The Ferry Building is both an historic landmark and a symbol of Hope for San Franciscans. It survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, inspiring people to stay and rebuild the City. Before the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge and again in recent decades it has been a busy transit hub for the entire Bay Area.
Four generations of our family have passed through the Ferry Building. My grandfather commuted to Sausalito from his shop half a block west of the Ferry Building (at the foot of Washington St.), and my father’s last office was half a block east (at the foot of Mission St.). I have a lot to share with you!
Where to Buy Ferry Tickets at the Ferry Building
For Sausalito and Larkspur travelers on Golden Gate Ferry: There are ticket machines adjacent to the boarding area in the central zone behind the Ferry Building (shown at left). The Golden Gate Ferry staff members at the gates and who board passengers on the ferries will also answer any questions you may have. The ticket machines also allow you to add value to your existing Clipper Card, which gives you big discounts on ferry tickets and is automatically scanned at the gate when you enter the terminal.
All other destinations on San Francisco Bay Ferry or Blue & Gold Fleet: You can buy tickets at the Bay Crossings shop, located next to the central entry to the Ferry Building (shown at right). They also sell books, calendars, etc., and are a private company that works with the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which is a public organization operated by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). They also serve passengers on the Tiburon commuter runs operated by Blue and Gold Fleet. (See ferries list below). Clipper Cards are also available here, and they will add value to your existing Clipper Card.
San Francisco Ferry Building Ferry Routes & Services
Ferries depart from a series of piers behind the Ferry Building. You can walk around either end of the building, or take any of four broad passages that lead through it to the shoreline and loading areas on the other side.
Gate B is at the far left behind the Ferry Building (the Golden Gate Bridge side), and Gate E is at the far right (the Bay Bridge side). The photo at the left happens to show Gate E, but Gate B is identical to it apart from the lettering at the top.
Destinations that link to the Ferry Building and the correct gates and piers are:
To Alameda (Main St.) via SF Bay Ferry (Gate E): Click here for schedule.
To Alameda Harbor Bay via SF Bay Ferry (Gate E): Click here.
To Larkspur via Golden Gate Ferry (Central area, 1st entry, closer to the Ferry Building): Click here.
To Oakland via SF Bay Ferry (Gate E): Click here.
To Sausalito via Golden Gate Ferry (Central area, 2nd entry, farther from the Ferry Building): Click here.
To South San Francisco via SF Bay Ferry (Gate E): Click here.
To Tiburon via Blue & Gold Fleet, weekday commuter service only (weekend sailings go from Pier 41): See signs in back of Ferry Building for gate. Click here.
To Vallejo via SF Bay Ferry (Gate B): Click here.
Ferry Building Restrooms
The modern Ferry Building retains one old design flaw: there are too few restrooms, especially for women, and they are hard to find. The ferries themselves have modern restrooms, but that doesn’t help if you’re at the Ferry Building shopping instead of traveling!
There are four major passageways that allow you to walk through the Ferry Building to reach the boarding areas on the other side, spaced evenly along the main arcade. The two central passages, those that you enter from the Embarcadero just to the left or right of the clock tower, do not have restrooms. The passages through the building that are closer to the ends of the building to the left and right each have restrooms.
Insiders Tip: For women using the restrooms at the Ferry Building almost always means waiting in line. During busy times those lines can stretch down the hallway. They really need to improve these facilities, but in the meantime be aware of the problem.
Inside the Terminal: The Ferry Building Marketplace
Acme Bread Co.
American Eatery @ Prather Ranch (Dining)
Bay Crossings — Ferry Tickets. All travelers except those going to Larkspur and Sausalito can buy tickets here.
Blue Bottle Coffee
Boccalone Salumeria (Dining)
Boulettes Larder & Boulibar (Dining)
Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick & Milk Bar (Dining)
El Porteño Empanadas (Dining)
Far West Fungi
Farm Fresh to You
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
Fort Point Beer Co.
