Sausalito Walk 1

Maritime meandering

Sausalito's earlier incarnation was as a fishing port, and although you wouldn't know it by visiting the bayside Bridgeway street, it's still very much a port town. Just 1 mile north of downtown, you can wander along the waterfront past marinas, docks, houseboat communities, and working boatyards.

Perhaps the most unusual sight along this walk is the Arques School of Traditional Wooden Boatbuilding (open Tue-Sat; Road Three, off Harbor Dr.; or 415/331-7134). Established in 1996 to teach skilled apprentices, the school also offers Saturday workshops for beginners. The process is both fascinating and beautiful: as the school's founder, Robert Darr, says, "It's hard to find any other branch of woodworking that's nearly as creative. The boats are like sculptures." Between noon and 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, you can stop in to watch students casting, bronzing, and lofting. Or peek through a porthole anytime.

The Arques School is in the heart of one of the town's largest houseboat communities. Because all of the docks cross public tidelands, you're welcome to wander around these floating neighborhoods, checking out the sometimes eccentric designs―look for the floating Taj Mahal.

Just south of the boatbuilding school, stop at Marinship Park for a look at the colorful mosaic mural by the late painter Jean Varda, one of the many artists who settled here after the war. Around 1946, after wartime industries dropped off, there was a surplus of affordable housing here, so many artists were drawn by cheap rent and the cosmopolitan feel of Sausalito.

A bit further south is the Bay Model (closed Mon; 2100 Bridgeway; or 415/332-3870). Best known for its hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and delta―a reproduction that spans 1 1/2 acres and includes replicas of the area's ship channels, rivers, creeks, and sloughs―the Bay Model also has a small museum that provides a fascinating primer on Sausalito's shipbuilding role during World War II. The building itself was constructed in 1942 as part of the Marinship complex, a facility created for the manufacturing of Liberty Ships and T2 tankers. Between 1942 and '45, a total of 93 ships were churned out here―roughly one every three weeks. Exhibits bring the wartime era to life and explain why the boatbuilding culture here is still so entrenched.

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As you continue toward downtown, stop for a rest at Schoonmaker Beach (at the end of Liberty Ship Way) and lunch at the Waterfront Cafe (85 Liberty Ship Way; 415/332-5625).

Note: The Bay Model Visitor Center sells an aerial-view map of Sausalito ($4) that's useful for this walk.