From houseboats to multimillion-dollar homes, hills to waterfront, national parks to downtown, Sausalito has a rare mix of culture and physicality that makes it one of the unique spots in the Bay Area.

Just a short ride from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge or across the water by ferry, sunny Sausalito is a favorite tourist destination full of great restaurants such as Poggio, Scoma’s, Sushi Ran and the Spinnaker as well as charming shops and gathering spots like Bacchus & Venus, Green Apples, No Name Bar and Smitty’s. They’re all located primarily on two streets forming the heart of the shopping district: Bridgeway Boulevard, which borders the water and is a tourist mecca, and Caledonia Street, which runs parallel tucked into town and is a locals’ favorite.

But the city that inspired Otis Redding to write “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” is also a great place to live, and more than 7,300 people call the 2.2-square-mile city home. Except for the houseboat communities, residents live on the 1.9 square miles of land that is above water, as more than 15 percent of the city has been underwater since 1868.

Current vice mayor and three-time mayor Paul Albritton fell in love with the area in his youth when he visited to ride bikes, take photos and ride the ferry to San Francisco. “The great thing about Sausalito is the variety, diversity and intensity of the residents and the community,” he says. An attorney, he works in San Francisco and rides his bike across the bridge at least three times a week. “Biking to work is the best part of my day.”

Coming home to Sausalito and his family is another best thing. He moved here in 1985 to escape S.F. crowds: “We can walk to restaurants, the grocery store, the waterfront or the beach. I can grab my son and walk right down the steps to Swede’s Beach.”

Albritton started a family in the town he loves after “my wife came to stay (from New Mexico) for the summer of 1989 and never left.” They now have two children in their hilltop home with Angel Island views.

Peg Copple, who owns her own real estate company and has lived in Sausalito 22 years, isn’t at all surprised somebody would choose to start a family here. “I see lots of children and babies now,” she says, adding that it wasn’t always that way. “A lot of young families are moving here, people in their 30s and 40s. We are so close to the city and buses and ferries and you get to live in this golden peaceful community.”

Copple started her business 12 years ago with a strategic choice. “Marin County is too big; I decided to become an expert in Sausalito.” And she has, rattling off all kinds of information about local views, microclimates and fog patterns.

“No two houses in Sausalito are similar,” says the agent, who sells about 100 houses in a good year from a stock of more than 4,000. “So I analyze the properties to find the correct price for the seller and buyer.”

She says there isn’t always a lot of choice. People just don’t move from Sausalito, and those who do seem to eventually move back. Even the famous houseboat communities, of which there are seven depending on how you count, are hard to get into.

In terms of price, one of the city’s 400 houseboats will run you an average of $600,000 plus dock fees, while a single-family home is hard to find for less than a million dollars. From there all kinds of ranges are possible, with a few options exceeding $4 million. The most expensive house sold in the city of Sausalito went for $8.5 million last year and is on a one-acre lot with panoramic Bay Area views. If you have the cash, Copple knows of a castle-like house-on-a-hill listed for $25 million.

As for the future of a town so distinctive Pepperidge Farms named a line of cookies after it, Albritton says the citizens will have the loudest voice.

“We want to think about it and talk about it,” he says, referring to the Imagine Sausalito project, which polls residents about their vision for the future and breaks them into action groups to study ideas. “We don’t want to just allow it to happen; we want to think about where we want to go.”

The group opens dialogues to discuss the sometimes competing interests of Sausalitans in a town dependent on tourism but protective of its borders at the same time. Imagine Sausalito has already raised more than $1 million in grants to study plans for a waterfront path, downtown harbor and local transportation and had success bringing free wireless access to downtown.

No matter what happens, you can expect Sausalitans to be passionate in their discussions as they try to make their beautiful city by the bay just a little bit more special than it is already is.