The bustling harbor around San Francisco’s landmark Ferry Building can easily become your kiddo’s favorite spot to disembark when you are in the know about where to go. Cruise the Ferry Building and its plaza and you’ll find ferries and fireboats, produce and playgrounds, adventure and history, and more. Here are our picks for what to see, do, and explore at this popular waterfront hub.
View from the Bay
Built in 1898, the Ferry Building is located at the end of Market Street, with a sprawling plaza between. Vintage streetcars (which take you down to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf) use the plaza for turn-around. You can arrive at the Ferry Building by bus, streetcar, car, or boat. The west side, along the Embarcadero boasts market stand on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the east side is host to the Saturday farmer’s market. The east side is also where the ferries dock. Look (and listen) for its turn-of-the-century clock tower.
However you get there, hungry and thirsty troops can head straight inside. The more energized set can head south toward the Bay Bridge. Watch for info kiosks about sea life, as well as the historical signage and embedded sidewalk plaques which are part of the Barbary Coast Trail. Your little ones will look mighty small compared to the giant sculpture of a Bow and Arrow. Head a little further south to check out SFPD’s Station 35, home of the fireboats! You’ll be likely to spot the fire-engine too. Be sure and look for the Popeye logo on the side. Once you’ve appeased your mini-heroes, head back toward the Ferry Building, making a stop at Pier 14 to get a new perspective of the fire-boats and ferry terminals.
Come here hungry. In addition to stalls teeming with fresh produce, there are dozens of restaurants and food stands in and around the Ferry Building. Kids will love the Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheeses, and Acme Baking Company offers an array of sandwiches. For treats, there’s baked goods galore, Ciao Bella gelato, and Straus Family Creamery soft-serve. Take your noshes out to a bench and watch the ferries come and go.
The Book Passage has a wonderful kid’s section that includes tiny chairs and a small selection of toys and puppets. Kids will appreciate the wild variety of mushrooms at Far West Fungi and the Ferry Buildings boat-centric goodies at Bay Crossings.
Stomp (and Roll)
Burn off that second scoop at the nearby, newly constructed Sue Bierman playground. Located across the street (and just north) from the Ferry Building, this picture-perfect playground includes a killer view of Coit Tower. The area along the Embarcadero is awesome for skates, scooters, and bikes. Bike rentals are available near the front of the building.
Still want more? Travel north on the Embarcadero and you’ll find the new home of the Exploratorium. Check out this article for an insider’s guide. Travel south on the Embarcadero, just a few blocks past the Bay Bridge, and you’ll find the home of the SF Giants, AT&T Park. Read this article for ideas about what to do in the South Beach neighborhood.
What to Wear
This neighborhood is both notoriously sunny and windy, so make sure your sun hats fit tight, you’ve got a hoodie in your bag, and good walking shoes! Bring cloth bags for farmer’s market goodies.
Nearly every transit line in the city converges nearby. You can take MUNI, BART (to Embarcadero station), or hop on a ferry if you are coming from the North, East, or South Bay. There are also a handful of parking garages and metered parking. This is a hot-spot for tickets, so watch the time limit even if you’ve pumped the meter with quarters!
Good to Know
There are two restrooms are located in the Ferry Building. On Jackson Street at Davis, just a few blocks past the playground, there’s a Safeway and a less-crowded Starbucks. The Embarcadero Center also has public restrooms and more shopping.
Insider’s Tip: The farmers market is open three days a week—Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Saturday market can get pretty crowded and navigating a stroller can be a challenge. There are free guided walking tours at noon on Tuesdays and Saturdays, courtesy sfcityguides.org.
The Ferry Building is open from 10:00 am-6:00 pm Monday through Friday; 9:00 am-6:00 pm on Saturdays, and 10:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sundays. The farmer’s market is from 10:00 am-2:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8:00 am -2:00 am Saturdays.
What is your favorite thing to do around the Ferry Plaza?
All photos and copy by Amber Guetebier