Sausalito- One of the Bay Area’s best tourist towns

Only a sliver of Sausalito along the coast line is what I consider to be urban. Once you go up the famous hillside, sidewalks and walkability basically disappear. This evaluation is roughly between Napa to the North and Valley to the south.

In the 1870s, Sausalito was connected to reliable rail and ferry service connecting it to San Francisco and setting the stage for future development. By 1940 the town had 3,500 inhabited. Sausalito experienced another growth spurt during WWII as it became a major shipbuilding center. This industrial character, however, quickly gave way to a more wealthy and artistic enclave with new residents taking advantage of its hills and gorgeous location along the sea. This also lead to an increase in tourism. Yet those living on boats and those living on the hills could not live harmoniously forever. Its California! Beginning in the 1970s, an intense struggle erupted between houseboat residents and developers, dubbed the “Houseboat Wars”. Forced removals by county authorities and sabotage by some on the waterfront characterized this struggle. The result was the banishment of all boat communities to just outside the Sausalito limits. Today along three houseboat communities still exist.

From an urban perspective this is a funny mix of great urban attributes and major failures. On the positive side Sausalito has an amazing dining scene and local shops. Shops cater to much more than your typical tourist destination. There are also many art galleries here, all set along a beautiful bay and relatively comfortable commercial district. Sausalito’s biggest failure is its exclusivity. Small condos start at 600K and there are few rentals here. Racial and economic diversity is also limited. The hills quickly rise from the sea making an urban environment difficult for much of the City. Public transit access to Dwtn San Fran is also not great.

Click here to view my Sausalito album on Flickr


* A decent bike lane running down Bridgeway but not dedicated bike stations.
* Good generational diversity with about 40% of households as family ones.
* Very nice waterfront and several attractive smaller parks. Golden Gate View Park is only 1/2 south but only car and bike access.
* Great cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars & cafes, tons of art galleries, a couple theaters, a couple local museums and some live music and night clubs.
* Several excellent schools but located .5 miles to a mile from the walkable part of Sausalito in or near Marina City. Not terribly walkable.
* Some great retail amenities many boutiques, home goods stores, antique stores, souvenir shops, and specialty retail and a drug store, hardware store, and post office.
*  A good amount of petty thefts but limited major crimes. Overall very safe place.
* Excellent architecture both historic and new.
* Generally very good urban form but still a good amount of surface  parking lots.
* Very vibrant with all the tourists.


* Decent access to San Francisco, especially driving. One can also drive to Oakland in 45 mins but generally lot great public transit access.
* With all the hills and circular roads, not great connectivity in Sausalito.
* Very expensive place to live with medium rent at $2,600.
* Poor racial and economic diversity.
* Some 1-bedroom condos starting around 600K. But most selling in the low 1 Millions. 2-beds sell anywhere btwn the low 1 Ms and low 2Ms. 3 & 4 bedrooms sell for btwn mid 1Ms and mid 2Ms.
* Leases are very limited. Some 2-bedrooms rent btwn 3K-5K. 3-beds for even more.
* No supermarket in dwtn Sausalito.
* Generally pretty walkable but lots of hills and missing ADA curbs.

Downtown Novato, a Marin County Community in California

I only evaluated the more urban dwtn center of Novato this is roughly btwn Novato/Diablo Blvd, 7th St, Carmel/Olive Ave., and the Redwood Hwy.

The town was originally a Mexican community starting in the 1830s but remained very small. American pioneers planted orchards and vineyards in the 1850s. Is population started to grow with the construction of a railroad in 1879 connecting it to surrounding towns Sonoma County. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato (mostly demolished). After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway. As the area was unincorporated much of the growth was unplanned and uncontrolled. Novato was finally incorporated as a city in 1960 with 17K residents.

From an urban perspective, Downtown Novato is an area of decent urban form but with lots of cultural and retail amenities. The historic Grant main street is packed with restaurants, bars, boutiques, and interesting stores. Housing prices are astronomical like the rest of California but fortunately the City had the will to construct several hundred units of affordable housing and many of them are located Dwtn. Novato does have direct rail connection to Dwtn San Fran but that trip takes at least an hour. Only 40 min drive (without traffic of course) to Dwtn San Fran and Dwtn Oakland.

The most important thing to improve from an urban perspective in Dwtn Novato is more density. For one, the communities in Marin County need to welcome more people considering the Bay Area’s severe housing shortage. 2nd many of these Marin County communities has transit access and thus could hosts very dense TOD downtowns. Increased density would also improve the overall urban quality of Downtown Novato as well. Specific areas for improvement include better park amenities, more walkable schools, and improved urban form.

