In the late 1800s, a colony of “arks” developed across the San Francisco Bay — summer houseboats, which were pressed into service as year-round dwellings for the homeless after the devastating earthquake of 1906.
Lured by the natural beauty and close proximity to San Francisco, artists, philosophers and free spirits converged upon Sausalito in the 1950s, inhabiting the colorful “floating homes” (so called because they float as they displace their weight in water).
Today, 400 of these riotously unique houseboats line both sides of flower bedecked docks, not going anywhere, occasionally swaying back and forth. And for those, like us, lucky enough to experience a simultaneous full moon and high tide, a listing, tilting sensation for several hours. Imagine a tub full of angled water, a sliding trip down a slanted kitchen floor and a firm hold onto the mattress edge to keep from rolling out of bed. Available to rent, ours turned out to be one of the most luxurious.
Designed in 1975 as an architect’s office, the current owners, a widely traveled couple, are founders of the Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation and the Quest For Global Healing. They renovated and furnished it with African and Asian art, gifts from the Dalai Lama and a framed Japanese lag captured by the Chinese during World War II.
As intriguing as this Marinship area is, Sausalito offers much more. It’s a family friendly, tourist paradise where dozens of foreign languages can be heard while strolling down Princess Street. Lodging options include The Inn Above Tide, true to its name; Hotel Sausalito, for old world Mediterranean ambiance; and Casa Madrona, accommodating visitors since 1885. Horizons serves up quality casual dining and spectacular views of the sunset, Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline — assuming the fog cooperates.
There’s Fish, for the freshest seafood al fresco; Venice Gourmet Deli, a mainstay; and the No Name Bar, for just plain fun, especially on open mic nights. Art galleries and funky shops such as Dis & Dat are everywhere, but for serious shopping, hop on one of the ferries for a breathtaking 30-minute ride into San Francisco.
For a trip down memory lane, head to Caledonia Street for eight blocks of eclectic shopping. Its Five Star Station will make you long for the days of gasoline at 20-cents a gallon. Reminisce about 10-cent double feature movies at the old Marin Theater and 75-cent haircuts at the Norman Rockwell-style barbershop. The Michelin starred Sushi Ran will bring you back to the present with its rave reviewed sushi.
Reservations well in advance are a must. Sausalito is best experienced while staying on a houseboat. Cary Grant and Sophia Loren did it in 1958. Luciano Pavarotti, on our very own rented houseboat, did it a few years ago while performing in San Francisco.