As San Francisco’s historic gateway to the North and East Bay, the iconic Ferry Building symbolizes the Bay Area’s diverse yet single community, despite its great expanse. It’s precisely this vastness that makes the ferry ride from Sausalito, Larkspur or Tiburon one of the most scenic in the country, where you can enjoy beer and wine while taking in views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate from an incredible vantage point.
There is no better or more scenic way to skip congested roadways than taking the ferry and entering this bustling marketplace in the Grand Nave that’s perfectly crafted for a breather before heading to your final destination. Many of the kiosks and storefronts in the Ferry Building Marketplace are actually smaller branches of establishments that reveal the current zeitgeist. Spend an afternoon there, and you’ll get a pretty solid sense of the Bay Area’s artisan food community. If the thought of evading traffic and looking for parking weren’t enough, below are 11 additional (foodie) reasons to head to the city via ferry. Extra tip: bring your bike along and reap the benefits of an exhilarating ride back across the Golden Gate!
Of tacro fame, Vive La Tarte is a bakery rooted in the Californian spirit of fun and innovation in a laid-back atmosphere. Here you’ll find all the usual suspects like breakfast pastries and avocado toast, but it’s the way that Vive La Tarte introduces savory elements where things really get interesting. Yes, I speak of the tacro. Sink your teeth into a flaky yet substantial croissant that’s remarkably balanced with your choice of pulled pork and pineapple, chicken and avocado, or BBQ jackfruit. It’s definitely worth parking to enjoy fresh out the window.
Forget all this highfalutin talk about artisanal and craft, El Porteño owner Joseph Ahearne just makes empanadas the way his mom used to. And you can taste TLC in every bite. Using only the best local organic ingredients, El Porteño offers a wide array of fillings, from the expected carne and pollo to the more unheard-of Swiss chard and gruyere variety. If you have a filling you’d like to see wrapped inside a rich, welcoming El Porteño shell, you can even bring the dough home to stuff yourself. Just remember to leave room for one filled with banana y dulce de leche.
Flutter down the Grand Nave’s south wing to have your fill of baked goods from Mariposa. Not only are these delectable pastries made of the highest-quality ingredients that are locally and organically sourced, but they’re also gluten-free. Mariposa is a truly inclusive purveyor of bread, pastries, and sweets, offering items suitable for many different dietary restrictions that everyone will enjoy. One bite of the banana muffin with chocolate chips, and you’ll completely forget what’s not in it.
This place needs no introduction—their latest outpost just opened in Marin earlier this year. But Gott’s Roadside at this location affords prime opportunities for people-watching thanks to the plentiful outdoor seating that occupies a vantage point on the Embarcadero. You’ll enjoy some Californian stylings by way of Ahi Poke Crispy Tacos and Vietnamese Chicken Salad, in addition to American diner classics like stacked cheeseburgers, loaded hot dogs and smothered fries. Here’s your chance to try the Impossible Burger at the best price in town! The proud selection of Californian beer and wine deserves honorable mention.
At Fort Point’s first and only taproom (thus far), patrons can choose to imbibe freshly poured draft brews on-site in front of the Fort Point can mosaic or take their favorite beers home by the growler. The kiosk also offers simple yet solid hot dogs and pretzels, but if you want to enjoy your pint with food offerings from elsewhere in the Marketplace, be sure to grab the food first (beers aren’t allowed beyond the cordoned-off beer garden). An easy favorite is Animal Tropical IPA, with its malty structure and perky, fruit-forward notes that are so effortlessly balanced, you’ll feel the sway of a hammock with every sip.
The thick, intoxicating smell of melted cheese emanating from this adorably named cafe wafts to meet you at every entrance. Boasting to be the best grilled cheese place in San Francisco, Cowgirl Sidekick serves up some unexpected options as well, like Clabbered Cottage Cheese with avocado and radish. Not to be missed are the Burrata Salad and Alpine Grilled Cheese, but if you find yourself in the Grand Nave in the late afternoon, why not pair happy hour with a cheesy hour? The Afternoon Cheesemonger Roundup (3:30-6:30 pm, M-F) offers cheese enthusiasts a personally curated cheeseboard with all the fixings, and of course, a wine or beer pairing.
This scoop shop is so popular, it has its own line barriers. This is not the ice cream of your childhood; you won’t find any Rocky Road or Mint Chocolate Chip served here. Wrap your taste buds around flavors along the lines of Foie Gras, Black Sesame (one of our staff's personal favorite), Jalapeño Cornbread and another all-time favorite, Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee. Staff at this particular Humphry Slocombe location handing over your ice cream cone could be a bit friendlier, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have to deal with tourists all day.
Acme Bread is pretty ubiquitous around these parts. Their quality bread can be found in restaurants and grocery stores all over the Bay Area. But the Ferry Building is home to one of only two retail locations, so it’s worth the extra mileage if you’re serious about your bread and like to browse. Little needs to be said of this legendary bakery and its well-known beginnings at Chez Panisse. Even though getting overwhelmed by their full selection of artisan bread is a likelihood, you’ll be fine as long as you don’t forget to bring home their fluffly and fragrant herb slab.
Cleverly branded, Out the Door is the Slanted Door’s to-go and quick dining extension. Slinging Vietnamese street food, the menu features changing daily specials as well as permanent staples. If you manage to grab a seat at the counter, opt for the Lemongrass Pork with Vermicelli for a zingy noodle salad of fresh layered flavors to reign in the summer season. Steamed Pork Buns are a standard that’s hard to do wrong—enjoy Out the Door’s as you would a good hug: with a deep inhale and your eyes closed.
This kiosk is one of many found in markets and retail locations throughout California. Urban Remedy’s repertoire of raw, plant-based food and beverages are not only healthy but healing. With a full line of snacks, meals, juices, and tinctures, you can even subscribe to meal plans to make sure your regimen doesn’t go astray. Wholesome eating couldn’t be easier; the rainbow of color, texture, and flavor contained within each bottle and bowl are ready to enjoy right away.
Kill two birds with one stone at Frog Hollow Farm, where you can pick up organic fruit for the tart you’re baking and grab a bite from the cafe to hold you over till then. Located in Brentwood, the farm harvests organic seasonal fruits, most notably their exceptional peaches. In addition to the latest crop, you’ll also find pastries, conserves and sun-dried fruit. Take a seat at the waterside Farm to Table Cafe to nosh on a slice of quiche before carting your produce home.
Frances Lai is a writer and a linguist. Not only does she love words of all languages but she’s fascinated by the simultaneous power and shortcomings of language to express the human condition. She’s deeply committed to her advocate work with BAWAR, providing a safe place for survivors to find words in their own voice. Having returned from a 5-year stint in London, Frances hasn’t given up hopes that her acquired language skills will enable her to resume life as an expat. See what she wants you to see on her blog or Instagram.