If you've visited San Francisco, you've probably been to Sausalito. If you live in San Francisco, you've probably taken out-of-town guests there. Why? Sausalito is a picturesque waterfront town just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has jaw-droppingly beautiful views of San Francisco, the Bay, both bridges, and beyond. And, as happens with charming waterfront towns with stunning views, it has become a total tourist destination.
But don't dismiss Sausalito as another Fishermen's Wharf quite yet. The small Marin town is home to a vibrant sailing community, a slew of beautiful walks and bike rides, and lately, some truly excellent eating and drinking options. And, with many of them featuring lovely outdoor spaces and postcard-perfect views, locals and visitors alike have even more reasons to head across the bay. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than sitting outside with a drink, a view, and a group of friends. This was true even back when Sausalito eating and drinking options felt limited; now, thanks to a whole swath of openings, there are even more reasons to make the trip.
How to make your day in Sausalito count? Start early to beat the rush and spend the day eating, drinking, and exploring the area. You can take the ferry from the San Francisco Ferry Building; rent bikes and cruise over the Golden Gate bridge (you can bring bikes on the Ferry, should you prefer a one-way ride, or rent them in Sausalito for the day); or drive over if you're inclined to explore more parts of Marin (bring ample quarters: meters run all week. Parking lots are available, too).
Whatever you do, don't forget to bring your appetite. Most of these recommended spots are walking distance from the ferry terminal; some are better with a car or bike.
For Breakfast: Cibo
About a ten minute walk from Sausalito's main drag, Cibo is the kind of cafe I would love to have in my neighborhood. The open, airy space serves Blue Bottle coffee, gorgeous fresh baked goods, and a seasonal menu of breakfast staples and sandwiches. And, thanks to being a little removed from the thick of downtown, it stays mellow, even during peak lunch and brunch hours. Snag a table outside, order a cappuccino ($3.75), and soak in the sun while gearing up for a day of exploring. We recently enjoyed the Vegetable Hash ($12.95), a seasonal saute of crisp, roasted asparagus, sweet English peas, crisp carrots, green garlic, and shredded kale, topped with two orange-yoked fried eggs. It was simply seasoned with salt and quality olive oil, allowing the fresh vegetable flavors to shine (particularly that green garlic, yum). Definitely ask for their housemade roasted red pepper hot sauce on the side.
While ideal for an outdoor breakfast, Cibo's charming, spread-out layout makes it a nice spot to grab a hot tea or glass of wine later in the afternoon, or a sandwich to-go. The cafe has two indoor areas—one with a full breakfast and lunch menu, one that just has coffee and sweets. Both are bright, welcoming spaces, with an impressive coffee setup on display.
For a Bloody Mary: Barrel House Tavern
Call your day trip a mini-vacation and indulge your craving for a Bloody Mary after breakfast. And there is no better place in town for a drink with a view than the Barrel House. The cavernous restaurant, lounge, and bar is a level up from the street, and features a domed, barrel-shaped ceiling. The interior is sleek and modern, but the real star of this spot is the wrap-around glass-walled patio, sporting bar seats with a stunning panoramic view. The outdoor area fills up fast, but Barrel House doesn't get mobbed, despite its central location—being above street level definitely has its perks.
Back to those bloodies. Barrel House has a build-your-own menu that veers toward decadence ($9 base with Tito's Handmade Vodka, $11 with Hangar One), with a choice of three tomato bases and fourteen garnish add-ons. We found the Classic base to be a little bland; go big and get the Peppery Pig, spiced with a "four-alarm spice blend" and featuring speared coppa, pepperoni, and bacon. As for the ample garnish selection, some are a little ridiculous ($1 for a truffle salt rim? C'mon.), but the meats are flavorful and generously served—bacon ($2) is thick-cut and a meal in itself&mdas;and pickled asparagus ($.50) is crisp, sweet, and delicious.
The larger cocktail menu features a nice selection of refreshing afternoon-friendly drinks (think herbal, floral flavors), making this a worthy stop for happy hour, too.
For Lunch on the Water: Fish.
You can't not eat seafood in Sausalito—okay, you can, but you shouldn't let that happen. Go to Fish Restaurant, a charming, laid-back fish shack that's located at the Sausalito marina. Fish is quite a ways from downtown (10 minute drive, 20 minute bike ride), but a little trek will be just the thing to work up your appetite. Post up at one of the rough-hewn wooden picnic tables out on the multi-level outdoor patio overlooking sailboats bobbing in their slips—you'll soon be reminded that Sausalito is, and has long been, a sailing town.
The restaurant is known for sustainable seafood: the owners will not serve anything other than what's seasonal and locally caught. The team also runs TwoXSea, a local seafood provider that supplies some of San Francisco's best restaurants.
