Shopping in Sausalito, California

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to get out onto the Bay one way or another. You have a number of choices: if sailing’s your thing, a catamaran fleet operates from Pier 39 ($35-$50); a Bay Cruise will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Alcatraz (the birdman’s name was Robert Stroud) while you circle the island ($35 or so.)

But for me, the best boating bang for your buck is a simple ferry. No frills (well, there is a fully stocked snack bar) but for $10 each way the Blue and Gold Fleet (among others) will run you over to Sausalito, one of the most charming tourist traps I’ve ever visited. No t-shirt shops or souvenir stands here – arts, artisans, and boutiques all the way. Be prepared – it’s a walking town, wear comfortable shoes. Here’s how we spent a day shopping in Sausalito, and some of my finds and favorites there, all within a few minutes of the ferry dock.

The sea lions at Pier 39 were barking as we boarded the ferry. It’s a comfortable motor catamaran (very stable) with an enclosed lower deck and open upper deck. The short ride across the bay is full of postcard views and photo opportunities.

Fresh off the gangplank, admire the abstract sculpture in waterside Gabrielson Park, then head to the Harbor Shop, where we found Karen, who chatted sailing with us at length. I resisted the earrings and hats, but did fall for a trio of wooden ship-model ornaments. They now adorn our den and may never make it to the Christmas tree.

On down to the main drag, Bridgeway Street, more ornaments hang in the windows of the Holiday Shoppe. I admired (but did not buy) the sequined mermen – Chippendale and Swabbie. Then stroll down the street past windows full of brilliant art glass, jewelry, antiques, fashions. Call out to husband, ‘Wait up – I’m going in.’ Find out that kicky dress is only $384; the fringed leather jacket is $798 (on sale.) Pretend it’s a museum – marvel at the lovely things and leave.

Around the corner onto Princess Street, we found the Scrimshaw Gallery, which offers jewelry carved from mammoth bone! Have to admit, that’s different. What lured me in was the piano key earrings (range C-E) made of recycled ebony and ivory from defunct pianos.

My best bargains came from Wild at Heart, holding a ‘Moving Sale Up to 80% Off.’ If you’re lucky, they haven’t moved far. I pulled another quick duck-in, hit the consignment rack, grabbed a $20 silk blouse, and was out before he was finished taking pictures. Wished I’d taken time to try on the jeans that coordinated.

We continued on down the waterfront, noting the art deco apartments side by side with Victorian carpenter gothic exuberance. In the distance, the Golden Gate Bridge shimmered in the haze.

On our way back to the ferry dock, we stopped to admire a sea lion sculpture by the seawall and checked menus at the many restaurants. We decided we weren’t all that hungry and settled into the No-Name Bar (cash only, no kitchen, outside food encouraged) to wet our whistle while waiting for the last ferry back.

I suddenly realized that I really wanted to check out those pants, so I left himself guarding the bags, nursing his drink and watching a baseball game, while I trotted back towards Wild at Heart. On the way, I had to admit that I couldn’t live without those piano earrings, so I stopped back at the Scrimshaw Gallery. They came with a statement from the artist deploring the plundering of ivory and promising that his was way old so might as well be enjoyed.

Back at the consignment rack, I hauled the brown fuzzy Gap low-rise boot-cuts tagged what should’ve been a size too small into the dressing room. Sang out to the woman at the counter ‘Hot damn! They button!’ She cheered with me and accepted another $20. Clutching my treasures, I hustled back to the No-Name in good time to collect husband and bags, cross the street and board the ferry taking us back across the Bay.

Out on the water, the Golden Gate Bridge on our starboard, Alcatraz to port and Sausalito receding astern, we relished the wind in our face, the sun on our back, and reviewed the reasons to recommend Sausalito. First, of course, the boat ride; then, the destination. Eminently walkable (much flatter than the city across the Bay) with spectacular views, Sausalito isn’t exactly a bargain hunter’s dream (though they can be found), but worth the trip if only for the window shopping. Just remember – think ‘Museum.’