Every city has its famous market building and San Francisco is no exception. On my trip to the city by the bay last month I couldn't help but visit the Ferry Building Marketplace, a collection of shops and restaurants all housed under one roof. The Ferry Building began in 1898 as a hub for ferries crossing the bay before the bridges existed. During the 1950s it had fallen into neglect, but in 2003 a thorough renovation was completed and the once derelict building was reborn as the modern market it is today. With more than 35 shops, there are plenty of places to visit for buying gifts, eating lunch, or picking up a number of foodstuffs.
What better time to visit the marketplace than on an a rainy day in the bay. On my first day in San Francisco, we stopped at the Ferry Building to take refuge from the terrible rain that was very unusual for March. The marketplace is almost always crowded, and on a rainy day that is especially true. For me it was hard to stay away, I ended up returning to the Ferry Building two more times during my stay in San Francisco—to buy gifts and to have lunch at the Oyster Bar. There are so many things to eat and do, that one day just doesn't seem to be enough, especially for a foodie like me.
From olive oil to chocolate, you'll find a little bit of everything here. The famous Blue Bottle Coffee Company has an outpost here. They specialize in organic coffee that is roasted in small batches to ensure freshness and best flavor. I picked up their popular Bella Donovan blend. Miette patisserie features all types of Parisian confections including macaroons, eclairs, and cupcakes. Acme Bread has its only San Francisco outpost here at the marketplace. Founded by Steve Sullivan in Berkeley, Acme bread features a full selection of artisan breads made of organic flours. Since San Francisco is famous for sourdough, I couldn't help but buy a small loaf of the most crusty and sour bread I've ever tasted.
Did someone say cheese? Cowgirl Creamery has mountains of cheese wheels on display. I wish I could have tasted all of them. They sell both their own cheese, produced in Point Reyes, and cheeses from around the country and France. Boccalone is a salumeria owned by Chris Cosentino and Mark Pastore of Incanto restaurant. Here the tag line says it all: "tasty salted pig parts." They offer more than twenty house-made cured meats, but if you can't make a choice, try a selection of their best, go for the mixed salumi cone, which I couldn't resist.
I love mushrooms, and there's no better place to buy a number of varieties than Far West Funghi. The shop offers both cultivated and wild mushrooms in every form imaginable: dried, fresh, on the log, spawn plugs, etc. The truffles looked tempting, but unfortunately they were beyond my budget.
Stopping for lunch at the Ferry Building is a treat, there is so much to choose from, including classic Bistro food and Vietnamese cuisine. But since I had promised myself not to leave the West coast without trying pacific oysters, I made sure to have lunch at Hog Island Oyster Company. Here the oysters are definitely the star of the menu. Sit around the u-shaped bar and watch the oyster get shucked. Try the oysters raw, baked, or in chowder, but having them raw is a must. Their briny flavor comes through the best without any mignonette sauce, hot sauce, or squeeze of lemon. Makes sure to try the Hog Island oysters, which are from the company's Tomales Bay farm.
For everyone who loves the farmers' market, there's a wonderful one at the Ferry Building every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The Saturday market is the largest with stalls in front of the building and in the rear. On Thursdays you will find stands selling foods like pizzas, grilled meats, sandwiches, and tacos.
I happened to visit on a Tuesday, so the market was much smaller, but the offerings were still beautiful. Citrus fruits including lemons and oranges were in abundance. Bouquets of ranunculus were placed right next to piles of bright orange carrots. I saw the first signs of spring with ruby red strawberries and succulent asparagus. I would have loved to take home one of everything.
To all the cities I have been and all the markets I have visited, the Ferry Building Marketplace has made my list for best city markets. The market not only calls many tourists to its shops, but you will easily find locals stopping for a quick lunch or showing up after work for happy hour. It's a real gathering place for everyone. If you're in San Francisco, make sure to put the Ferry Building on the top of your must-see list. Stop by on a farmers' market day and mingle with the locals. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants and pick up some gifts for your friends—or for yourself.
Ferry Building Marketplace
One Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
Marketplace open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Farmers' Market open Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m
Joseph Erdos is a New York–based writer and editor, butabove all a gastronomer and oenophile. He shares his passion for foodon his blog, Gastronomer's Guide , which features unique recipes and restaurant reviews among many other musings on the all-encompassing topic of food.