Though the Marketplace, as we know it today, opened for business in March 2003, the Ferry Building itself has a long history in San Francisco. Originally opened in 1898, the building once operated as the transportation hub for the city. But when the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge were constructed to allow car traffic into the city, commuting by ferry declined and the building became obsolete. For years the Ferry Building was used as office space—which most San Franciscans can agree was a dramatic underutilization of such an iconic space.
The inside of the Building has since been extensively renovated, with the focal point being the stunning indoor walking street known as “The Nave.” Day-trippers, tourists, and commuters arrive daily by ferry via popular ports like Sausalito and Alameda, making this local landmark a transportation hub once again.
The main attraction today is the Ferry Building Marketplace, which features restaurants and merchants selling locally sourced foods, beverages, and crafts. The experience is carefully curated, offering something for everyone—that is, as long as you have an appetite.
“Starting in 2003 we purposely went after a variety of merchants and food artisans who would provide a full market experience—a butcher, a baker, fishmonger, produce vendor and a cheesemaker,” says Jane Connors, general manager of the Ferry Building Marketplace. “We want to maintain a resourceful and abundant marketplace, so that someone can come here and shop for ingredients seven days a week.”
This food haven isn’t your average shopping mall. The Marketplace is a unique group of artisan and independent food and drink producers, driven by a mission of sustainability, diversity, and community. The building’s management works hard to support their vendors and cultivate that sense of community,
“Our office is here, we shop here, we are here every day, meeting with merchants, helping promote their business and supporting them with things like repairs or redesigns at their shops,” says Connors. “We suggest in our leases that in the spirit of sustainability, merchants try and source from each other and the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.” And that they do. Case in point: San Francisco Cheesecake Co. sources select ingredients from fellow vendor Far West Fungi, and ice cream shop Humphry Slocombe makes a popular flavor using Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee.
In addition to the everyday shops and kiosks, the Ferry Building boasts one of the country’s best farmers markets each Saturday and Sunday. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is well-known for its high-quality farm products and fresh prepared foods. If you’re lucky, you might even catch famous San Francisco chefs stocking up at the market over the weekend.
More San Francisco Favorites
Each year, 8 million visitors make their way through the Ferry Building, with Saturdays seeing a peak of 25,000 shoppers, according to Connors. Whether you’re visiting the Marketplace for the first time or are a daily patron, there’s always something new and unique to discover at this San Francisco landmark. Check out just a few of the marketplace’s adored merchants:
When You’re Hangry
El Porteño Empanadas
Inspired by his Argentine grandmother’s recipe, chef and owner Joseph Ahearne doles out buttery, flaky empanadas from this Marketplace kiosk. Meat and artisan cheeses are heavily featured as empanada fillings, though vegetarians and seafood lovers won’t be disappointed. A favorite is The Carne, featuring organic dry-aged grass fed beef from Prather Ranch, another Ferry Building merchant.
Hog Island Oyster Company
A shellfish lover’s paradise, this oyster bar and full-service restaurant offers an array of fresh oysters and clams harvested from its Tomales Bay farm. Following their “Bay to Bar” philosophy, Hog Island takes great care to maintain sustainable aquaculture techniques and adheres to strict safety and quality standards. Their Bay view isn’t bad, either. Expect a wait, but it’ll be worth it.
A Bay Area classic, Gott’s serves up American favorites like juicy cheeseburgers, beer-battered onion rings, and hand-spun milkshakes. For the California palate, they also offer ahi poke tacos and a well-loved ahi burger. Their focus on locally sourced ingredients extends to their beverage menu, which emphasizes Napa Valley wines and SF-brewed Anchor Steam beers.
When It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere
Fort Point Beer Company
The Ferry Building Marketplace is the first and only retail location for this American-style craft brewery, based in San Francisco’s historic Presidio. Just four beers make up the brewery’s core offering: a kolsch, wheat beer, red ale, and an IPA. The rest of their brews are seasonals, one-offs, and small-batch collaborations. Visitors can enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden or fill a 64-ounce growler to take home.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
This massive wine library is not just a place to shop, but also to taste and learn about wine. Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant carries imported labels, as well as California and American wines, ranging from small production to everyday favorites. The store also has a tasting bar, where visitors can enjoy a rotating daily selection.
Serving up craft cocktails, wine, and beer, Boulibar is the perfect happy hour stop at the Marketplace. Find it adjacent to sister restaurant, Boulettes Larder, and order a cocktail from their carefully crafted list. A casual food menu offers wood-fired pizzas, mezze plates, and more to accompany your drink of choice.
When You Saved Room for Dessert
Inspired by the pastry shops of Paris, this quaint shop sells delicately crafted cakes, cookies, and pastries. Named one of the top 10 pastry shops in the world by Condé Nast, Miette eschews pretension and instead focuses on quality, local ingredients to make beautiful, delicious pastries. Be sure to try the Parisian Macaroons!
The most popular flavors at this ice cream shop are far from vanilla. The menu features long-standing favorites like Secret Breakfast (made with bourbon and cornflakes), in addition to monthly flavors like March’s Diebencorn (a swirl of blueberry ice cream, lime sorbet, and sweet corn). With a commitment to only the best ingredients, Humphry Slocombe takes ice cream seriously. Themselves? Not so much. Oh, and you can sample every single flavor on their menu until you find your sweet spot.
Cowgirl Creamery’s Artisan Cheese Shop
For those who prefer savory over sweet, Cowgirl Creamery is a non-negotiable stop at the Marketplace. Though the shop does sell imports from Italy, Spain and Greece, don’t miss Cowgirl Creamery’s own cheeses—both aged and fresh. Originating in Point Reyes Station in Marin County, Cowgirl Creamery has received dozens of awards for its artisan cheeses.
When You Forgot to Get Your Mother-in-Law a Birthday Gift
Owned by husband and wife duo Doug and Katia Vincent, beekind features a variety of all-natural honey products, beeswax candles, pollen and honey comb. The honey is sourced from Bay Area beekeepers, including the owners’ own hives in Sonoma County. Be sure to try the Sebastopol Wildflower, a local favorite.
Next door to Gott’s Roadside, this “bean-to-bar” chocolatier is known for both its decadent hot chocolate, as well as its small batch, handcrafted chocolate bars. With a strong focus on the quality and uniqueness of each bean, Dandelion notes the origin of each chocolate bar—from Madagascar to the Dominican Republic.
This beautiful shop features everything from pruning shears to cookbooks to handmade ceramic tea kettles. The merchandise rotates seasonally, but consistently appeals to farm-to-table cooks and gardeners—from amateur to advanced.
The Ferry Building is open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., though each Marketplace vendor has their own hours, generally ranging from the same time period. The weekend farmers market runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Stay in San Francisco a Little Longer
Header image courtesy of Nat & Cody.