The seafood is is freshly caught and simply prepared, and while it can get a little pricey, the prices do have tax included, and the servings are hearty and generous. While fish specials and sandwiches are tasty, we prefer to stick with the classics here. Go for an order of clam chowder (cup, $5, bowl, $9), and a selection of freshly shucked oysters (MP)—the chowder is packed with plump, briny clams, and studded with smoky bits of sausage. Should your day in Sausalito be a foggy one, this will hit the spot.
For Afternoon Ice Cream: Lappert's
You may see the crowds outside Lappert's before you spot the sign. This is, in part, because the little ice cream shop is in a prime location in the middle of Sausalito's main drag. It's also because they sell delicious ice cream. The Richmond-based family run ice cream company draws much of its flavor inspiration from Hawaii—you'll find flavors like Kaui Pie, Nuku Hiva, and Kona Mocha Almond alongside more traditional offerings like Mint Chip and Cookies & Cream. We loved a scoop of Pink Sea Salt Salted Caramel ($3.50 for one scoop), rich with vanilla flavor and laced with ribbons of salty-sweet caramel. The shop does not have much seating, so take your scoops to go—they'll taste even better down by the Bay. Lappert's is cash only, and don't worry, the line does move quickly.
For An Afternoon Beer: Bar Bocce
After you've done some walking or bike riding, there are few better places to enjoy the Sausalito sun than Bar Bocce. Right across from Cibo, Bar Bocce has a gorgeous outdoor space that stretches right down to the water, and features, as you may have guessed, a bocce court. You may need to wait a while to get a game in, but enjoying a cold local draft beer ($6 for 12 ounces) outside is the perfect way to pass the time. Their patio is well suited to chillier days, too, thanks to a sizable fire pit. On weekend afternoons, the restaurant is hopping with groups of friends sharing drinks and pizzas, but you can find plenty of places to perch outside. The space is super family-friendly, too—you'll see kids working off their ice cream energy on the gently sloping lawn, and parents pointing out nearby boats.
For a Laid-Back Dinner: Fast Food Francais
Looking for a casual, delicious dinner before you head back to San Francisco? Stop by Fast Food Francais, a playful restaurant featuring French-inspired riffs on classic American dishes. The space itself, thankfully, does not evoke a fast food atmosphere—airy and bright, the room has a subtly nautical vibe with blond wood, hanging ropes, and space enough to seat a large group. You'll find burgers topped with Forme d'Ambert blue cheese or wild boar bacon; starters like a playful 'chips and dip' (that's actually Brussels sprouts chips and buttermilk dip), and a sophisticated take on the wedge salad.
Don't miss the 'onion rings' ($8), a gorgeous plate of delicately fried red onion and ramps, garnished with sliced radish and pickled artichoke hearts. The onions themselves are excellent—battered in cornmeal and freshly fried, the sweet, crisp, red onion flavor shines. Those ramps are stand-out, too—the garlicky leaves take on a nutty, slightly charred flavor. Be sure to dip everything in the pool of horseradish cream underneath the onions. If you're up for another drink, the cocktails are quite nice, too—we loved their gin and tonic ($10), made with Junipero gin and garnished with a sweet cherry tomato.
Want a bay view with your French food? Try Fast Food Francais's slightly fancier sister restaurant, Le Garage.
For a Dinner Splurge: Sushi Ran
Sushi Ran has long been considered one of the best spots for sushi in the Bay Area, and for years, it has been a destination for San Francisco aficionados. Located just down the street from Fast Food Francais, the Sushi Ran space is simple and zen-like, decorated with a muted palate of neutral tones. The restaurant has two rooms split by an open courtyard, with seats available in a bar area, at the sushi bar, and at tables. You'll want to get a reservation, or arrive a few minutes before they open at 5—we were seated promptly, but the room was full by 5:30. They can accommodate large groups, too, with a reservation.
You'd be remiss not to splurge on sushi here, though their menu of cooked fish, meats, and vegetables is creative and worth exploring. Stick with nigiri or sashimi—while it's priced by the piece, it allows the immaculate cuts of fish (much of which is locally, sustainably sourced, or from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market) to really shine. We loved everything we tasted in the 6-Piece Sushi Set ($19.50), and found that it was noticeably cheaper than ordering each of the presented pieces individually. The set includes AAA big-eye tuna, yellowtail, blue prawn, albacore, and two chef's choice pieces that change by the night—ours featured katsuo and McFarland Farms trout, both lightly smoked over cherrywood. All of the pieces were excellent, sporting perfectly seasoned rice and tender, meltingly rich fish. The buttery yellowtail, snappy, sweet shrimp, and the delicately smoked trout are standouts.
Can't snag a dinner reservation? Sushi Ran is open for lunch (complete with lunch specials) on weekdays if you have some scheduling flexibility.