Top San Francisco Tours
Double-Decker Tours
San Francisco Downtown
Golden Gate Tour
Downtown + Golden Gate
Night Tour
San Francisco Tours
Double-Decker Downtown
Double-Decker Golden Gate
Double-Decker Night Loop
Double-Decker + Alcatraz
Taste of San Francisco
SF Segway Tour
GPS guided Go Car
Culinary Chinatown Tour
Culinary North Beach Tour
Alcatraz Tours
Double-Decker + Alcatraz
Muir Woods + Alcatraz
Wine Country Tours
Wine Country
Woods + Wine Country
Wine Afficionado
Private SUV - Napa
Bay Cruise
Sunset Cruise
Adventure Cat Cruise
Other Tours
Muir Woods / Sausalito
Monterey / Carmel
Private SUV - Monterey
Private SUV - Yosemite
Seaplane Tour
Helicopter - Vista

Sausalito Information

Muir Woods / Sausalito Tour

Sausalito has been an oddity for well over one hundred years. Despite its well-established appearance today, odds were against it ever becoming a town in the first place. It’s unlike most of the other small towns in Northern California in its beginnings and its growth, and probably its future. When, in 1838, William Richardson, an Englishman by birth and a Mexican by choice, received a Mexican land grant of the entire Main Headlands, he took possession and called it Rancho Del Sausalito (Ranch of the Little Willow Grove). The original inhabitants of Sausalito, called Uimen by the Spanish, and no doubt something entirely different by themselves, had lived for centuries along the shore but, by Richardson’s time, already had been decimated by European ignorance, neglect, and exploitation. Now a new epoch was about to begin. Richardson envisioned a sprawling cattle ranch similar to other land grant ranches in the region, but with one big difference. His property included a cove, a safe anchorage about as close to the Golden Gate as one could find. The springs above the cove poured abundant fresh water into Richardson’s storage tanks, thus creating a salable commodity, fresh water for visiting whaling ships.
Richardson wasn’t interested in starting a town. He wanted to create an empire. He wanted control, power, and wealth: control of the access to San Francisco Bay and its tributaries (he was already Captain of the Port of San Francisco), political power that would come from hobnobbing with the powerful Mexican families of the region (he was already married to the daughter of the Commandant of the Presidio), and wealth that would spring naturally from his diverse enterprises. In addition to raising cattle and selling water, he sold vegetables and firewood to visiting ships, collected duties and port fees, and traded along the California coast.

What Richardson didn’t count on was the California gold rush. After the big strike in the foothills east of Sacramento in 1848, he stood by with his trappings of Mexican authority, certain of his impending prosperity as gold-seeking hordes began to arrive in San Francisco en route to the gold fields. But Richardson the Patron was ignored, his land got trampled over and squatted on, his cattle were stolen, and his Whaler’s Cove bypassed in favor of the new port of Yerba Buena across the Bay. His pastoral world of patronage and genteel influence lay trampled beneath the feet of thousands of newcomers who cared nothing for local laws and traditions. He was forced to concede defeat and sell most of his beloved rancho. He died a broken, disillusioned man.

After the gold dust settled and Richardson was lowered into his grave, the hottest game around San Francisco Bay was starting new towns. Every creek outfall and river delta from Mission San Jose to New Helvetia (the future Sacramento) was envisioned as the new capitol city of the new state of California (admitted to the Union in 1850). Land developers by the score came from back east to start new metropolises. The Bay region was certainly big enough for another San Francisco, or another New York for that matter.

Fast thinkers and ambitious entrepreneurs gobbled the shambles of Richardson’s Rancho Del Sausalito up. Charles Botts, A Virginia lawyer and argonaut, had bought Sausalito’s cove from a desperate Richardson during the gold rush and, in the early 1860s, planned a city and a U.S. Navy shipyard for Sausalito. Through political machinations beyond Botts’ control, however, Mare Island became the navy facility and Botts abandoned any hopes for Sausalito’s future. His stillborn town consisting of a few shacks and many unsold waterfront lots sank back into the tidal mud.

Next came a hastily assembled agglomeration of San Francisco businessmen who wanted in on a promising Sausalito real-estate deal. Richardson’s lawyer Sam Throckmorton had been left with a big chunk of Richardson’s debt-ridden former rancho and was “highly motivated” to sell it. He did sell out in 1868 to the San Francisco businessmen who called themselves the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company. They were poised to make a quick profit from view lots, summer cabins, and duck blinds. A few of the nineteen partners in the new venture, however, actually saw Sausalito’s potential as a permanent town, with real homes and real shops. They convinced the majority to give it a try. The mud flats and hillsides were surveyed, roads were graded, and ferry service inaugurated (with a little steamboat named Princess to the foot of aptly-named Princess Street). The company directors sat back to watch the money roll in. It didn’t.

No one got rich quick off Sausalito in those days, much as they tried. The Land & Ferry Company struggled along riddled with debt for a decade. They touted the magnificent views, the sublime climate, the cheap land. They hinted that, with the right capital investment, Sausalito could become the industrial “Pittsburg of the West.” In spite of the natural amenities, there were few takers. Sausalito had no rail service hence no future growth. Besides, there were better deals to be had elsewhere. Other settlements around the Bay were becoming cities, ports, and agricultural centers. Still others rose and fell with little trace. Sausalito did neither. It languished but did not die.

At last came the breakthrough: Sausalito Land & Ferry Company directors in 1871 cut a deal with the fledgling North Pacific Coast Railroad to extend their tracks into Sausalito. With the little town strategically located at the Golden Gate and now linked to the north coast lumber empire by rail, Sausalito at last began to grow. New residents came in a slow but steady stream: Americans, Portuguese, English, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Greeks, all adding to the emerging cosmopolitan character of Sausalito. The railroad brought workers and merchants as well as rich San Franciscans to Sausalito and a residential pattern was established that lasted for decades: the wealthy lived on the hillsides, the workers lived on the lowlands.

