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.

photo: Kate Loweth

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.

photo: Amber Guetebier

Romp
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.

photo: Amber Guetebier

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.

photo: Kate Loweth

Chomp
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 Bread Company offers an array of sandwiches. On weekends you can find the most divine biscuits (bacon maple is our favorite) at Biscuit Bender. This weekend-only stand is located right next to MIJITA. Take your noshes out to a bench and watch the ferries come and go.

photo: Kate Loweth

For a more sophisticated sit-down meal, we definitely recommend you booking a table at Boulettes Larder. Offering breakfast, lunch and everyone’s favorite Sunday brunch, the entrees focus on fresh, local ingredients and the Bloody Marys come with a kick. Nab a table on the water side and don’t forget to save room for the beignets—they are out of this world!

photo: Kate Loweth

If you are dining at the Ferry Building in around dinner time, there are lots of great options that offer stunning Bay views and delicious eats. We particularly like Chef Tracy Des Jardins’ MIJITA for its fresh-made guacamole, street tacos and spicy elotes. Bonus: this spot offers counter service and therefore a quicker meal for kids with ant in their pants.

photo: Kate Loweth

The line at Humphry Slocombe shows that Ferry Building visitors know a good thing when they see it. Expect to find innovative flavors here with Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee and Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes) being local favorites and Malted Milk Chocolate a kid fave.

FerryBuilding-Bike-Rentals

photo: Amber Guetebier

Shop
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.

Fog City Flea
Fog City Flea brings an eclectic lineup of makers and merchants from the Bay Area and beyond offering handcrafted jewelry, apparel, accessories, apothecary, housewares, furnishings, and well-edited vintage. Curated exclusively for the Ferry Building by the team behind Upstate New York’s renowned Phoenicia Flea, Fog City Flea takes place Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 17, 2019.

Flea market shoppers are invited to bring along the whole family and experience the Flea Circus Kids’ Activity Area, which includes face painting, arts and crafts stations, a coloring zone, a Lego zone, games and more, with a weekly rotating theme. Tickets for the Flea Circus will be available for $10 per guest and cover all activities. The Flea Circus will be held every Sunday through November 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the foot of the front staircase leading up to the Grand Hall, where Fog City Flea takes place.

photo: Kate Loweth

Stomp (and Roll)
Burn off that second scoop at 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.

photo: Kate Loweth

Another fun area to run around is at the Vaillancourt Fountain, located right next to Sue Bierman Park. It’s a nice cool spot to sit with a picnic while the kids follow the concrete steps behind the falling water. Don’t miss a visit to the always-free San Francisco Railway Museum, a great place to learn about this area’s history. It’s located right next to the fountain in the same building as the Hotel Vitale.

photo: Kate Loweth

Go Beyond
Still want more? Travel north on the Embarcadero and you’ll find the Exploratorium. It’s an easy walk from the Ferry Building and you can grab a pedicab for tired legs on the way back. Travel south on the Embarcadero to the South Beach neighborhood, just a few blocks past the Bay Bridge, and you’ll find the home of the SF Giants, Oracle Park.

Henrik-points-at-ships-ferryplaza-sfGetting There
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!

photo: Kate Loweth

Make it a Staycation
We love the Hotel Vitale for it’s perfect location right across the street from the Ferry Building. You’ll get Bay views from the roof decks and loads of activities for families right around the corner. Parents can relax with massages at the on-site spa. Kids will especially love the Embarcadero Explorers Package that comes with four tickets to the Exploratorium, kids binoculars to scope out the Bay Bridge and a fun gift bag that includes a kids’ Giants hat, SF puzzle, color-changing sunglasses and more.

Good to Know
There are two restrooms 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.

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San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace
Online: ferrybuildingmarketplace.com

—Kate Loweth and Amber Guetebier

 

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