Sausalito’s Houseboat Community

Creative Commons Copyright Stephen Sommerhalter

Sausalito Houseboats Creative Commons copyright Stephen Sommerhalter

Sausalito and its famous houseboats have long attracted writers, artists, filmmakers, and radicals to its blue waters and gritty shores on the San Francisco Bay.

The community began in the early part of the 20th century, when the state of California began selling underwater lots as a way to raise money. In Sausalito, they ended up in private hands and marinas were developed. After World War II, decommissioned boats such as landing craft, lifeboats and tugboats were turned into floating homes for people who found it an inexpensive way to live.

In the 1950s and 60s, Anais Nin, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, and the Weather Underground all lived in the community for periods of time. Soul great Otis Redding wrote his signature song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” on a Sausalito houseboat.

“The artists know the secret of freedom,” wrote Anais Nin of the painter John Varda’s ferryboat in Sausalito. “When I left San Francisco he had already acquired a ferryboat from which the motors and wheels had been extracted… with time the ferryboat grew in beauty… He taught me, in San Francisco, to admire a chair which had been whitewashed by the sea to a pure bone color.”

Today approximately 450 houseboats decorate the Sausalito waterfront, along five different marinas. Current residents include writer Cyra McFadden, visionary entrepreneur Stewart Brand, and dozens of other writers, artists, and creative professionals.

Conceived by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, a resident author, editor and multi-media producer, along with a multi-talented committee of fellow floaters, Litquake’s Words on the Waves eagerly showcases the North Bay’s contemporary writers, and also pays homage to the historical literary and artistic legacy of the area.

“When people talk about the Sausalito houseboat community, they always talk about the 1960s,” says Lehmann-Haupt. “There is incredible writing and multi-media art happening in this community right now.”