The Sausalito houseboats are little architectural marvels that range from new-build homes to refurbished boats which are found along 5 marinas in the San Francisco Bay. Although the residents prefer the term floating houses, these homes are technically not floating boats but anchored onto concrete barges in the bay. In fact, they are as sturdy as say the Venice Beach canal homes but quirkier and less cutesy. A walking tour of these neighbourhoods is one of the cool things to do in Sausalito, a little enclave right over the bay from San Francisco.
Sausalito Houseboats History
The Sausalito houseboat community started off as an artist enclave 65 years ago. There are still many artists in residence. You now have got approximately 400 house boats in five marinas.
The history of houseboats in San Francisco actually goes further than that though. In the 19th century, people from San Francisco had arks (not house boats) for seasonal warm-weather use. The arks were meant to float in high tide and sit on the mud bottom during low tide. After the 1906 earthquake, homeless residents turned some of these arks into full-time homes.
After World War II, there were many surplus military boats like the landing craft of lifeboats. Enterprising artists converted these boats and made homes out of them. The famous song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” was written by Otis Redding while he was living in a house boat in Sausalito.
The houseboats are anchored onto concrete barges which rise and fall with the tides. The tides in the San Francisco Bay rise and fall twice a day as much as 2-8 feet a day. Rest assured the sewage is not dumped in the bay but pumped out via drains to the dock.
Many of the fronts of the Sausalito floating homes are full of flowers so that they look like front gardens.
Floating Homes For Sale and To Rent
Although the floating homes aren’t cheap to buy, this accommodation is still way cheaper than the astronomical San Francisco housing market prices. There’s even a local estate agent who is a floating homes owner herself who sells floating homes as a big part of her business. The prices obviously depend on the size and condition of the floating home listed but the cheapest one I saw was listed for approximately $300K and the most expensive for approximately $1.1.M.
You can even rent floating homes in Sausalito through VRBO. This so-called waterfront Ark that sleeps 3 (one bedroom) or this modern house boat that sleeps 6 (two bedrooms) are both listed for an average of $200+/night through VRBO.
Visiting the Sausalito Houseboats
The Sausalito house boats community is available to visit both formally and informally. We wandered over to Sausalito with the kids when we visited San Francisco. Having done many of the touristy things to do in San Francisco with kids, it was a nice break to leave the city for a bit.
While you may not get access to the houseboats themselves, or their piers, the gates are unlocked and you can walk by the floating homes. It’s like strolling through any neighbourhood only these houses are cooler than most.
The best place to enter the docks are at Gate 5 Road or Gate 6 Road. We parked our rental car at Waldo Point Harbour Lot.
There is an annual Open Homes house boat tour where approximately 15 of the house boats are available for a guided tour. In 2017 the annual house boat tour is September 30th and the theme is Homefront on the Waterfront, an homage to the 1940’s lineage of some of the original houseboats. Admission sells out quickly so it’s advisable to buy your tickets early.
The enterprising Floating Homes association also do private tours for which you need a minimum of 20 participants. You will get to see four homes on two docs for the eye-watering cost of $1200.
Photo Gallery of Sausalito Houseboats
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