Lots of things have changed in San Francisco, California over the years. The city has transformed from a Gold Rush town into a beacon of the Gilded Age, and finally into the tech and food mecca that it is today. Throughout that whole time, though, one building has remained a central part of the city: the Ferry Building.
The Ferry Building is located on the Embarcedero at the end of Market Street. You can still take ferries from the building, but it also now houses a world-class market and amazing restaurants.
As a Bay Area local, here’s my advice for visiting the Ferry Building in San Francisco, California.
Ferry Building Basics
The Ferry Building originally opened in 1898. At the time, there was no Bay Bridge or Golden Gate Bridge. Ferry boats were the main way that people reached San Francisco from Marin or Oakland.
Today, you can still take ferries from the Ferry Building. The boats pick up on docks behind the building itself. You can take a ferry to Sausalito, Oakland, Alameda, and more. It’s a great way to visit Muir Woods.
The Ferry Building is a classic civic building. It has a large internal space and a massive clock tower. The tower looks a lot like the central clock towers you find in Europe.
Inside the Ferry Building is the Ferry Building Marketplace. It’s a bustling and upscale marketplace featuring the best of San Francisco’s food and local crafts scene, with restaurants, shops, an excellent independent bookstore, and more.
The Ferry Building is open to visit every day. It opens early–generally around 7am–so you can stop by for breakfast at many of the stands.
- History: Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building was the primary gateway for commuters traveling by ferry from various parts of the Bay Area to San Francisco. Its iconic clock tower is reminiscent of the Giralda bell tower in Seville, Spain.
- Function: While it still serves as a ferry terminal, the building has evolved over the years, now housing a bustling marketplace, premium restaurants, and charming boutique stores.
- Location: Situated at the foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero, it offers stunning views of the bay, especially during sunrise and sunset. It’s also a fantastic spot to take a photo with the Bay Bridge in the background.
What to Do at the Ferry Building
The Ferry Building was originally primarily a transportation hub. People traveled through the building much as they might travel through SFO Airport.
Today, though, the Ferry Building’s main attraction is the Ferry Building Marketplace. The Ferry Building Marketplace is a collection of local food shops, sit-down restaurants, stores selling locally-made goods, and much more.
The Marketplace is absolutely worth visiting. As a local, I can tell you that this isn’t a tourist trap. The Marketplace features some of the best local food places and shops. It’s amazing to have them gathered together all in one place!
In addition to the permanent Marketplace inside the Ferry Building, you’ll also find a farmer’s market outside the building on Saturdays. While the Marketplace focuses mainly on delicacies and locally prepared food items, the farmer’s market features fresh produce from local farmers.
Here are some of the things you’ll find at the Ferry Building Marketplace:
- Local Food: The Marketplace is a “who’s who” of local artisan food producers. You’ll find amazing honey, charcuterie, bread, pastries, chocolate and more.
- Artisan Goods: From handmade soaps to local cheeses, the marketplace showcases numerous local vendors. There’s a whole store devoted to gardening items, as well as a great local book store (Book Passage).
- Events: The building frequently hosts events like cooking classes, tastings, and more. I recently went to an event celebrating the Ferry Building’s 125th anniversary where I got to sample fresh cacao beans and other specialties.
Best Stores and Restaurants at the Ferry Building
There are too many awesome foodie places at the Ferry Building for us to list them all. Fundamentally, the Ferry Building Marketplace gathers vendors from around the Bay Area.
Many Bay Area food icons have their main location somewhere else (the Mission District, Marin County, Carmel, etc.) but have a smaller store or stand at the Ferry Building Marketplace.
That allows visitors to take a trek through the Bay Area’s food scene all within a single building! As a local, I’ll tell you that these shops are the real deal. They really do reflect the kinds of artisan food places that Bay Area residents visit on a regular basis.
|Restaurant||Hog Island Oyster Co, Gott’s Roadside||Fresh oysters and seafood, with bayfront views. Their main local is in Marin, and both the main place and the Ferry Building location are great. Gott’s serves burgers and milkshakes.|
|Bakery||Acme Bread Company||Handcrafted breads made with organic ingredients. Not as iconic at Tartin in the Mission, but still a nice place to get sourdough.|
|Coffee||Blue Bottle Coffee||Renowned for its freshly roasted, high-quality beans. Bay Area residents really do flock to this store’s locations all over the region. I like the one in Palo Alto especially.|
|Specialty Store||The Fatted Calf||Premium charcuterie and meats. If you want to make an awesome charcuterie board, this is the place. They often offer samples, too.|
|Ice Cream||Humphry Slocombe||Unique and adventurous flavors. I’ve heard it described as a “hipster ice cream joint” and that’s about right.|
How to Get to the Ferry Building
There’s an obvious way to get to the Ferry Building that’s right there in the name! You can take a ferry from Oakland, Alameda, Sausalito, Larkspur or several other cities and arrive right at the Ferry Building.