Frog Hollow Farm Market & Cafe (Dining)
Golden Gate Meat Company (Dining)
Gott’s Roadside (Dining)
Heath Ceramics (you can also tour their manufacturing facility and company store in Sausalito)
Hog Island Oyster Co. (Dining)
Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream
Imperial Tea Court
Mariposa Baking (Dining)
Out the Door (Dining)
Peet’s Coffee and Tea
Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods
San Francisco Fish Company (Dining)
Slanted Door (Dining)
Stonehouse California Olive Oil
Sur La Table
Parking near the Ferry Building in San Francisco
San Francisco’s Ferry Building, which dates back to before the 1906 earthquake and fire, is adjacent to the City’s Financial District and close to the tech hotbed of SoMa, so it’s no surprise that parking in the area is expensive. Scroll down for a Google Map of parking options in the area.
The best choice is often to park somewhere less expensive and take BART or Muni to the Embarcadero Station, which is across the street from the Ferry Building.
For all-day parking the best choices are the lots that border the Embarcadero in the blocks just north of the Ferry Building (in the direction of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge), near where Washington St. and Broadway join the Embarcadero.
The closest San Francisco city-owned parking lot (far more affordable than private garages for hourly parking) is the Portsmouth Square Garage at 733 Kearney St.
There is extensive metered parking in the area, but this can be expensive for ferry riders because there are limits on the length of stay and prices are higher during peak parking hours.
Insiders Tip: Some of the street parking near the Ferry Building is in lanes that have signs warning, “No Parking between 3:00 and 7:00 PM” (for example), with different morning and afternoon hours. If you park too long in those spots and the lanes are opened for traffic the City tow trucks will tow your car away and then charge you an exorbitant fee to get it back. Always check the area signs carefully if you park on the street!
Insiders Tip: Both the City of San Francisco and the Port Authority of San Francisco operate parking meters in the area, and they have different hours of operation as well as variable pricing. Be sure to look on the specific meter to check when it operates. I find that many have been vandalized or are foggy, and that sometimes I have to use the flashlight app and magnify with my phone’s camera or look at an adjacent meter to find out who owns them, when they can be used and options on what to do to pay for parking. Those that are near payment machines (where you enter your space number) are the best, because they will not take your money in the evening if the meter has gone off for the night. A City parking meter and a Port Authority meter that are 50 feet apart may be on or off at very different times, so always check!
Insiders Tip: The portion of the Embarcadero that is on the Bay Bridge side of the Ferry Building leads down to AT&T Park, the baseball stadium. From April through October, on days or evenings when Giants games are being played, the parking meters are computer controlled and they implement “Event Pricing,” which means that you may pay $7.50 or more per hour to use the meter, and parking tickets are proportionately more expensive. Yet one more reason to always real the label on a meter before you use it!
How We Got the Modern Ferry Building
The Ferry Building opened in 1898 and survived the 1906 Earthquake, but after the erection of multiple bridges across the Bay in the 1930’s and 1950’s almost all ferries were discontinued. Eventually the building was remodeled to convert it to use as office space.
As a child I remember the area as cold and dark, stuck in the perpetual shadow of the hated Embarcadero Freeway. The Ferry Building looked like a locked-up relic, waiting to be torn down.
After the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 the Ferry Building was revitalized for two reasons:
The old Embarcadero Freeway that for 30 years had walled off San Francisco’s waterfront was torn down, re-opening views of the historic landmark. It was like having a triple-decker freeway located right in front of the Louvre, and it was ugly.
The freeway system around the Bay was badly damaged by the earthquake, but all of the ferries kept running normally. This led to the formation of the publicly funded Water Emergency Transportation Authority and its development of the SF Bay Ferry service as a more reliable, efficient and environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
With its role as the anchor for San Francisco’s Market St. restored and the ferry services continuing to grow, the Ferry Building went through a massive modernization and remodel in 2002. The offices were torn out and the central arcade area that runs the length of the building was restored. As you might expect, the building was also given a complete seismic retrofit!
The result was that we got back our “old” Ferry Building, the landmark that prior generations had known and loved. And we got an even better ferry terminal, with one of San Francisco’s most energetic and active dining and shopping areas, The Ferry Building Marketplace, at its core.