Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »

Sausalito, California

The Bay Model

A working model of the entire San Francisco Bay and much of the Sacramento River Delta, complete with regular tides that change every 14 minutes. 

Housed in an unassuming low-slung building on Sausalito’s waterfront, the Bay Model was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1956-57 to demonstrate what would happen if the South Bay were dammed and infilled (as had been proposed). 

Using simulated tidal action the Corps were able to prove that the results would be disastrous for the bay environment, and the plan was shelved. The model is still owned and maintained by the Corps inside the Bay Model Visitor Center and is still in good shape. Water flows through the delta, into the bay, and out through the miniature Golden Gate. At over 1.5 acres, it’s an enormous contraption, and you can wander around the whole thing (though no swimming is permitted!). 

In addition to the model, there are exhibits on the history of Bay Area watercraft, the Marin Shipyard, World War II generally, and the modern working life of the bay.  

Know Before You Go

Coming South on Highway 101 take the Sausalito-Marin City exit and take a left at the stop light. Continue under the freeway overpass and turn right at the following stop light on Bridgeway. There will be small brown and white Bay Model direction signs along the way. Turn left on Harbor, then almost immediately turn right on Marinship Way and follow the signs to the Bay Model.Coming North on Highway 101 take the Sausalito-Marin City exit and continue straight at the stop light; you are on Bridgeway. There will be small brown and white Bay Model direction signs along the way. Turn right on Harbor, then almost immediately turn right on Marinship Way and follow the signs to the Bay Model.By far the best way to see the model, if staying in San Francisco, is to rent a bike and cycle to it over the Golden Gate Bridge.