The San Francisco Ferry Building was erected in 1896 to act 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.
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)
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. // 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 instead. // 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). Although the restaurant is temporarily closed for renovations, it will return in fall 2022 with signature Vietnamese dishes including the daikon rice cakes, cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab, and shaking beef.
Dogpatch cremery Daily Driver—the first creamery in San Francisco—peddles hand-churned butter, fresh organic cream cheese, and the wood-fired bagels to spread them on from their Ferry Building shop. // 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. // Japanese delicatessen Delica is the answer to the lunchtime doldrums with healthy but out-of-the-ordinary options such as bento boxes, salmon spring rolls, and Kobe-style croquettes. // 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, now including actual small-batch, eco-certified caviar from Tsar Nicoulai. // 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, you must hit up Acme Bread Company, whose founder, Steve Sullivan, started his baking career at Chez Panisse. // 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 Chocolateis 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. // 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 mushrooms ready for the taking. // Bring home some sticky goodness straight from the hive, as well as honey-based bath and body products, from Carmel Honey.
The gourmet market Epicurean Trader hawks small-batch, artisinal 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
Locals still line up for Blue Bottle Coffee in the Ferry Building. (Photo by Lexie Barnhorn)
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.
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
Find hand-thrown pottery, tabletop, and cookware in a rainbow of hues at Heath Ceramics. (Photo by Jessica Ruscello)
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 Foodwise (formerly 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, 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.