An example of “touristy done right,” the San Francisco Ferry Building and Marketplace connects visitors to local businesses.
There are lots of things I like about the USA, but seeing the same chain restaurants, coffee roasters, and retailers occupy main pedestrian streets coast to coast is not necessarily one of them.
When I travel hundreds of miles to another city, I am interested in exploring what is unique about it. I might go boutique shopping, find a local bar or coffee shop, or look for other activities that bring me closer to the destination. Often times, this requires going beyond downtown.
The San Francisco Ferry Building proves that a fulfilling local experience can be within easy reach.
FERRIES & FOOD
Located on the waterfront in the city center, the landmark ferry terminal is a guidebook staple due to its historic and architectural significance. It opened in 1898 as San Francisco’s main transportation center (before the bridges were built, it was the only way to reach the city from the water).
The Beaux Arts design features the Nave, a 660-foot-long indoor main street covered with a steel/glass ceiling, and a 245-foot-tall clock tower modeled after the Giralda bell tower in Seville.
Today ferries still carry passengers across the San Francisco Bay, but since a 2003 renovation, the building has also become a destination for local gourmet food. The 65,000-square-foot marketplace features boutique food vendors and restaurants showcasing the diversity of San Francisco’s cuisine. There is also a bi-weekly farmers market.
ALL ARE WELCOME
I was hesitant to go inside the building on my first San Francisco trip, assuming that I would find fast food joints and standard souvenir shops. I was quickly proven wrong.
Unlike some of its counterparts in other cities, the marketplace does not miss the opportunity to provide a quality, destination-driven experience. Chain businesses are few and far between. Instead, the focus is on vendors and products from Northern California. Wines, breads, cheeses, olive oils, chocolates, mushrooms and seafood all can be found in the market, along with locally-owned delis, restaurants, wine bars, and coffee shops. The place caters to both travelers and locals.
If you go in the afternoon, you may dine alongside lunch crowds from the nearby Financial District.
- I suggest visiting the building for breakfast or lunch, then taking a ferry to the town of Sausalito across the bay.
- Restaurants may be crowded, but if you have to wait, check out the waterfront patio in the back with views of the Bay Bridge.
- San Francisco City Guides offers free walking tours by trained volunteers. Tours are at Noon on Tuesdays and Saturdays (farmers market days).
- Jetting Around’s merchant picks: Cowgirl Sidekick (cheese and dairy bar), Slanted Door (Vietnamese restaurant), Pepples Donuts
Getting There and Links
Public transportation: Accessible by BART, many MUNI lines, the F Market Streetcar, the California Street Cable Car, and select ferry lines. More information at Transit.511.org.
Have you been to the San Francisco Ferry Building? What was your experience like?