Charming homes dot the hills of Sausalito.
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Pastas are among the standouts at Poggio.
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At Casa Madrona.
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The showroom at Heath Ceramics’ factory purveys the company’s classic dishware.
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Le Garage Bistro serves up French fare, like Niçoise salad, in a former auto body shop (the same owners also run Fast Food Français in Sausalito).
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Shoe Stories carries high-end women’s footwear and handbags.
Photo: Harry McHugh
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The view from the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects San Francisco and Marin County.
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It seems fitting that the portal into Marin County is bedecked with a rainbow—a universal symbol of happiness. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, then through the tunnel that now bears the name of late comedian and longtime resident Robin Williams, you’re on the cusp of leisurely bliss: Sausalito. The coastal gem is an ideal destination for a quick getaway, where you can’t help but set aside the laptop in favor of lacing up your sneakers or hiking boots. Where independent shops are thriving, laid-back dining manages to wow and the views of the San Francisco Bay aren’t so bad either.
While simple pleasures may reign supreme here, that doesn’t mean you won’t find high style. Situated on Bridgeway, Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa offers luxe living in the heart of Sausalito’s main drag (deluxe room rates from $509 per night, junior suite rates from $569 per night). The property is comprised of contemporary and historic sections; the latter includes 11 rooms in an 1885 mansion, all of which blend Victorian details with state-of-the-art amenities. The crown jewel is the 5,000-square-foot, two-bedroom Alexandrite Suite (rates from $10,000 per night), which I recently made my home base for a weekend. Renovated in 2014, it boasts a living room with a nine-panel media wall; indoor and outdoor kitchens; a marble-clad bath complete with a steam shower; a spacious office; a well-equipped gym; and an expansive deck overlooking Richardson Bay.
As if the accommodations themselves aren’t impressive enough, you can arrange for a dedicated concierge, private chef, personal trainer and travel planner. The folks at Madrigal Family Winery will even come to the suite for a private tasting. But it’s worthwhile to go to the Calistoga-based winery’s tasting room, which is a few doors down from the hotel and doubles as an art gallery, where new works are on view about every six weeks.
There are plenty of other draws within walking distance of Casa Madrona too. Pop into the Sarah Swell studio and showroom for handcrafted contemporary jewelry. Designer labels can be found at Shoe Stories, specializing in ladies’ footwear, and longstanding menswear shop Gene Hiller. Head to Workshop for womenswear, art and gifts while you still can; according to owner Susan Kim, she’ll likely be moving by the end of summer. Above the store, which is tucked away in a quaint Victorian, Kim hosts pop-ups and workshops.
Whenever I’m in Sausalito, a must-visit is the Heath Ceramics factory. The 69-year-old company still manufactures its dinnerware on the premises, and there’s a free tour. In addition to its covetable tiles and pottery, the showroom purveys seconds at discounted prices (good to know if you’re embarking on a renovation project) and an array of artisan-made wares. While you’re in the area, Heath owner and Creative Director Catherine Bailey suggests crossing the street to Anchorage 5 for diner-style fare.
If you’re an early riser like me, get over to The Lighthouse Cafe before the line forms for the pancakes and Danish meatballs, or grab a fresh-baked pastry and coffee from Cibo, which roasts its beans on-site. Both establishments open daily at 7am. At Bar Bocce, you can partake in the Italian sport over lunch or dinner, enjoyed with a glass of sangria. For a burger fix, it’s hard to beat Napa Valley Burger Company, whose patties range from the usual suspects to bison and pork chorizo. Newcomer Joinery is a great waterfront spot to kick back with a beer.
Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list, honoring the best moderately priced eateries around, includes three places in Sausalito: Poggio Trattoria, Sushi Ran and Le Garage Bistro. At Poggio, on the ground floor of Casa Madrona, you can’t go wrong with a Neapolitan-style pizza or housemade pasta. Sushi Ran has been beloved by locals and visitors for more than three decades (it’s also Goop-approved). And it’s well worth it to go slightly off the beaten path for brunch at Le Garage Bistro, housed in an industrial-chic building that was once an auto shop. A few minutes’ walk from Le Garage Bistro is Napa Street Galilee Harbor, a floating home community dotted with colorful boats. It was Otis Redding’s time living on a Sausalito houseboat that inspired his 1968 hit, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.”
It’s easy to see why Marin County’s natural beautyis a main allure. For cyclists starting at Casa Madrona, the Marin Headlands and Paradise Loop are among the scenic and convenient rides. The hotel has bike storage; for those making the trip without their own, Sausalito Bike Rentals is in the neighborhood. Set sail on the schooner Freda B (available for private and public outings), or learn how to sail with Club Nautique. Fort Baker, a 335-acre former Army post that is now part of the Golden Gate National Parks system, features activities galore: Hike Drown Road and the Chapel Steps Trail, a 1-mile loop; fish or kayak at Horseshoe Cove.
Of course, you could also grab some food from Driver’s Market; then take a cue from Redding and opt for the more mellow pursuit of simply watching the ships roll in or the tide roll away. While the Alexandrite Suite’s deck isn’t a dock, it makes for a pretty fine vantage point for savoring the charms of this city.
Weekend Happenings in Sausalito
Spring Open Studios
May 6–7, 13–14
As part of Marin Open Studios, the first two weekends in May, meet and admire the works of more than 250 artists.
Dog adoptions, music, games, food and drink are part of the fun at the inaugural edition of this canine festival in Marinship Park.
Jazz & Blues by the Bay
June 2–Aug. 25
The city’s summertime concert series is held on Friday nights in Gabrielson Park, right on the shoreline.
Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley