Day Trippin: The Sausalito Ferry
Welcome back to Condo Weekly’s lifestyle column! We provide you with useful insider tips on getting the most out of your city: in this case, San Francisco and the Bay Area. This week, one of our lifestyle columnists is covering the single best way to get around the bay: the ferry service.
I’m a frequent ferry rider. I live outside the city, and there’s no better way to travel. Driving? Rush hour traffic and parking fees. The bus? Cramped and slow. The ferry is faster (no traffic on the water) and surprisingly picturesque. As an added bonus, the ferry is the only mode of transportation that will sell you a margarita or bloody mary.
If you want to take a ferry ride for fun, Sausalito is the ideal destination. It’s a tourist spot, but even a San Francisco native can benefit from seeing the city from a new perspective. Take a stroll along the water, or climb a hill, and you can glimpse the city’s ever-evolving skyline. Small shops and walkable streets are a charming change of scenery from the towering skyscrapers that dominate daily life in the city. After all, there’s no point in living in the Bay Area if you never actually see the Bay.
Taking the Ferry to Sausalito
-freedom to walk around the boat
-snacks and beverages for sale
-central location (ferry building)
-great views of the city as you leave
-great views of the water and natural landscape
-great views of the Golden Gate Bridge
-great views in general
-the most convenient way to get out of the city (no driving or parking)
-if you sit outside, you might get wet
-can be crowded if you leave at the end of a work day (4 p.m. or later)
-can be expensive if you don’t know to use a clipper card
-if overcrowded, might leave without you
-has limited hours
-sausalito shops close early
CW tip: save money with a clipper card or youth pass
When I told someone that I take the ferry everyday, she was surprised. “Isn’t it really expensive?” If you’ve never taken the ferry, you will initially think that it costs $13 to ride each way. The website will tell you this. The signs will tell you this. Guidebooks for tourists will tell you this.
You don’t have to pay $13 to ride the ferry. If you use a Clipper card, it will only cost you $7 each way. You can get your Clipper Card inside the ferry building, or at any Walgreens in the city. You can’t buy one from the ticket machines near the ferry building, so if you want to save, you’ll have to plan ahead. Going to Sausalito and back? That’s $12 worth of savings right there. If you forget to bring your Clipper card, there’s another slightly risky way to save: the youth ticket. It’s supposed to be for people under 18, but you might be able to get away with it. I say this because the person who told me about it was the Sausalito ferry attendant. The youth ticket will only costs $6.50.
CW tip: Go at the right time
Your experience on the Sausalito ferry will vary dramatically depending on the time of day that you go. Be forewarned about taking the ferry after 4 pm: it will be crowded. The number of commuters vastly outweighs the number of tourists. You will be forced to sit with strangers at a table, even if you put your backpack in the seat next to you to try to trick people into thinking that it’s taken. Someone will ask you, “is anyone sitting there?” I know, because I’ve tried at least three times. It’s that crowded.
On the other hand, if you get on the ferry to Sausalito at 12:55, you can probably get two empty tables for yourself. You can sit wherever you like. You can put your feet up. You can get up, go outside, walk around, go to the bar (no line) and then return to your original seat. There are empty corridors you can explore. I actually discovered that there are bathrooms on both floors. The ferry at 12:55? It’s like being on a luxury train with 20 times the leg room. The ferry at 4? As close as you’ll get to feeling like an immigrant in the 19th century:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!”.
On a related note, there is a ferry that goes to Angel Island, the historical center of immigration to America on the west coast.
CW tip: Don’t sit outside (unless you can hack it)
Though most of the seating is inside, there are areas at the front and the back of the boat that are open air. If you choose to sit outside, you will be treated to an amazing view of the San Francisco Skyline as it recedes into the distance. It’s worth it. You should take a selfie. After this, turn around and go inside. There is no shame in abandoning this area for the safety of an indoor cabin. That’s because there is a very real chance you will get wet. If you have AirPods or valuable jewelry, do not sit outside. The wind is intense. On a random note, if you wore a bathing suit, this could be a great way to cool off in the summer.
