With its clock tower overlooking the bay, the Ferry Building is one of San Francisco's most iconic gathering spots. (Photo by Clyde Valdez)

A Complete(ish) Guide to San Francisco's Ferry Building

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The San Francisco Ferry Building was erected in 1896 for the obvious task of acting as the city's transportation hub: At the time, the city was only accessible by ferry and train, and this graceful building was the first impression for anyone arriving in SF.

These days, though, the Ferry Building is almost synonymous with food: Famed for its farmers markets that celebrate the most glorious fruits (and vegetables) of California's farms, as well as for the many iconic restaurants and specialty food shops that fill its old halls, it's almost possible to forget that you can actually get on the ferry here.


And unlike Fisherman's Wharf, the Ferry Building is as much a must-see-sight for tourists as it is a regular destination for locals who come to grab lunch, see cooking demos with celeb chefs, join large-scale tasting events, and buy herbs for their evening's dinner.

So whether you're from out of town or a local in need of a refresh, take our guide to almost everything (read: the very best) the Ferry Building has to offer.

PS: Look out for a fresh coat of paint and renovation over the next couple years.

Where to Eat at San Francisco's Ferry Building

Eat your way through the Ferry Building, but save room for ice cream at Humphry Slocombe. (Photo by Ridwan Meah)

Sit-Down Restaurants

When it comes to destination dining, chef Charles Phan's Slanted Door is the Ferry Building's OG (and still a gold-standard for inventive fine dining in SF). Signature Vietnamese dishes including the daikon rice cakes, cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab, and shaking beef just never get old. // Come to think of it, most 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 culinary shop that also served a small menu of breakfast and lunch items at cafe tables outside. Today it has been reimagined and expanded into a fanciful spot for sophisticated daytime meals like soft egg scrambles, chilled seafood salad, and olive oil flatbreads. For a proper dinner, head to newer sister restaurant Bouli Bar for sleek modern design. // Traci Des Jardins also has a footprint here with her Mexican eatery, Mijita. Long communal tables are ideal for grabbing tacos and margs with friends; on foggy days, warm up with a steamy bowl of albondigas. // 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, and don't miss the rustic seafood stew with grilled levain. // Napa Valley transplant Gott's Roadside is your go-to for all-American burgers, fries, and milkshakes made with real Californian ingredients. Just want a yummy soft-serve? Skip the line inside and hit the soft-serve window across from Out the Door.


Grab-and-Go Meals

The best thing since The Slanted Door is Out the Door, the fancy restaurant's adjacent quick-serve counter slanging the best pork buns and papaya salads around. Beware the lunch rush. // But the biggest news to hit the Ferry Building of late was the 2019 opening of chef's Tanya Holland's Brown Sugar Kitchen, where fried chicken and waffles, catfish po-boys, and flaky biscuits await to blow your keto diet. // Speaking of keto, 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—think Brentwood corn with onions and basil; and Swiss chard with gruyere and toasted pine nuts. // Tomato soup and melty grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato jam feel appropriate in SF pretty much year-round. Sate your soul at Cowgirl Creamery's Sidekick Cafe & Milk Bar, where you can also try a San Francisco Egg Cream (made with organic milk and Recchiuti Chocolate) and pick up a wheel of Mt.Tam or Red Hawk from the cheese shop to take home. // Japanese delicatessen Delica is the answer to lunchtime doldrums with healthy but out-of-the-ordinary options such as bento boxes, salmon spring rolls, and Kobe-style croquettes. // Pull up a barstool for a bowl of seafood gumbo or a soft-shell crab po-boy during lunch service at the all-sustainable seafood San Francisco Fish Company, then grab a local king salmon to prep for dinner at home. // Urban Remedy is your go-to for juices, smoothies, and salads on the go.


Specialty Food Stores

The caviar of the Ferry Building's culinary offering can be found its specialty boutiques: These hallowed halls literally runneth over with artisanal sweets and treats. At Humphry Slocombe, order up flavors that were once considered wild but are now local staples—think Elvis the Fat Years and Secret Breakfast. // If you're a bread lover and you still eat gluten, you must hit up Acme Bread Company, whose founder, Steve Sullivan, started his baking career at Chez Panisse. // You'll find the famous "tacro"—that's a taco-meets-a-croissant, hello—nowhere else but Vive La Tarte. Don't forget to snap your #breakfastgoals for Instagram. // 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 made-from-scratch one to eat right now at local and family-owned Cheesequakes. // Chocolate lovers will die and go to heaven at Recchiuti Confections, where the gorgeous little bon bons come in such flavors as Lemon Verbena, Spring Jasmine Tea, Tarragon Grapefruit, and Sesame Nougat. // Prefer a classic chocolate bar wrapped in shiny gold foil? Dandelion Chocolate is a place where dreams come true. // Miette Patisserie is sweet in every way; the pastel-hued shop is home to some of SF's best French macarons. // Get your fill of dried fruits and jams at Frog Hollow Farm. // Pair your dried fruits with California almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and more at G.L. Alfieri. // Know what else pairs well with cheese and nuts? Honey. And olive oil. And you'll find all that in the Ferry Building, too. Honey Beekind's little kiosk stocks the sweet stuff (as well as beeswax candles and sundries). Find award-winning olive oils in assorted flavors at Stonehouse California Olive Oil and McEvoy Ranch. // Mushroom lovers and curious types can't help but be tempted by Far West Fungi, where there are piles of all kinds of mushrooms ready for the taking. // San Franciscans are well familiar with La Cocina, the local nonprofit that supports low-income culinary entrepreneurs by providing the resources they need to launch their small businesses. La Cocina's Ferry Building kiosk showcases some success stories, selling packaged goods from incubated brands that are living the dream—think Kika's Treats, Clairesquares, Don Bugito, and more.


Groceries

Farm Fresh To You is a gourmet market bursting with fresh, organic produce—the store is owned by the Barsotti familyo of the Capay Valley's Barsotti farm. You'll also find healthy and locally made artisanal goods, as well as some readymade meals to go. // 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

Locals still line up for Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Building. (Photo by Lexie Barnhorn)

Coffee

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 you're in a hurry, Peet's Coffee and Tea may be chain, but there's no shame in its game.


Tea

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

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 Merchant is 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.


Beer

The arrival of Fort Point Beer Company has satisfied all 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

Find hand-thrown pottery, tabletop, and cookware in a rainbow of hues at Heath Ceramics. (Photo by Jessica Ruscello)

Heath Ceramics needs no introduction for collectors of handmade earthenware and constant entertainers. The Ferry Building outpost of the Sausalito-based manufacturer of clay tabletop and cookware is well stocked with plates, bowls, giftable trinkets, and even throw pillows and candles, all in a rainbow of classic and modern Heath hues. // The Gardener is a delight for those who relish shopping stuff stores; this one is focused on, you guessed it, gardening—with a selection of gorgeous tools, pots, succulents, and such—but also stocks beautifully photographed cookbooks, lustrous wood cutting boards, pottery, baskets, and farmers market totes. // Glassybaby has quite the following for its hand-blown glass candleholders that come in every color of the rainbow. // Need a new blender for making frozen margs or a cookie sheet for your next foray into vegan sweets? Sur La Table has you covered. // Benedetta is your go-to for organic, farm-fresh skin-care products and aromatherapy. // Stop by Book Passage to pick up the latest New York Times bestseller; they also host regular readings with authors.

Ferry Rides, the Farmers Market + More at SF Ferry Building

Live music at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. (Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi)

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 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 their start here. And don't forget to pick up a chicken at Roli Roti. The market is run by the nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, better known as CUESA, 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.

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, and Tiburon, 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.

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