In a city studded with world-famous landmarks (think Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Transamerica “pyramid” building), the San Francisco Ferry Building is unique in that it is also home to a vibrant marketplace. Artisanal cheeses, fresh fish, hand-cured meats, seasonal produce, sublime desserts, and beverages from coffee and tea to California wines and more are among the offerings.
The Ferry Building
Construction on the iconic Ferry Building (pictured above), with its distinctive, 240-foot clock tower, began in 1896, and the building we see today has been open for business since 1898. It has survived two major earthquakes and has gone from the only portal to the City (hosting as many as 50,000 ferry commuters per day) to a bit of a dinosaur with the mid-20th-century rise of the automobile and the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, then back to a vibrant ferry terminal again. It has undergone many remodels and various incarnations, including a massive restoration following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. This devastating quake proved to be somewhat of a boon for the Ferry Building, whose façade had been half hidden and shadowed by the Embarcadero Freeway since 1957. The freeway was torn down after the quake and the entire central waterfront redesigned, making the Ferry Building once again an impressive centerpiece. Rehabilitation, restoration, and new uses for the building were devised, and today’s Ferry Building is a beautiful and bustling place, architecturally elegant, historically respectful, and functionally relevant.
This year, the tower sports “1915” in lighted, 11-1/2-foot tall numerals in tribute to the centennial anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, colloquially known as the San Francisco World’s Fair.
The Farmer’s Market
Part of the post-earthquake remodel was the development of the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. Utilizing the 65,000 square-foot main level, the market is a gourmet shopper’s delight.
Well-known anchor tenant Cowgirl Creamery is a must-visit shop for cheese lovers. Their “Mt. Tam,” a rich triple-cream brie named for nearby Mt. Tamalpais, put them on the map when it started raking in awards in 2004. A wide variety of other fresh and aged cheeses from Cowgirl and around the world are sold at their Ferry Building shop.
Don’t forget some bread to go with that cheese! The Acme Bread Company’s pedestrian name belies their outstanding organic loaves. This is truly artisanal baking at its finest.
If you’re picking up dinner ingredients, you can find fresh meats at Golden Gate Meat Company (family-owned, featuring natural and organic meat and game) and Prather Ranch Meat Company (specializing in whole-animal, sustainable, and humanely raised beef, pork, lamb, and chicken), a variety of cured meats (a.k.a. “salumi”) at Boccalone (whose slogan “Tasty Salted Pig Parts” says it all), and wild and sustainable fresh fish and seafood products at San Francisco Fish Company.
For fresh produce, along with many other staples such as dairy and condiments, Farm Fresh to You carries almost everything you need. Far West Fungi is the go-to place for fresh and dried mushrooms, offering an educational experience for the novice and a little slice of heaven for the experienced mushroom gourmet.
Other culinary specialty shops include Alfieri Farms Fruits & Nuts, with sweet and savory nut and dried fruit products to help you assemble an elegant appetizer or dessert platter. And speaking of dessert, you’ll find gorgeous pastries at French-inspired Miette bakery, hearty fruit-themed baked goods at Frog Hollow Farm (as well as fresh fruit), and gluten-free treats at Mariposa. My personal favorite choice for a sweet treat is the elegant chocolates at Recchiuti Confections. Or, if you can’t wait until you get home, there’s always a scoop of ice cream waiting at Humphry Slocombe!
If you’re not the cook-at-home type, the market also has half a dozen eclectic and delicious cafes for dining in or taking out. Boulettes Larder serves breakfast and lunch with a Euro-Asian flair. Cowgirl Sidekick, next to the Creamery cheese shop, has salads and other light fare along with its cheese creations. Enjoy sushi, bento, or other Japanese fare at Delica; pick up high-end Vietnamese take-out at Out the Door; excite your taste buds with Mexican-California fusion at Mijita; or dine Italian at Il Cane Rosso. For a burger, meatloaf sandwich, pulled pork or other hearty dish, try American Eatery, featuring Prather Ranch meats.
For more information on the market and its vendors, go to http://www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com. The shops and restaurants each maintain their own operating hours, but generally speaking are open 7 days a week, staying open later on weeknights (approximately 7 p.m. for many) and closing around 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. on weekends.