The San Francisco Ferry Building is a rare breed of unicorn landmark.
First built in 1896 as the city's transportation hub, this graceful edifice with its iconic clock tower was once the first impression for anyone arriving in SF (at the time, the city was only accessible by ferry and train). Today, it still makes quite the impression as one SF's most visited tourist attractions.
But unlike tourist traps such as Fisherman's Wharf, the Ferry Building is as much a regular destination for locals, who actually commute via the ferries that come and go from its docks. And of course, the spot has also become synonymous with food, famed for its farmers markets, popular restaurants, and the only-in-SF artisanal food stalls that fill its old halls. On any given day, we come here to grab lunch, catch a cooking demo, join in on tasting events, and to buy ingredients for the evening's dinner.
July 13, 2023 marks the Ferry Building's 125th birthday and, to celebrate, the day is officially being dubbed Ferry Building Day in SF. Also, the old girl is getting a glow-up. Look out for enhancements such as expanded seating on the sunny plaza out back as well as expanded outdoor dining along the Embarcadero, a fresh coat of paint, and a tune up to the clock and chimes.
Whether you're from out of town or a local in need of a refresh, take our guide to almost everything the Ferry Building has to offer.
Where to Eat at San Francisco's Ferry Building
The answer to that age-old question of where to eat seafood on the San Francisco waterfront: Hog Island Oyster Co.
(Paul Dyer, via casscaldersmith.com)
Many of the Ferry Building's full-service restaurants have been here since the early days—you know, back when you could leisurely wander through the halls without having to shove your way past the crowd. Chef Amaryll Schwertner's Boulette's Larder first opened here as a magical little specialty shop that also served a small menu of breakfast and lunch items. Today it has been reimagined and expanded into a fanciful spot for sophisticated daytime meals. For a proper dinner, head to elegant sister restaurant Bouli Bar. // It couldn't be a waterfront culinary go-to without a legitimate seafood spot: Hog Island Oyster Co. keeps reeling us back in with their "Bay to bar" seasonal menu of fruits de mer and cocktails. Slurp a few back on the patio. // Napa Valley transplant Gott's Roadside is your go-to for all-American burgers, fries, and milkshakes made with real Californian ingredients. Or, skip the line inside and hit the soft-serve window instead. // When it comes to destination dining, chef Charles Phan's Slanted Door is the Ferry Building's OG (and is still a gold-standard for inventive fine dining in SF). The restaurant remains closed for renovations with a reopening date TBA. We are waiting impatiently to revisit those signature Vietnamese dishes including daikon rice cakes, cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab, and shaking beef.
Covid brought the quite the shake-up to the hallowed halls of the Ferry Building, but that means there are several fresh spots cooking up quick, delicious eats. Beloved Italian restaurant A16's Ferry Buidling "paninoteca" is ideal for speeding through when you need a quick lunchtime sandwich or salad—or a pizza or pasta kit for dinner. While you're here, pick up accompaniments such as olive oils and condiments. // Don't be a jerk, mon, or you'll miss out on the savory stuffed Jamaican pastries (plus jerk chicken and "rasta stew") at Peaches Patties. // Reem's Arab street food has found a cozy home here, too. Make a lunch of flatbreads and shareables like the chef's famous baba ghanouj. // When it's Mexican on our minds, vamos a Cholita Linda for tacos and agua frescas. // Nobody does burritos like Señor Sisig, the popular food truck gone brick-and-mortar peddling heart-stopping Korean drinking food. // From the Le Marais Bakery team comes Grande Creperie, which is as it sounds: a sweet taste of Paris. // Dogpatch creamery Daily Driver scoops out hand-churned butter, fresh organic cream cheese, and the wood-fired bagels. // Stock up on organic all-natural beef, heirloom pasture-raised chicken, and more from Golden Gate Meat Company to take home, or pick up a pulled pork sandwich from their hot deli. // Been dreaming of a vacay to Buenos Aires? Sink your teeth into the empanadas at El Porteño, where the pockets of flaky goodness are stuffed with everything from carne to camarones. Vegetarians will find plenty of delightful options here as well. // Japanese delicatessen Delica is the answer to the lunchtime doldrums with healthy but out-of-the-ordinary options such as bento boxes and salmon spring rolls.
