"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" got its start on a houseboat docked in Sausalito, Marin County, on the San Francisco Bay. After the Monterey Pop Festival, Redding remained in California and spent more than a month playing shows in San Francisco, including a concert at the Fillmore West. When he got tired of the road and tired of hotels, he and his band rented the houseboat.
There is some disagreement over which small harbor Redding's boat was docked in. One account places Redding's sanctuary just behind the Marin County heliport; another says he was docked at the Issaquah Dock in the Waldo Point Harbor. The uncertainty has not stopped one local tour company from including a stop at the "actual dock" at which Redding wrote the song and showing visitors the "actual desk" he used while writing it.
Otis Redding was not the only artist to find inspiration in Sausalito's houseboat community. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was a resident; so was Shel Silverstein, the children's author and writer of Johnny Cash's hit "A Boy Named Sue." Comedian Robin Williams also owned a houseboat in Sausalito, as did novelists Isabel Allende and Amy Tan.
But even though we can point to the specific setting of the song, it really draws much of its power from the fact that it taps such a familiar feeling: the experience of sitting by an ocean, river, or lake, and losing yourself in the movement of the water. In this sense, the song's setting is universal – it is what each listener makes it out to be.