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Take a tour of Sausalito’s million-dollar houseboats

A marina with houseboats in the foreground and a city skyline in the background under a clear blue sky.
Floating houseboats line the Sausalito shoreline with epic views of the San Francisco skyline. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

In the serene waters of Waldo Point Harbor, Sausalito's eclectic houseboat community enjoys everything from impromptu float-in concert performances by local musicians to informal fresh fish or ceviche sales from commercial fishermen—all set to the ever-present cries of seagulls and the gentle lapping of waves.

Among the 400-plus floating homes along the marinas' docks are luxurious multilevel vessels with sweeping water views, decks hovering just above Richardson Bay's surface and price tags surpassing $1 million. It's a far cry from the community's counterculture roots in the 1960s when artists and writers, tinkerers and other fringe-dwellers claimed abandoned wartime ships as alternative living spaces.

On a recent Sunday, The Standard checked out some rare open-house showings. At least half a dozen floating homes are currently listed for sale. The least expensive is the LSD (for “Landing Ship Dock”), a 300-square-foot, $425,000 two-loft one-office home atop a concrete barge on the Main Dock. The priciest is the Sea La Vie, a 1,728-square-foot, $1,795,000 two-story floating home at the end of Gate 6½ Road. The Sea La Vie boasts four decks, three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms and a hot tub.

Colorful Mondrian-style house by water, with blurred people walking in front.
People pass a floating home at Kappas Marina in Sausalito that pays homage to Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
An aerial view of floating houseboats in Sausalito. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

Outside the Beachcomber on the picturesque South Forty Dock, its owners, Laura and James Wiggins, were chatting with neighbors.

For most folks making a home next to the water, natural wonders never get old. Over time, many learn to pick out visiting fauna by sight, sound and suppertime feeding patterns. “Every once in a while, a seal will come through,” Laura Wiggins said. “Sometimes you're sitting here, and a bird will perch right there, like a great heron."

The couple bought the two-story floating home for $680,000 in February 2020 during their time abroad as Foreign Service officers. The home, which features a fireplace and comes with a kayak, currently lists for $1,050,000.

The pair moved to a cottage (on land) to make room for their middle child returning from college, and now hope to sell their floating oasis to a new full-time resident.

James Wiggins said the harbor’s ever-moving surroundings spur innovation. "What happens is, you have [Mount] Tam, the water, the city with its energy,” he said. “It creates a really creative space here where people can sort of let their minds go."

A blue houseboat named "BEACHCOMBER" with people walking on a dock, surrounded by other colorful floating homes.
Laura and James Wiggins leave their floating home at 46 South Forty Dock in Sausalito. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
View from a balcony with chairs, overlooking colorful floating houses and calm water, with mountains in the distance.
Floating homes line a dock, as seen from the living room of Laura and James Wiggins’ house at 46 South Forty Dock in Sausalito, listed for sale at $1,050,000. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

That spirit also extends to the younger generation: The Wiggins' daughter Beatrice, who attends Tamalpais High School, is growing native Olympia oysters to help filter the bay's waters as part of a science project, drawing on advice from a marine scientist neighbor.

A real estate agent told The Standard that the houseboat lifestyle—with its proximity to nature and bohemian vibe—is a major draw, along with the novelty of actually living on the water.

"Last weekend, we had 16 groups nonstop,” said the agent, Barbara Luhrs, who showed the Beachcomber listing. “We had a lot of neighbors coming to look and see.”

The process of purchasing the quirky properties involves specialized lenders and layers of documentation that scrutinize everything from the home's floating foundation to financial qualifications.

A modern bathroom with a skylight, glass shower, and teal walls.
Skylights provide plenty of natural light in the primary bathroom at 24 Gate 6 1/2 Rd. in Sausalito. The property is listed at $1,795,000. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
A bright, airy loft space with white walls, wooden floors, a high ceiling, a kitchen area, and a small dining table with chairs.
The 2 bedroom and 1.5 bath floating home at 46 South Forty Dock includes a spacious living room and modern kitchen on the top floor. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

"They have to be very careful with how they structure their associated risk," said Paul Bergeron, a real estate agent who ran an open house at Sea La Vie.

Bergeron, who has lived in a Sausalito houseboat since 1984, said he works regularly with one lender, Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union, and knows Bank of Marin as another local lender handling floating homes. “Both are very careful about what they do," he said.

Whereas the Wigginses are leaving the sea for more space, some buyers are "downsizing" from land-based homes to prioritize life on the water. Bergeron represented Sea La Vie’s sellers, Robb and Lisa Petty, after medical challenges led the couple to consider selling last year.

"A lot of those folks put their lives on hold to have families or relationships," Bergeron said. "Now they want to come and enjoy their remaining years, and this has been on their bucket list, so to speak."

A floating house with a pale blue exterior, framed by red lattice, sits on calm water under a clear sky.
The property at 24 Gate 6 1/2 Rd. is a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom floating home built on 24 foot by 63 foot barge. The home is listed at $1,795,000. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
A man stands in a modern living room with furniture and plants, looking out the window.
Realtor Paul Bergeron stands in the living room of a floating home at 24 Gate 6 1/2 Rd. in Sausalito. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

The community's diversity spans economic levels, from dilapidated barges to modern multimillion-dollar homes frequented by part-time owners. 

Davia Lehn, who has lived on a floating home since 1986, paid the Beachcomber a quick visit before running errands. She said one of her neighbors has a barge that is "kind of falling apart," while another owns "a two or three-million-dollar modern houseboat" that he occupies for just two months annually.

"There's all this artistic stuff going on in terms of how people decorate their boats and who they are,” Lehn said. “A lot of authors here, artists and regular business people."

While touring both houseboats, Crockett environmental consultant Joel Greger noticed the unique qualities of life on the water.

Aerial view of a colorful floating homes community with people kayaking on the water.
Paddleboarders pass floating homes in Waldo Point Harbor in Sausalito on April 21, in. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
A cozy, well-lit bedroom with a white bed, two nightstands with lamps, and decorative art.
According to the listing online, the 46 South Forty Dock floating home has a primary suite, pictured, another bedroom with new cork flooring, a newly added dock plus the owners have agreed to include a handmade wooden Kayak by Spaulding Boatworks.

| Source: Noah Berger for The Standard
A collection of uniquely painted mailboxes displayed on shelves, each featuring different designs, colors, and numbers.
The decorated mailboxes show the creative, community atmosphere at Waldo Point Harbor’s South Forty Dock in Sausalito. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

"People we see my age—I'm 71—I'm not seeing children or young families here," Greger said while stepping off the Beachcomber and climbing back toward South Forty Dock. "One thing I noticed was something unusual. Maybe it's just the don't-intrude-on-your-neighbor's-personal-space. ... Nobody's playing music. I haven't heard anything; it's like a church mouse in here."

The houseboat community clearly isn't for everyone. But for those thinking about an unconventional lifestyle directly on beautiful Richardson Bay, these floating homes provide a unique living experience steeped in nature and Bay Area lore.

Correction: This story was updated with the correct name of houseboat owner James Wiggins.

George Kelly can be reached at