I arrived at the SF Ferry building early for my 5:30 pm trip. The ferry building itself has a variety of food, drink, and entertainment options to keep you occupied. Book Passage is a great place to hang out while you wait. You can see the ferries on the water from within the store, so you’re not likely to miss your boat.
Purchase your ticket early. Like I said, a clipper card can help you save money. I used mine, but if you don’t have one, you can buy a single use ticket from the machines for $13.
Arrive early if you want to leave at a specific time, because capacity is limited. Once I swiped my card, I entered a corralling area to wait with my fellow passengers. You can bring your bike on the ferry. They even have a special place to lock them up in the hull.
When you get on board, you will have the opportunity to buy snacks and beverages. They sell alcohol, including wine, beer, and cocktails. The bartender told me that Bloody Marys are popular. If you want to buy food, remember to bring cash! They will not accept credit cards. There are about seven signs that say “cash only” taped up around the bar. They’re in neon green so that you can’t just go up to the counter with your Skittles and act like you didn’t see them. Pro tip: if you don’t have cash, you might be able to get the bartender to agree to set up a tab for you.
You can enjoy the view by sitting inside or out. Inside seats are similar to what you would find on an airplane, while outside seats are usually plastic or wooden benches. There are multiple ferry boats, each with a different floor layout, but there will always be at least two stories and an option to sit outside. If you want privacy, you can usually find more open seating on the lower level.
When it comes time to disembark, you’ll line up to exit the ferry. You will walk over the water on a ramp, which is slightly frightening if you stop to think about it, but don’t do that. Besides, you are safe because there are railings and attendants all around you.
The city of Sausalito itself is chock full of charm. It’s a mixture of art galleries, jewelry stores, restaurants, and quirky souvenir shops. Because I was not in the mood to spend thousands of dollars I don’t have on fancy art sculptures and diamonds, I decided to check out the souvenir shops. They’re scattered throughout Sausalito’s main street, which is only one block from the ferry building.
My favorite store in Sausalito is, was, and possibly always will be the Sausalito Ferry Company. They sell toys, trinkets, t-shirts, stickers, and other unusual collectables. They have solar powered cat figurines that wave at you, miniature scale models of buildings you can build, sausalito themed hats, and more. It’s worth it just to look, even if you don’t intend to buy. Here is a picture of a figurine of a woman from Ancient Rome. If you are absolutely crazy for Sausalito, make sure to purchase one of their “Keep Sausalito Salty” T-shirts. Yeah, Sausalito isn’t just a day trip for tourists visiting San Francisco. It’s its own thing now.
You’ll also find a toy store (“Games People Play”) and a store that only sells socks, all within a few blocks of the ferry building. You don’t have to buy anything to enjoy browsing.
When it comes to casual dining, you’ll definitely want to visit Lappert’s ice cream. They’re kind of a big deal in Sausalito. The founder was a long time professional Sausalito resident who found success selling his ice cream to Hawaiians. Today, Sausalito honors him with their Hawaiian themed stores, selling flavors like “Kauai Pie”, “Kona Coffee”, and “Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramel”. I got Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramel, and it had a bountiful amount of caramel.
If you’re still in the mood for another sweet, make sure to check out the salt water taffy at Munchies. Pro Tip: no one will tell you, but you can sort of eat a lot of salt water taffy for free. The people at the register are incredibly laissez faire about sampling. Feel free to take one of each. You can test flavors like watermelon, mango, licorice, and more.
When it comes time to eat a real meal, there at sit down restaurants like Poggios (Italian) or Scoma’s (seafood), as well as more casual joints like the Venice Pizzeria. Most restaurants in Sausalito have an outdoor eating area, which will give you the opportunity to see San Francisco and the Bay Area skyline. I went to Venice Pizzeria, and sat outside.
Most shops close by 6 pm, so I recommend getting to Sausalito at 12 and going back to the city on the 4:45 or 6:15 Ferry. Ferries depart roughly every 1 to 1 and a half hours.
Thanks for reading! Check out our other articles about the city and subscribe if you’d like them sent to you every week!