbing a photo at least, especially as the park also has a beautiful fountain and picturesque palm trees.
7. Go Kayaking on Richardson Bay
If you love active adventures, the best way to spend part of your one day in Sausalito will be out on the water – kayaking, specifically!
There’s one main kayak rental and tour company in Sausalito, Sea Trek. I have a complete guide to kayaking in Sausalito including where to paddle and other important logistics (you definitely need reservations!!) if this sounds like a fun idea to you. I also recommend doing kayaking in the morning during your day so you have the afternoon to dry off and explore the rest of town.
8. Take a Sunset Cruise on the Freda B
Getting out on the water sounds great – but you don’t want to risk a wet bottom? No worries, there’s another option! The Freda B is a gorgeous TK schooner that offers sunset cruises on select nights throughout the good weather months. Their website has all the details, but this is an awesome way to see Sausalito from the water (especially if you’re not kayaking or taking the ferry to/from Sausalito) and includes a glass of champagne to toast your incredible Sausalito day trip.
9. Browse the Galleries & Boutiques
While you might not have the budget to spend (SF is an expensive destination, after all!), Sausalito is a great spot for window shopping at the many galleries and boutiques in town. You’ll find the best ones along Caledonia Street in the New Town neighborhood; there are also a few along Bridgeway on the non-water (aka hill) side.
10. Dine Al Fresco
Sausalito was always known for its great outdoor dining options due to the excellent weather we receive; the pandemic made those options even better as almost every restaurant in town now has some sort of al fresco (open-air) dining space or patio. Some of my favorite places include the balcony at Barrell House Tavern (right near the ferry terminal), the docks at Joinery Beerhall and fish., the beach at Bar Bocce, and the tent at Salsalito Taco Shop.
I’ve got a complete guide to restaurants in Sausalito as well as a list of the best waterfront restaurants and best restaurants near the ferry. I recommend calling to make reservations at any spot that catches your eye, especially if you’re visiting Sausalito on a weekend day.
11. Enjoy an Ice Cream from the Sausalito Steps
To top off an epic day – or for a break during the middle of it – be sure to swing by Lappert’s Ice Cream right at the intersection of Bridgeway and El Portal. This famous Sausalito ice cream shop has incredible flavors including TK and TK, and is perfect for a sweet treat.
My favorite thing to do is grab a cup of ice cream (I’m not a cone gal) and head around the corner to the Sausalito steps. From there you can people-watch and enjoy the scenic view of Viña del Mar Park and Richardson Bay beyond. It’s an iconic spot and must-do on any Sausalito day trip!
A Perfect Sausalito Day Trip Itinerary
You might have noticed that I recommended a lot of things to do in Sausalito; the reality is that you can’t do them all in one day. Here are a few options for how to spend your day in Sausalito:
If you have a bike:
- Ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito
- Stop for brunch at Lighthouse Cafe, a beloved brunch spot
- Continue your ride all the way up Bridgeway to Waldo Point to admire the floating homes
- Make the leisurely ride back to New Town and park your bikes near Joinery for brunch/lunch
- Spend some time soaking up the sun in Dunphy Park
- Ride down and park your bike near the ferry before grabbing lunch at one of the nearby restaurants
- Walk down Bridgeway to Tiffany Beach, admiring the SF city views
- Grab a happy hour drink at The Trident before heading back for ice cream at Lappert’s
- If you’re still hungry, enjoy dinner near the ferry before catching the boat back across the Bay
If you don’t have a bike:
- Start by taking the Sausalito historic self-guided walking tour once you disembark the ferry or park your car
- Grab brunch or lunch at one of the restaurants near the ferry
- Continue your walk down Bridegway to Tiffany Beach
- Stroll back up Bridgeway on the hill side, window shopping as you pass boutiques
- Continue your walk north along the Sausalito boardwalk next to Sausalito Yacht Harbor
- Enjoy a late lunch in the New Town neighborhood, such as at Joinery or Salsalito Taco Shop.
- Walk back down to grab an ice cream at Lappert’s and sit on the Sausalito steps
- Catch the ferry back to San Francisco, or stay for dinner before the ferry
If you want an active day:
- Start by going kayaking with SeaTrek
- Grab brunch al fresco at Le Garage near Schoonmaker Point Marina
- Walk (or ride) back to Galilee Harbor to see some of the floating homes
- Go window shopping along New Caledonia Street
- Stroll back along the Sausalito boardwalk next to Sausalito Yacht Harbor
- Continue all the way down Bridgeway to Tiffany Beach
- Walk back up on the hill side of Bridgeway
- Enjoy dinner near the ferry with a nice view of the SF skyline
- Catch your boat back to San Francisco (or ride back across the Golden Gate Bridge)
As you can see, there are pretty much endless ways to put together a Sausalito day trip depending on your interests and how you get to/from Sausalito. The best thing you can do is choose a few activities and then set out to explore and discover something special on your own.
Where to Stay in Sausalito
If you’ve read this whole post and are thinking maybe you need more than just one day in Sausalito, that’s smart thinkin’ on your part: Sausalito is great for an overnight trip, though most people don’t realize it until they get here and already have a reservation for a hotel in San Francisco to worry about.
There are only a handful of hotels in Sausalito (four, to be specific) and no short-term vacation rentals are allowed, so your options are limited – but that’s actually convenient because it means you won’t face any decision fatigue. I have a guide for where to stay in Sausalito that covers all of the info you need to know.
Have any other questions about planning a Sausalito day trip or what to do for one day in Sausalito? I’m here to help – just post them in the comments below and I’ll reply back to you!