Getting across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito is no problem, as there’s no toll fee, but returning is another story. Even with the absence of toll booths, traffic is just much more congested, where a fee is automatically collected. After renting a car, we stayed a few nights in Sausalito, in rooms jettisoned over the water with a panoramic view of the San Francisco skyline, literally a few steps away from the ferry landing. While the weather remains typically cloudy and overcast in San Francisco, on the Sausalito side there’s usually plenty of warmer sunshine due to a condition described as a banana belt. Inundated by visitors from across the Bay, the town thrives with out-of-town tourists who flood the streets either on foot, coming from the ferry, which is only a thirty minute ride, voted by travel writers as the second most exciting ferry ride in the world behind Hong Kong, or by more cyclists on rented bikes crossing the bridge. The waterfront is packed by visitors of all ages and this town does not disappoint, offering a variety of restaurants making extensive use of the scenic views, including a large marina in the harbor that has public access, as visitors can walk the piers leading to the boats and chat with the owners. The local shops are more upscale than Fisherman’s Wharf, including artist co-ops from the Bay area, and are conveniently located directly across from the ferry landing. Houses dot the surrounding hills, many with magnificent views, with homeowners described as “Hill people,” suggesting part of the town’s character is based around wealth and artistry. One of the intriguing aspects are the nearly 400-500 houseboats sitting in the marina, each with a distinct identity, where one is a recreation of the Taj Mahal, while others look like they are literally houses that have been transported to rafts on water. One of the owners took a look at me and asked, “What is the wife of a hippie called?” After a short pause, “Mississippi.” Bad jokes, apparently, are always in favor. Otis Redding wrote his iconic song, Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay (Official Video ... YouTube (2:47), in 1967 while living on a houseboat in Sausalito, while tough guy actor Sterling Hayden was also born here. Several scenes from Orson Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947) were shot on the Sausalito waterfront.
The town, surprisingly, has only 7000 residents, where it was the center of bootleggers and rum runners during the Prohibition era, the home of Baby Face Nelson, while the shipyards employed thousands of people during WWII, including black laborers, largely due to a California Supreme Case decision from 1944, argued by future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, that forbid blacks from being excluded by unions, a necessary criteria for obtaining work at the time, a ruling that extended to all workers and unions throughout the state. The town, however, remains more than 90% white, 5 % Asians, and less than 1% black. We had no problems finding places to eat, including The Spinnaker (http://www.thespinnaker.com/), a short walk from where we were staying, built on stilts out over the water, where we were treated to a gorgeous view. But the culinary treat in Sausalito is Sushi Ran, (http://sushiran.com/), offering the best in sushi, receiving fresh fish picked earlier in the Tsukiji markets flown in from Tokyo, as well as local catches, skillfully and artfully presented, while also offering a wide selection of premium sake. The house sake was fine for us, but the sashimi and several of the maki dishes were simply outstanding. This is considered the best restaurant in Sausalito. As we made our way out of town, we stopped at Fish, (http://www.331fish.com/), a fish shack in the marina that is always packed, with obligatory standing in line at a cash-only establishment, but offering food that was so good we stopped back here on the way to the airport for food to take on the plane when heading home. Packing what we got for lunch, we headed out to the Muir Beach overlook on Hwy 1 for a picnic lunch at one of the wooden tables overlooking the gorgeous expanse of the ocean coastline. The twisting nature of these winding roads was problematic, especially when we saw what can happen when something goes wrong, as we saw victims in shock after a terrible accident between a motorcycle rider and a car, where they were waiting on the side of the road for an ambulance to arrive. That incident made very clear what could happen, as the traffic, especially on weekends, was fairly heavy, so we proceeded with caution. Making our way up the coast, we quickly lose track of the congestion in populated areas, where we’re finally out on our own.