C California Style

The Life Aquatic: Aboard Sausalito’s Houseboat Enclave

by C California Style

Where floating freely is a way of life

Upwards of 7,000 individuals nest in Sausalito, and with an environmental cap on further development this is pretty much the way it will stay in the years to come. More often than not, Democrats are sent to offices of political significance. Tourists come for the scenic views and crowd into gift shops and coffeehouses; it is a California version of quaint and quiet which leaves you relaxed if not totally excited.

It is nice. It is laid back. It is comfy. It is rare to find such a lovable spot so close to a major city. It is a town you could grow in with your homegrown vegetables sprouting in the backyard.

Downtown there is a No Name Bar, where waterfront musicians are regulars. If you are eccentric, a piano waits to be played down by the marina, at The Seahorse. You will hear all kinds of songs there from lullabies to Laura Nyro tunes, as local heroes pound the keys at the far end of the shiny dance floor. A birthday party bursts in and bursts out, local IPAs in hand. A soft wind is waltzing outside, occasionally pushing the sea breeze through the saloon door.

Of course, indigenous people were around long before the town was founded in 1868. One branch of the Coast Miwok had lived here, but the native group was displaced when European settlers showed up. A Spanish advance party in 1775 reported back to their main ship, describing friendly locals, plentiful wildlife and an abundance of timber.

But it would be another half-century before William Richardson, a Mexican citizen born in England, began the actual development by establishing his Ranch Saucelito, a reference to willow trees. In 1838 he received a huge land grant that made him both a seaside and bayside landlord. The bay was given Richardson’s name. A small town then rooted itself within sight of San Francisco, but it remained isolated since any journey on land would require a long detour. When the first office opened in 1870 the spelling had changed to Sausalito.

In a newspaper article from 1918, in San Francisco Call Bulletin, Richardson’s son Stephen, then 87 years old, recalled his childhood days in the area:

“My early life in Sausalito was perhaps the happiest time of life. A horse trail ran from San Rafael to Sausalito, very much the same as the main highway goes today. The county was entirely untouched by man, and the wild oats grew shoulder high, in spite of the great herds of wild animals browsing in the fields.” Stephen Richardson remembered the bay as a fairyland of enchantments with water clear as crystal. “The stillness was unbroken save for the shrill piping of the myriad shorebirds, and elk with huge branching horns, graceful antlered stags, and huge grizzly bears stood statuesque on the hillsides.” • Images and text excerpted from Floating in Sausalito (Kerber Verlag, $50).

Photography by LARS STRANDBERG.
Written by LARS ÅBERG.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of C Magazine.