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May 23, 2024 1:12am
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Sausalito’s Houseboats

The houseboats got their start more than 100 years ago

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Sausalito’s most memorable landmarks aren’t on land at all. They are the colorful, charming, sometimes shabby, sometimes chic, and always interesting houseboats that float just off shore.

From an amazing recreation of the Taj Mahal, to ultra modern structures, to quaint cottage-style homes with whimsical flair, Sausalito’s houseboats are worth a stroll along the docks that hold these buoyant communities together. It’s easy and free to walk amidst the homes, or take a paid tour on the weekends, or participate in the annual Sausalito Houseboats Tour fundraiser held every September by the Floating Homes Association.

The houseboats got their start more than 100 years ago, when some folks started living on their boats anchored in the bay near the town. Enterprising businessmen even delivered food and supplies directly to these new “homes”.

During World War II Sausalito’s shoreline was overtaken by shipbuilding yards, which churned out Liberty Ships around the clock. At the war’s end, the yards were abandoned, leaving behind all sorts of scrap material for the taking. People looking for cheap places to live scooped it up to make houseboats, repopulating the harbors with floating homes.

In the 50s and 60s, Sausalito became a mecca for artists, musicians, and writers, and the quirky and inexpensive houseboat lifestyle was a natural fit for quirky and cash-strapped bohemians. To this day, houseboats remain a draw for artists and others who are willing to live a less-than ordinary life in stunning natural surroundings.

Houseboat residents say despite some of the drawbacks—like hauling groceries in the rain from the parking lot out to the docks,—the rewards are many. Living on the water presents an ever-changing landscape of wildlife and weather, coupled with extraordinary sunrises and sunsets. The gentle sway of the waves lulls people to sleep each night.

While it sounds idyllic, there was a time when houseboats became the center of controversy. In the 1970s “House Boat Wars” broke out between houseboaters and developers. County authorities tried to evict many of the houseboat owners, although they eventually backed off. Compromises were struck, and houseboats, some of which were previously anchored on their own in the bay, came into harbors and were attached to docks, and—more importantly to those who got a whiff of Sausalito during low tides—to sewer lines.

Today more than 400 homes dot Sausalito’s marinas. While there are many ways to do a walking tour, one of the easiest places to start is around the Gate 5 Road and Main Dock area, or at the Gate 6 Road Waldo Point Harbor area.

Liberty Dock, Issaquah Dock, Kappas Marina and A Dock are some of the areas where you’ll find a wide variety of interesting homes to enjoy. You’ll see elegant and expensive homes, along with more ramshackle varieties left over from years gone by. You’ll also see beautifully maintained pots of flowers, as well as eclectic artwork adorning the boats. Just remember you’re walking among people’s homes! Respect their privacy, and be aware there may be daytime sleepers.

The recreation of the Taj Mahal, by the way, can be found moored at the end of Johnson Street, just north of the downtown area. It’s a short walk from the ferry pier, or you can park nearby at the intersection of Bridgeway and Johnson. Enjoy!

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Photos copyright by Jay Graham Photographer
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