The city of Sausalito, covering less than 2 square miles of land on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, should in theory be overshadowed by its bigger, showier neighbors. San Francisco, just 4 miles away, is packed with tourist attractions and coasts on its uniquely compelling vibe. Then there’s the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an enormous urban park encompassing both sides of the bay, several of its islands, the Presidio of San Francisco and Muir Woods. So it’s testament to Sausalito’s outsized charm that admiring visitors flock there all year-round.
Visitors come to Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge by car and rental bike, or cross the water by ferry. They come to dine at the excellent restaurants, browse boutiques, and eat ice cream or sip coffee while strolling the main waterfront drag. You could happily just claim a spot from which to watch the fog banks roll in, and out, and in, and out again over the dramatically hilly landscape. That’s if you can keep your eyes off the bay. Sausalito is famously the spot where Otis Redding wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” a song that flawlessly simulates the natural rhythm of the place.
There could not be a more perfect way to end a day in Sausalito than with a sunset sail on San Francisco Bay. And there are no finer vessels on which to sail than the Schooner Freda B. This 80-foot coastal schooner is available for public and private sails from Sausalito through SF Bay Adventures. The company’s flagship vessel, she is a true beauty reminiscent of 19th-century tall ships.
The sunset sail departs in the early evening (exact times vary), and guests are asked to arrive 30 minutes beforehand. This gives you time to hang out at the yacht harbor, admiring the ships and taking in unrivaled views of Sausalito’s foggy hills. You also get to check out the Schooner Freda B and watch the crew prepare for your sail. It requires zero knowledge about sailing to appreciate the elegance of Freda B’s polished facade and the neat geometry of her rigging. Somehow you trust by appearance alone that Freda B promises a smooth ride, swift yet serene.
Passenger seating on the schooner is fully open-air, with hand-holds should you need them. Low-profile sides with taut cable fencing maximize views of the water, and make it important to always stay steady and hold on to something immovable (not the ropes). Shifting your position and weight with the ship’s movement across the water soon becomes second nature. No matter the time of year, this open-air configuration means you need warm layers to stay comfortable on the often-chilly bay. Even in mid-summer, bring a coat – not just a light cardigan, a real coat – and probably a warm hat and scarf as well. Hit up a cheap souvenir shop in San Francisco, if need be!
Freda B’s captain and crew are all impressively credentialled and have sailing experience all over the world. They make the serious work of setting the sails and completing all the corresponding on-deck tasks look like a choreographed dance, coiling and knotting the ropes with neat precision and zero fuss. Guests are welcome to assist with the rigging, if they wish. The sunset sail does not feature ongoing narration, but crewmembers are friendly and happy to chat, answer questions, and point out landmarks and notable ships sharing the bay.
During the out-and-back sail from Sausalito, approximately 3 hours in total, expect incredible views of numerous landmarks. Take in the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, rocky and rugged Belvedere Island dotted with fancy houses, and the much larger and unspoiled Angel Island, a state park. Enjoy a choice of hot and cold drinks as you sail, including local beers and wines. On chillier evenings, hot chocolate really hits the spot.
Out on the water, the natural soundtrack of the bay’s winds and waves, amplified by sails and uninterrupted by engine noise, is a highlight of the sunset sail. It’s impossible not to relax, appreciate where you are, and temporarily forget about your real life back on dry land. Feel this even more as sunset approaches, creating amazing shifts in the scenery. Fiery colors are fragmented and feathered by the clouds and fog, a mesmerizing display that fades out too soon. The beauty of a sunset sail is even better when you share it with loved ones, whether it’s a family day out or romantic date.
The return leg to Sausalito shows off the city as it sparkles at dusk, quite different to the way it looked when you left. From a distance it seems just a pinpoint on a nautical map, but grows quickly in size and detail as you approach. You get a small sense of being a long-voyaging sailor returning home to port, more than ready for dry land, a hot meal and several drinks. Good thing it’s only been a few, extremely pleasant hours with zero hardships. About that drink, though…
SF Bay Adventures
The Schooner Freda B
Slip 465, Sausalito Yacht Harbor, Bay Street, Sausalito, CA 94965