The Ferry Building is an SF icon. It’s our version of the Empire State Building: any film set here has to open with an establishing shot letting the audience know that this is the Port of San Francisco, and not any of the other, lesser ports of America.
Amazingly, though, the Ferry Building has achieved the rare balance between being massively touristy and also a pretty cool place for locals. We keep coming back, as you might expect, for the food, which is excellent on an average day, and excellent-plus-plus on farmer’s market days (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday). In fact, if you’re here before noon on one of those days, particularly Saturday, you should probably try a bunch of things from the market stands.
If you’re not here on market day, though, the Ferry Building and the neighborhood around it offer an awesome selection of food and drink to suit any need. Here are our favorite spots.
in the ferry building
This is a kiosk/pop-up outpost of the SoMa bakery by the same name, and just like the main location, it serves delicious, creative croissants and pastries. The granola with mango chutney and yogurt is outstanding, too. If you get here around 11am (and before they sell out), try the tacro, a savory croissant-taco experiment that is bizarrely delicious.
Cowgirl Creamery is in the Ferry Building, and while you might not be willing to just eat a whole wedge of gruyere for lunch, going to Sidekick (their attached cafe) and getting it melted between two slices of sourdough with a cup of tomato soup on the side is a very good idea. On weekdays, they also do raclette, which is just as much a spectator sport as it is a cheese delivery method. But when it comes down to it, you’ll really just want a grilled cheese.
Acme makes our favorite sourdough in the city, and passing on picking up a loaf if you’re in the Ferry Building is just bad form. It’s not only their sourdough though. Everything here from the challah loaves to dinner rolls and french bread is fantastic, and if survival didn’t rely on eating green things and protein, we’d host a Game of Thrones-style feast every day with just their bread - and significantly less poison.
This place is attached to the butcher shop next door and has a meat-heavy menu of sandwiches as a result, but their breakfast sandwich is essentially perfect. Eggs, ham, and cheese on a soft roll, and if you’re feeling it, they’ll put a hash brown on there too. If you’re in the building early in the day, you’ll want to get one of these.
One of the great lunch spots on the planet. No exaggeration. Delicious fresh seafood, a beautiful view, an appropriate level of chilly wind coming off the bay, and sparkling rosé all add up to an essential SF experience. Don’t go on weekends, though. The line is hell.
Chocolate stores are essentially gift stores, even if you’re buying the candies for yourself. But if you really need something sweet, Dandelion makes hot chocolate that puts Swiss Miss to shame. On a cold day, walk around with a spicy Mission Hot Chocolate - this stuff is good enough to justify going out in the cold.
If you’ve got visitors in town and want to show them the sights, The Slanted Door is a semi-classic spot and it overlooks the water, so it’s a good excuse to get people to go to the Ferry Building. The menu hasn’t changed much since the ’90s, which isn’t the worst thing - all of their classics, from spring rolls and crab noodles to the claypot chicken, are still great.
Get in line and order the Secret Breakfast ice cream - it’s our favorite flavor at one of our favorite ice cream shops in the city. It’s got bourbon and cornflake cookies in it and is exactly as good as it sounds. But all of the ice cream here is worth getting excited about, so even if you don’t want booze riddled dessert, you should get in line here anyway.
This spot is owned by the same people as The Slanted Door, and while there’s a full-service Out The Door across town, this one is much more of a grab-and-go scenario, with things like spring rolls, noodles, and pork buns. If you work near the Ferry Building, this is a good spot to go for lunch.
Gott’s Roadside is the burger equivalent of seeing the Queen wearing a Starter jacket at a ballgame - it looks like a fast-food joint, but it’s so much nicer once you get past the surface. Their burgers and fries are fantastic and way better than most things that come in paper wrappers. They also do daily specials if you’re not in the mood for meat, but probably the biggest difference between Gott’s and a place with a cartoon mascot is their drink menu. Along with PBR and milkshakes, Gott’s serves wine that you would expect to see somewhere that’s 3x as expensive.
Humphrey Slocombe makes great ice cream, but sometimes what you really want is soft serve. This stand is on the other side of Gott’s Roadside and their soft serve is the height of the art form. You could stick with a classic chocolate-vanilla swirl and be happy or try one of their other flavors like fior de latte or salted caramel.
This is another spot connected to a specialty butcher, and accordingly they take their meat seriously. We like the lamb burger and the chili fries. Be warned though, the chili fries could be a whole meal by themselves - it’s essentially a plate of giant steak tips in some chili poured over enough fries to feed a small army.
Bring your mom here for breakfast, and get something egg-based, because this place turns out omelettes so light they seem like they might levitate off your plate and float away. They don’t, of course, which is a good thing, since you’ll want to eat every bite.
near the ferry building
Angler is really nice, so you’re not going to just drop in here (or if you are, feel free to shoot us some stock tips). Either way, the food is great and the menu includes a mix of things like oysters and more creative dishes, like rabbit cooked like hot chicken. The space is covered in mounted fish and animals, but it feels more like you’re dining in a billionaire’s trophy room than the old shack restaurant in your grandparents’ hometown. Come here with a group - everything is served family-style and you’ll want to order a lot.
This is the oldest restaurant in California and that’s clear from the second you walk in. Not because the waiters are ghosts, but because this place looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1940s (even though it’s much older than that). Sit at the bar, order some fried clams, and kick back a few martinis over lunch. It’s what your great grandparents would’ve done, and so should you.
Red’s is a great stop when you want a classic burger with a classic burger experience. Theirs comes on a sourdough roll, which makes it different enough to justify making a special trip here. Get your food, make your way to the back patio, and drink a cold beer while sitting next to the Bay Bridge in the sun.
Reliable Thai food in an environment that’s ideal for groups. You’ll feel like you could maybe be in a hotel lobby, but there’s a good chance you’re here with work people, so it seems appropriate. Have some pad see ew, duck curry, and a few cocktails.
Usually when you want to eat near the Ferry Building, you also want to take full advantage of the fact that you’re near the ocean. La Mar does excellent ceviche right on the water, so it has just about everything you’re looking for. There are tons of bar seats, plus high ceilings that make the place feel open and spacious, and on a nice night, the outdoor patio on the water is basically perfect.
You’ll pay up for the quality dim sum here, but it’s a good break from the hectic scene in the Ferry Building. It would be hard to order wrong here, but make sure the soup dumplings, pork buns, and sea bass are on your table. The weekend brunch is amazing - make a reservation and come with your parents/coworkers/literally anyone.
A temple of Greek meats that you generally need a reservation to worship at. We highly recommend this spot, provided you are ready to spend a not-insignificant amount of money and also dress up a little bit. Definitely start with some zucchini cakes - and the honey donut is something you need to experience, too.
Tempeh, tofu, and mountains of kale are the trademarks of this healthy spot. There’s a great acai bowl for breakfast, and the dino kale and chicken & arugula salads at lunch are good enough to make you actually want a salad for lunch.
When we find ourselves dodging tourists jousting with selfie sticks around the Ferry Building, we tend to feel like it’s time for a drink. If you’re in the same boat, head to this German beer hall, which has tons of beer, the requisite boots to drink said-beer out of, and some pretty delicious food, too. We’re partial to the pretzels, sausages, and potato pancakes.
If you want a bite, the pork belly cracklins here are delicious or you could also get some oysters, but the real reason to come to Hard Water is for drinks - whiskey specifically. They have a massive selection on a wall stacked high and wide enough that it almost looks like a Harry Potter potion shop, and since it’s booze, you can have as much fun as if it actually were.