05/15/2014 01:58 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2014

Spring Weekend in Sausalito

Business took me to San Francisco...but the pursuit of pleasure lured me across the bay to Sausalito.

The town of 7000 has changed little since I first visited it decades ago when I was a graduate student at Stanford. Its little cottages still tumble down the steep hillside to the waterfront, which embraces a marina filled with boats. Sausalito was a favorite excursion to enjoy with friends; we would take the ferry from San Francisco, gliding across the bay past Alcatraz and within sight of the umber arches of the fabled Golden Gate Bridge. After disembarking in the center of Sausalito, we would walk up and down the one main street in town, Bridgeway, lined with idiosyncratic boutiques selling beaded jewelry, scented candles, oil paintings of the local scenery or clothing of the gauzy one-size-fits-all variety. These days those shops still exist, and so too do more upscale options such as Studio 333, which features all manner of well-curated product, from hand-knit sweaters to hand-crafted soaps, all made by local craftspeople.

Back when I was a student, if you went to Sausalito in the evening, on a date, you'd go to The Trident for dinner and the No Name Bar for drinks and live music before or after. Both institutions still exist, little changed, The Trident with its gorgeous view of the city of San Francisco lit up at night across the bay, with the best view from the table where Janis Joplin ruled; the No Name still dark and cramped with barely any room for the featured musician to perform.

These days the dining scene offers some sophisticated and varied fare. One night we ate very well at Poggio on wood-fired pizzas, house-made burrata, roasted fish and vegetables grown in their own garden. Another night we tried Copita Tequileria with its tangy margaritas and sea bass tacos and home-made tortillas.The perfect dessert awaited just down the Bridgeway: Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramel ice cream at Lappert's.

I stayed at a place I never would have had reason nor the pocketbook to patronize during student days: the Casa Madrona hotel. Composed of a series of cottages climbing from main street up the hillside, I stayed in a lovely room in their newly opened Mansion House. The house had been a private residence back in the 1880s; now it offers 11 lovely guest rooms. Some have access to the front porches with their sweeping views over the marina to the hills of Tiburon beyond. Mine, in the back, had a view of the water through a tiny window in an alcove outfitted with a desk; but no matter, the room was spacious and soothing, with high ceilings and what must surely be the plumpest, puffiest, coziest king-size bed anywhere. Which I definitely needed after the climb to get to my room: 70+ steps up the hillside after exiting the elevator from the lobby at level 4.

The Casa Madrona had just completed what it promises is the most luxurious suite in Sausalito. The stunning Alexandrite Suite spans 5000 square feet with 2 bedrooms, an office, a gym, and a huge living room with kitchen opening up to an expansive terrace overlooking the marina (the hotel boasts service so over-the-top they will deliver bottles of Champagne to the terrace via aerial drone.)

To showcase the new suite the hotel offered a watercolor class on its terrace on my last morning so I happily signed up. A local artist, Susan Sternau, outfitted each of us students with a palate of paints, as cheerful as jelly beans, and showed us how to water down and combine colors to get just the shade we wanted. She had taught Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, with I hope better results than I could muster. I chose to depict the iconic scene of boats, bay and hills beyond, and prayed that I might capture Sausalito and its mix of charms, both man-made and natural, better in words that I could on the canvas.