Specialty Food Stores
The Ferry Building literally runneth over with artisanal sweets and treats. Humphry Slocombescoops chef-made flavors for grown-ass people—think Fireball whiskey with red hots, brown butter and jam, and the signature Secret Breakfast. // Meanwhile, the vegan donuts at Donut Farm will blow your mind. // Gone GF? Grab your gluten-free almond biscotti and the like at Mariposa Baking Company. // Craving cheesecake? Get a mini one made from at family-owned Cheesequakes. // Never say no to Yes Pudding. // Chocolate lovers regularly die and go to heaven, aka Recchiuti Confections, where gorgeous little bon bons come in such flavors as lemon verbena, spring jasmine tea, tarragon grapefruit, and sesame nougat. If that's not your brand of divinity, pick up a classic, single-origin chocolate bars wrapped in shiny gold foil at Dandelion Chocolate. // Miette Patisserie is sweet in every way; the pastel-hued shop is home to some of SF's best French macarons. // Bring home some sticky goodness straight from the hive, as well as honey-based bath and body products, fromCarmel Honey.
Specialty culinary boutiques about here, too. Locals know to get their charcuterie on—plus sustainably raised meats and poultry—at Fatted Calf. // Shop small-batch, eco-certified caviar at Tsar Nicoulai. // Bread heads must hit up Acme Bread Company, whose founder, Steve Sullivan, started his baking career at Chez Panisse. // Find award-winning olive oils in assorted flavors at Stonehouse California Olive Oil. // Mushroom lovers and curious types can't help but be tempted by Far West Fungi, where there are piles of all kinds of shrooms ready for the taking.
The gourmet market Epicurean Trader hawks small-batch, artisanal goodies from farmstead cheeses and charcuterie to oils, vinegars, and specialized pantry items. They also operate an espresso bar and offer a cafe menu laden with sandwiches and salads. // At Village Market, you'll find general store staples such as dry and pantry items; craft beer; snacks; and bottled water.
Coffee, Tea, Beer + Wine at the Ferry Building
(Courtesy of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant)
Coffee + Tea
Well before Blue Bottle became an international third wave coffee empire, the Oakland-based roastery was clogging up the halls of the Ferry Building, where devotees were happy to wait in line at Blue Bottle's second SF location. Grab a pour-over on foggy Saturday mornings before wandering around the farmers market outside. // If the line at Blue Bottle is overwhelming, you're in luck: Red Bay Coffee is just steps away. Signature drinks at the self-identified fourth wave coffee shop include charcoal vanilla and candied yam lattes, and a line of ready-to-drink black coffee spritzers. // For a civilized cup of tea, Imperial Tea Court is a must. The tranquil, Asian-inflected space is a calming departure from the hustle and bustle of the building, and the tea service is absolutely impeccable. If you find yourself lost in the wide selection of green teas, oolongs, and pu-erhs, don't be afraid to ask for help; you're in the hands of experts.
Wine + Beer
Whether you just need to grab a bottle for a hostess gift or have the time to stop for a swirl and sip, the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchantis a friendly spot to talk vino with those who know. Shop a well curated selection, including some organic and biodynamic options, and even join their wine club.// Fort Point Beer Company satisfies our yearnings for cold beers by the water. Based in the Presidio, the local brewery offers its craft brews here both to take home (fill up your 64-ounce growler!) or to enjoy in its Ferry Building beer garden. Peckish? Pair your Villager IPA with locally sourced hot dogs and pretzels.
Shops in the Ferry Building
(Courtesy of @heathceramics)
Ferry Rides, the Farmers Market + More at SF Ferry Building
(Courtesy of Foodwise)
The Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market is hands down the city's best spot to load up on California's bounty—and when the weather is nice, there's no better way to while away a Saturday (8am to 2pm) than by shopping for picnic supplies here to then eat along the waterfront. This is also the spot to watch out for pop-ups with cult followings—many an SF restaurant got its start here. And don't forget to pick up a chicken at Roli Roti. The market is run by the nonprofit Foodwise, which also hosts regular events in the Ferry Building (and beyond) including cooking demonstrations, classes, cocktail events, and panel discussions. Downtown types can also swing by the market to grab a quick lunch bite or dinner ingredients on Tuesdays and Thursdays (10am to 2pm).
Of course, the Ferry Building isn't all about food, drink, and shopping. It is called the Ferry Building, after all. From here, you can take the ferry to three locations in Marin: Larkspur, Sausalito, Tiburon and Angel Island, but the boats can be little tricky to navigate for newbies. Seek help at Bay Crossings, an indoor kiosk where you can get ferry schedules, a clipper card, and even little SF souvenirs. // If you really must take a Big Bus Tour of San Francisco, there's a kiosk for that here, too.