Seated at the edge of the bay, with a sweeping view down Market Street, the San Francisco Ferry Building is not only an architectural landmark and major transit center, but a dining destination for this food-obsessed city. Built in 1898 as a hub for trains and ferries, New York architect A. Page Brown designed the clock tower after one in a cathedral in Seville, Spain, and created an interior of soul-lifting arches and skylights. Today, it’s mostly known as a sanctum for local food — home to what is probably the Bay Area’s most prestigious farmers’ market and an emporium for food and beverages made by local artisans, feeding hungry travelers and locals alike.
The shops that line the indoor marketplace include such celebrated restaurants as Boulettes Larder and Hog Island Oyster Co. But there are lower-profile food vendors, too, as well as everything from fresh produce to nut brittle to sourdough bread and cheese — whatever you’d need to assemble the perfect little picnic, pick up a quick snack, or take home ingredients for dinner.
Feeling overwhelmed by the huge crowds of locals or frustrated by slow-moving sightseers? Here’s our guide to the Ferry Building Marketplace’s greatest hits.
Ebi katsu sandwich at Delica
This brisk Japanese takeout spot is a treasure trove for the grab-and-go lunch connoisseur, with its tidy and surprisingly abundant bento boxes, its beef curry bowls, and its decent-enough sushi. The hidden gems in the display counter are the selection of pre-packed sandwiches, which include a shrimp katsu number ($9) that is one of the market’s better lunch deals. It’s a killer combination: a crunchy deep-fried shrimp cake topped with a scoop of rich Japanese-style egg salad and sandwiched between two slices of pillowy milk bread.
Saigon Latte at Red Bay Coffee
If you swing by on a Saturday morning, you’ll spot the Ferry Building outpost of Oakland’s favorite Red Bay Coffee by the line of customers that spills into the hallway. The bright, industrial space is softened with large plants and comfortable chairs you can sink into while you wait for your drink — and if you’re looking for something beyond a cup of coffee to sweeten your day, try the Saigon Latte ($5.50) made with sweetened condensed milk. There’s even a dairy-free option made with coconut cream.
Carne empanada at El Porteño
The Argentinian-style empanadas at El Porteño make a strong case as the Ferry Building’s most luxurious hand-held snack, with their abundant fillings and uber-buttery crust. If it’s your first time, you can’t go wrong with the classic “Carne” ($6.50), which is filled with juicy, savory ground beef, onions, olives, plump raisins, and chopped hard-boiled egg. It’s so good you’ll find it difficult to ever want to order anything else. For maximum portability, you can eat your empanada as is, but regulars know to grab a complimentary tub of the stand’s garlicky chimichurri sauce for on-the-go drizzling.
A dozen Sweetwater oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co.
A pioneer of sustainable oyster farming, Hog Island pulls the sweetest creatures out of Tomales Bay. Can’t make the drive? Mercifully, there’s an oyster bar right in the Ferry Building. It’s worth waiting out the line and bellying up to the bar for a dozen of the namesake oysters with a cold glass of white and frites on the side.
Cheeseburger from Gott’s Roadside
Get a taste of wine country’s finest burger at Gott’s Roadside’s Ferry Building location. Known for showcasing local ingredients — think, Niman Ranch beef and Cowgirl Creamery cheese — Gott’s really does have something for just about everyone on the menu. Fans love the ahi burger that features sushi-grade tuna and ginger wasabi mayo, but you can’t go wrong with the classic cheeseburger ($8.99), a two-hands-required proposition that features American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and a secret sauce.
A dozen bagels from Daily Driver
Daily Driver’s “pop-up” at the Ferry Building — which was supposed to last a year but has now been a fixture for more than 18 months — is a less languorous experience than that its Dogpatch bagelry and cafe, a grab-and-go spot that caters to folks after a quick bagel sandwich or a dozen to go. For $30 one can snag a dozen bagels (they’re $3.50 each) that were made fresh in their kitchen that day. Add a couple containers of Daily Driver’s homemade cream cheese and cultured butter to the order and become the most popular person to return to the office.
Apple turnover at Acme Bread
Acme Bread is, of course, the old stalwart of the Bay Area bread-baking revolution, and the bakery’s levain loaves and baguettes remain a staple at countless pedigreed restaurants across the Bay. But don’t sleep on Acme’s pastry program, most notably its behemoth of an apple turnover ($4.57), which, with a cup of coffee, makes for one of the most satisfying breakfasts — or sweet mid-day snacks — around. Be careful, though, if you’re bringing it into a business meeting: The puff pastry is so buttery and flaky, you’ll have a hard time keeping your shirtsleeves clean.
Secret Breakfast sundae from Humphry Slocombe
A local ice creamery with a name that lets you know they’re not just vanilla, Humphry Slocombe stands out with flavors like signature “Secret Breakfast,” a clever bourbon and cornflake concoction. This popular Ferry Building outpost does it one better, making it a sundae with bourbon caramel and cornflakes on top.
Gingersnaps from Miette Patisserie
It’s impossible to miss Miette, the sweet pastry shop with pastel boxes and ribbons. The cupcakes and macarons are cute, but don’t underestimate the cookies. Apparently the gingersnaps ($9 for 10 cookies) were rom-com writer Nora Ephron’s favorite, at least according to People magazine. Crunchy, spicy, and full of character, they’re the perfect match for a cup of tea.
Canelés de Bordeaux from Boulettes Larder
Chef Amaryll Schwertner has been quietly putting out beautifully burnished canelés de Bordeaux ($3.75 each) for more than 15 years, made in traditional copper molds with hot beeswax. Seek them out at the restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch, or snag one at the kiosk outside before they sell out for the day.