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What's Up With Sausalito's Floating Homes and Houseboats?
Real Estate

What's Up With Sausalito's Floating Homes and Houseboats?

Live atop the San Francisco Bay waters in Sausalito, a seaside town known for its community of colorful houseboats and floating homes.


4 min read

April 19, 2024

Imagine opening your bedroom window and being greeted by the salty mist carried on the ocean breeze, diving into the waves to wake up in the morning, and hitting the water on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to wind down after work. That is exactly what you get when you live in Sausalito’s floating homes. 

The residents of Richardson Bay get to experience these magical moments near their floating homes every day in the beautiful city of Sausalito, where they can also walk to home decor boutique Heath Ceramics, head to OnBoardSUP for a floating yoga lesson, or ride their bike over to fish for sustainable seafood.

Sausalito is situated in scenic Marin County, where there are more than 400 floating homes spread across five residential marinas.

There are over 400 floating homes throughout majestic Marin County, tucked away in five residential marinas. But make no mistake: Though living atop the ocean may seem like a sacrifice at first, these dockside dwellings are equipped with all the comforts of homes on land—not to mention unbeatable views. In fact, the luxury floating homes are sometimes even more coveted than regular on-land residences.

The charming small town on the opposite side of the Golden Gate Bridge provides plenty to admire. Colorful tiles, quirky porches, and a truly unique community—the Sausalito floating homes are distinctively Californian in the best way.

The History of Sausalito's Floating Homes

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The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire spurred on the popularity of floating homes, which became a solution for families who had lost their landlocked homes. Eventually, the floating homes in Sausalito became a choice rather than a necessity, drawing in artists, free spirits, and creatives in the ’60s. One of these inspired individuals was singer-songwriter Otis Redding, who was sitting on Waldo Point Harbor in Sausalito when he wrote the classic song “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”. 

While the earthquake gave birth to the phenomenon of the Sausalito floating homes, it was the end of World War II that jump-started the community. After the war, the shipyard where 20,000 people worked day and night to build military ships closed down, leaving behind lumber, metal, and several parts of unfinished boats. But the people of this underrated small town had a plan. They were short on cash and eager to build, so they used barges and junk to establish a whole community of affordable floating homes. 

One man’s trash was truly another man’s treasure. What seemed like a junkyard at first was actually a goldmine of building blocks for Sausalito residents. Today, Richardson Bay boasts a friendly and colorful waterfront community that’s unique in every way.

The 400 floating homes in Richardson Bay represent a proud bohemian history of the Bay Area that began more than a century ago.

The Benefits of Living in a Floating House

Though living on the water is clearly not a new concept, the novelty of these tiny homes is nowhere near wearing off. So, what distinguishes Sausalito’s houseboats from floating homes? While both houseboats and floating homes are generally charged docking fees, houseboats have motors and floating homes do not. Instead, floating homes have hulls made of concrete, wood, or fiberglass that are meant to move up and down with the tide.

This means that they have the ability to sit on the mud at low tide and float on the water at high tide, but they do not move freely wherever they please. Houseboats are typically not permanent residences, either, whereas floating houses make for great vacation homes, second homes, or even primary homes—all without the skyrocketing price tags of living on land.

While the average price of homes in Sausalito is a cool $975K, a floating house on water here is generally priced between $600,000 and $1,200,000. However, some of the Sausalito floating homes for sale are listed for as low as $400,000, and some rival average houses have price tags over a million U.S. dollars. Since these quaint homes offer significant savings, there is plenty of time to budget for the monthly fees associated with floating-home living, including the cost of docking, water, garbage, sewer, and parking.

Take a tour of Sausalito's floating houses in September, when the Floating Homes Association showcases available housing.

It should be noted that Sausalito's boat houses are taxed at similar rates to traditional homes, with the only difference being that the fees are organized as personal property tax (or unsecured property tax) rather than property tax. This can sometimes make it more difficult to obtain a loan for a floating home—so the process is easier for cash buyers than for lenders—though it is still possible. 

If the idea of a floating home is intriguing, consider renting one for the night or looking into Sausalito houseboat rentals so you can experience a day or two on the water. Several incredible opportunities are available on Airbnb—floating homes for rent are usually between $100 and $400 per night, providing an easy way to see how you fare in the tiny homes atop the water.

When to visit Sausalito Floating Homes

Sausalito's floating homes are an eclectic and colorful collection of dwellings permanently anchored to piers at Richardson Bay.

The Floating Homes Association also offers annual open-house tours, allowing potential buyers and floating-home enthusiasts to see all of the possibilities available with a floating lifestyle. Hundreds of people turn out to the festival and friendly homeowners open their doors to the admiring public. You’ll get to learn the ins and outs of living in a floating house on water. You’ll also get answers to all your questions about floating house prices and functionality.

Plan your trip now and prepare to fall in love with this unique California community.

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