Click here to view my Novato Album on Flickr


* Several dedicated bike lanes run through dwtn. Good connections to the regional network. No dedicated bike stations.
* Good overall diversity among all factors. Specifically a very high number of families live here.
* Very safe district.
* Fortunately the City has a good # of affordable housing. Around 300-500 units in the dwtn area.
* Good array of cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars, cafes, and breweries. Also plenty of art galleries, a cinema, performing arts center, and a couple local museums.
* retail amenities include several supermarkets (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Safeway), several drug stores, a couple book stores, lots of boutiques & creative stores, banks, Gyms, and plenty of dessert shops.
* Quality streetscaping.


* Not great density at only 7,000 per sq mile
* A couple roads on the edges of the Novato central district are without sidewalks. Most intersections have modern ADA curb cuts.
* Drives to dwtn Oakland and San Fran are around 40-45 mins so not terrible. But only transit to San Fran 1:15 is somewhat viable. Dwtn San Jose is a very long trip. No other larger employment centers in Marin County.
* No schools within Dwtn Novato but several quality options about a 1 mile that are semi-walkable.
* Housing is very expensive starting with a handful of 1-bedrooms selling around 500K. A good amount of 2-bedrooms all selling btwn 600K-900K. 3-bedrooms are a bit more expensive and 4 bedrooms are around 1M-1.5M but mostly outside the downtown area.
* Rentals are much more limited and expensive. The few 1-bedrooms lease for around 2K, 2-bedrooms 2K & 3K, and very few 3-bedrooms.
* Only the Lee Garner Park is in the Dwtn area. Some good parks a couple miles away but not walkable.
* Much of the modern in-fill is autocentric.
* Good massing in the core of dwtn on Grant Street but plenty of strip malls and autocentric development even in the dwtn area.

North Berkeley, CA- home of the Berkeley Rose Garden

I included both North Berkeley and the smaller Northside district in this evaluation. North Berkeley is the district just north of Central Berkeley, Downtown, and the Northside. While not as dense or urban as Central Berkeley, North Berkeley is still a high quality urban environment built between the 1900s-1930s. It has several commercial nodes including a couple blocks on Euclid Ave, a long stretch of Shattuck Ave, and several small commercial nodes along MLK way. Its a nice mix of SF, duplexes, triplex, and small multi-family. Larger apartment buildings near Euclid Ave. Walkability is very high in North Berkeley as it is well served by quality public transit and good bike infrastructure.

Like Central Berkeley, housing is very expensive here. There are also limited family households and curb cuts are not always up to current ADA standards. I guess another improvement would be more density and multi-family housing to help alleviate the district’s high housing costs. But that kind of upzoning is best done on a citywide or regional level to avoid creating higher costs through speculation. 
Click here to view my North Berkeley album on Flickr


* Solid urban density allowing most trips to be convenient by foot or bike.
* Much of North Berkeley can still be reached on foot from Downtown Berkeley. Convenient access to Downtown Oakland, and solid access to downtown San Francisco as the BART skirts the southern edge of the neighborhood. Challenging to travel to San Jose or the Silicon Valley where other major employers are concentrated.
* Good  bike infrastructure with plenty of stations but not as many dedicated bike lanes as most Berkeley neighborhoods.
* High percentage of affordable housing options, which helps mitigate the City’s crazy high housing costs. 
* Several high amenities parks and recreational spaces well spread through North Berkeley. Also convenient access to the Cal U campus.
* Lots of small-medium sized museums within Downtown Berkeley or University of California. Good access to museums offered in Oakland and San Francisco. 
* North Berkeley holds a great concentration restaurants, bars, and cafe. Also a good array of art galleries, a community theater, and a couple museums. Still walkable to most North Berkeley residents are all the cultural amenities of  Central Berkeley and Cal U.
* The neighborhood is also well served by walkable retail including a nice mix of independent and chain stores (dwtn targets). There are also a couple service grocery stores and pharmacies. The Target and other important retail conveniences dwtn and walkable to most residents in North Berkeley.
* High quality schools and walkable to almost every Berkeley resident.


* Family households are pretty limited. But good age diversity amongst adults with a mix of students and established households.
* Very wealth off economically but students and young professionals add some nice diversity.
* Good offering of rental product but very expensive here in Berkeley. Most studios start at around 2K and most 2-bedrooms start at 3 K. Most for-sale options start at 650K.
* Great sidewalks and solid curb cuts. Modern ADA curbs are often missing at intersections however.
* Berkeley certainly feels very safe and has very little blight but crime rate is higher than the Nat. average. This may be partially attributable to its  homeless situation.
* Some less attractive modern construction from the 60s-80s but generally still good urban form.