Most people likely arrive through other ways, though. You can walk down the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to reach the Ferry Building.
You can also take BART to the Embarcadero station, which is about 2 blocks away. Biking is a great option, too!
The MUNI F train stops right in front of the Ferry Building. You can also take several bus lines from around the city.
You can even take a cable car on the California Street line and end in front of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, which is about 3 blocks from the Ferry Building.
Technically you can drive to the Ferry Building, but I wouldn’t recommend driving. The Ferry Building does not have its own parking. If you drive, you’ll need to park at one of the surface lots near the Embarcadero. These are expensive and fill up fast.
Taking public transit is the best way to get to the Ferry Building. It’s one of the most transit-accessible places in San Francisco.
- By Ferry: True to its name, you can arrive at the Ferry Building via ferry from locations like Sausalito, Oakland, and Alameda.
- Public Transport: The Embarcadero BART and MUNI stations are a short walk away. Several bus lines also serve the area.
- Driving: Parking can be a challenge. Consider using nearby parking garages or opt for public transport.
Best Times to Visit the Ferry Building
The Ferry Building is open all year round. It’s also open both on the weekends and on weekdays.
Weekends have a unique energy at the Ferry Building. The market is bustling, there are fewer commuters passing through, and the Saturday farmers market brings in a whole different crowd.
On the other hand, weekdays are quieter and more subdued, and you’ll be able to stroll around the Ferry Building without jostling through the crowds.
If you want the most relaxed shopping experience, go to the Ferry Building early in the morning. I recently visited at 8am and it was a great experience. Keep in mind, though, that some vendors won’t open until lunchtime.
Evenings are also a great time to visit the Ferry Building. You can see boats on the bay, and the bridge and the building itself are all lit up. It’s a great time for a date night!
During the rainy season (November to June) the Ferry Building makes a great indoor activity for rainy days.
- Weekdays: Less crowded, ideal for a leisurely stroll. Arrive early for the least crowds.
- Saturday: Features a popular farmer’s market, but expect crowds.
- Evenings: Experience the building illuminated against the backdrop of the bay. It’s a great time to bring a date!
What is Nearby
The Ferry Building offers plenty of options for things to do, and to eat! But if you’re looking to extend your day, there are tons of things you can do nearby.
The Ferry Building is located right on the Embarcadero along the waterfront. It’s a great place to take a walk and check out the piers.
Pier 14 has amazing views of the city, and Pier 39 has San Francisco’s iconic sea lions.
You can also take a ferry from the FB to Oakland and check out the Oakland Museum of California, or head north to Sausalito for a day trip.
Many tours, including tours of Muir Woods and Napa Valley tours, pick up nearby.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out the Hyatt Regency San Francisco, which is right across the street at the Embarcadero. It’s also a great place to safely catch a cab at night if you’re leaving the Ferry Building late.
If you’re visiting with kids, the Exploratorium is an amazing kids’ museum right on the Embarcadero.
- Embarcadero: A scenic promenade perfect for walks or bike rides.
- Pier 14: Offers panoramic views of the Bay Bridge and the city skyline.
- Exploratorium: An interactive science museum located at Pier 15.
San Francisco does an amazing job of blending history with innovation. Take a look at our cable cars, which are 125 years old, but allow you to ride with the swipe of a phone!
Similarly, the Ferry Building is a historical structure with a lasting presence here in San Francisco.
Yet at the same time, its innovative food and dining options and modern ferries have successfully turned this century-old landmark into a hip and enjoyable place to visit today.
Many other cities would turn such a lovely place into a tourist trap. Not SF. The Ferry Building is a place that tourists come to, but that locals visit or use for commuting every day.
If you’re visiting San Francisco, you should absolutely stop by the Ferry Building, grab a bite to eat, and maybe catch a boat to an exciting day trip destination in the Bay Area.