Sausalito became a concentrated, prosperous transportation junction, with working class modest homes in Old Town, the site of Botts’ false start, well to do families on The Hill, small vacation homes in the shady glens and steep sunny hillsides, and a polyglot assortment of workers, merchants, and residents in New Town, centered on Caledonia Street. Old duck blinds became seasonal houseboats, houseboats became permanent arks, waterfront businesses sprang up, saloons, cafes, and boatyards, churches, railroad shops and grocery stores.

By 1893 residents felt confident enough in their town’s future to incorporate, in large part to control the town’s development. Local politics was intense in those days, not unlike the present (and probably the future). Although many residents commuted by ferry to San Francisco, they usually left their hearts in Sausalito. The town was not just another bedroom community or vacation hideaway. It had a deserved reputation as a refuge for freethinkers, for those with an artistic bent and an independent streak. At first glance the town appeared divided on almost any issue of significance between the “hill people” and the “water rats.” But a closer look reveals many points of view and many groups, from quiet orthodox churchgoers to saloon gamblers to exploitive developers and boosters. Contrary to myth, Sausalito never was a wide-open, rip-roaring, collection of brothels, gambling dens, and the town had its share of seedy waterfront saloons. Bars (although in 1900 the town had almost as many churches as saloons), and it had one hotel where legal off-track horse betting was permitted. Around this short-lived legal gambling establishment, which had been booted out of San Francisco, assorted riff-raff gathered and gave Sausalito a brief unsavory reputation.

As Marin Country grew after the turn of the century, Sausalito became the principal “port of entry” for Marin commuters, who largely ignored the internal, local life of Sausalito as they passed through each day. When the Golden Gate Bridge was proposed in the 1930s, some residents feared the town would wither because the new bridge would bypass the town. A movement began to bring the main bridge approach through the center of Sausalito. The main thoroughfare, Water Street, was renamed Bridgeway Boulevard, a not-to-subtle hint to bridge planners. Another group of residents were horrified at the prospect of all that traffic slicing through the serenity of Sausalito. A compromise was reached: Sausalito got a roadway direct to the bridge, but the main highway bypassed the town.

The bridge, as promised, opened Marin to increased development. Land prices soared and people came. The bridge succeeded so well that the ferries and trains were abandoned by 1941, and Sausalito again became a backwater. Some predicted the eminent demise of Sausalito with the loss of the trains. Good riddance said others. Before the town’s fate had been decided, the debate over the trains and ferries paled before another momentous event: World War II.

After Pearl Harbor, government officials scurried about the Pacific Coast for building sites for emergency shipyards. Merchant ships were needed desperately. Most existing shipyards were devoted to warships and repairs so new yards had to be built. The Bechtel Company found sleepy little Sausalito and the mud flats of Richardson’s Bay just north of town. The Maritime Commission said, “go” and, before anyone could utter “zoning regulations,” bulldozers were pushing dirt into the Bay, houses were razed, concrete was poured, buildings were built, and steel ships ready for launching loomed over Sausalito’s waterfront.

Marinship employed 70,000 workers from all over America as merchant “Liberty” ships and tankers slid down the launch ways. The local housing supply was overwhelmed. Attics and basements were converted to rentable rooms, and a temporary residential center north of town, Marin City, was built. The shipyard operated around the clock. Despite the turmoil of wartime upheaval, Sausalito retained its essential character and, when the war ended in 1945 to the business of being Sausalito and the shipyard closed as abruptly as it had opened, the town settled back

Change came in the post-war years but Sausalito missed the explosive California building boom of the 1950s, principally because most of the land was already developed residentially or commercially. As cities across California annexed huge open parcels and adjacent small towns for development, Sausalito remained confined by adjoining military reservations and the Bay. Tourism and tourist shops came to Sausalito in the 1960s but, again, the town dodged the explosion of “recreational” development of that decade, the golf courses, luxury high-rise hotels, country clubs and the like.

Debate over what to do with the former shipyard, the moribund lands along the waterfront continued for years. As in-fill residential development took place in the hills, the downtown areas of Sausalito changed little physically. Shops came and went, the dime store gave way to the tourist shop, the butcher and baker yielded to the candlestick maker, but the basic architecture remained the same. Soon it became obvious that the Marinship area was not dead, that it was home to many small businesses, arts and crafts. Recognition of that has guided development of the last large parcels in the city. Change has come gradually to Sausalito, except for the wartime upheaval, because people who choose to live here, generally like what they find and are unwilling to see it altered for momentary exploitation.

Sausalito has gained an international reputation for its unique charm and character, visitors from all over pass through, and some of them stay. Residents today, for the most part, are imbued with the same spirit of involvement and participation that has always characterized Sausalito. The town retains most of its first-generation commercial buildings and residences. Geographically Sausalito closely resembles the open landforms of William Richardson’s time. Through a series of fortuitous breaks and determination by residents, Sausalito’s heritage is one of controversy and debate that has resulted in a highly livable small town. I think even William Richardson would recognize it, and approve.

Double-Decker Tour + Alcatraz Island
Hop On - Hop Off Downtown Tour
Golden Gate Tour
Wine Country
Yosemite Ntnl Park
Bay Cruise
Woods + Wine
Double-Decker night tour
San Francisco Segway Tour
GPS guided Go Car
City Pass
Catamaran Tour
Seaplane Tour
San Francisco Information
Fisherman's Wharf
Golden Gate Bridge
North Beach
Golden Gate Park
Haight Street
Palace of Fine Arts
South of Market
Cliff House
Muir Woods
Wine Country
Monterey / Carmel