San Francisco’s Ferry Building

Ferry Building, San Francisco

Located on the San Francisco Bay waterfront, the Ferry Building is an indoor marketplace with shops and eateries, a busy ferry transit station, and year-round outdoor farmers markets. It is a wonderful place to spend an animated day in San Francisco.

 

Ferry Building Marketplace

 

With status as a San Francisco Landmark and National Historic Place, it has been a transportation terminal hub since it was built in 1898.

 

Ferry Building in left center, Golden Gate Bridge in back right

 

Ferry Building

The Beaux-Arts architecture includes a 245-foot-tall (75 m) clock tower with quarterly Westminster Chimes.

 

The Great Nave, a 660-foot long (200 m) indoor promenade, is brightly lit with skylights and features approximately 50 shops today. Originally it was bustling with freight, baggage, and mail activities.

 

Ferry Building, History

 

Ferry Building, Interior Nave

 

Indoor mosaic tiles throughout the building

From 1898 to the 1930s, it was the second busiest transit terminal in the world. In the 1920s, fifty million passengers a year, and automobiles, used the ferries. When the two big commuter bridges–the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge–were built in the 1930s,  ferry traffic significantly diminished.

 

Nearly a century later, taking ferries to work has come back into vogue, a good way to avoid the auto-clogged roads. It may not be the cheapest means of commuting, but it is the most civilized, and thousands of commuters prefer it.

 

Commuters enjoy a visit with a friend or a good read, a coffee in the morning or beer after work, as they are nautically ushered home after a long day. Rush hour in the Ferry Building hums with commuters.

 

Ferry boat, The San Francisco, Athena commuting on the top deck

 

An extensive web of public transportation continues just across the street from the Ferry Building, whisking people further into the city or far away from it.

 

With the water right here, this corner of the city has been a beehive of activity for nearly as long as the city has existed with trains, ships, horses, carriages, and cable cars.

 

Here is an entertaining You Tube video, worth a minute or two of your time. It is original footage of Market Street traffic, including the iconic building always in center view, getting closer. The year is significant: the film was made four days before the 1906 earthquake that would destroy 80% of the city.

 

A Trip Down Market Street – video

 

That year, 1906, was a devastating one for San Francisco, but you can see from the photograph below that the Ferry Building remarkably survived the earthquake.

 

Ferry Building 1906 after Earthquake

 

Over the years, the Ferry Building has undergone many changes and survived another big earthquake in 1989.

 

Some residents objected strongly to the Embarcadero Freeway built beside the Ferry Building in 1968. Then in 1989, the freeway was heavily damaged, and demolished a few years later. (You can still see it in “Dirty Harry” movies.)

 

YMCA next to Embarcadero Freeway 1972 (Telstar Logistics)

Embarcadero Freeway, Ferry Bldg., and Bay Bridge, 1972 (Telstar Logistics)

 

More recently, the Ferry Building was revitalized after an extensive four-year restoration, re-opening in 2003. Since then it has been decorated and celebrated by millions of visitors.

 

Gandhi Statue, Ferry Building, San Francisco

 

Ferry Building, Saturday Farmers Market

 

Graced by surrounding water and squawking gulls, tidal changes and every kind of boat, the Ferry Building continues to host and entertain the patrons and visitors of San Francisco, as it has for over a century.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified.

Super Bowl Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in San Francisco, 2016

Hermann Plaza Winter Ice Rink and Ferry Building

SF Ferry Bldg and Giants Banner, they won the pennant that year, Oct. 2014.

 

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66 thoughts on “San Francisco’s Ferry Building

    • It is a pleasant place to visit, and it’s within walking distance to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, so a whole day down at the waterfront is fun. Since it’s still above water these days, seems like now is a good time to enjoy it. Enjoyed your comment and thoughts, Craig, as always.

      • I made to Fisherman’s Wharf once years ago. It was so cold I had to duck inside places to warm up. Thought I was going to freeze solid by the time the cablecar returned. Then the car itself is open air. There was a long hot bath involved when I finally got back to my hotel. I’d still love to go back. So much to see and do.

    • I’m glad I could bring back pleasant memories of your trip to San Francisco, Jill. Thank you for stopping by, and my warmest wishes to you for a fun weekend ahead.

  1. Great photos and such interesting tidbits about the building. I have passed by it many times, but next time I will stop and visit it. That video you posted is also outstanding.

    • I’m so happy to know my Ferry Building post encouraged you to visit it next time you’re there, Hien. And totally delighted you took a look at the video…it is outstanding, I agree. Many thanks, Hien, always a pleasure.

  2. I really like your look at the Ferry Terminal today. The ferry boats were always my #1 choice for commuting to the City when I worked downtown. I even got to run some conduit down there—pre-painted Arctic White—after I joined the GGB District 20 years ago.
    Ω

    • I was hoping you’d stop by and comment today, Allan. I love how you always comment on the SF scenes. You’re a true SF devotee. Very cool that you got to run a conduit. We love our ferries, don’t we? My warmest thanks for your contribution.

  3. Well that put a smile ear to ear for both of us Jet. What happy memories of meeting you at the iconic building. The video is intriguing . I have to admit I was mesmerized by the winding of the traffic from lane to lane, not that there were lanes as motor cars and horse drawn carts found their way. Wishing you and Athena and lovely weekend.

    • I’m smiling, too, Sue, thinking about our fun rendezvous at the Ferry Building. I’m glad you watched the video. Crazy traffic, isn’t it? The three of us went through some crazy SF traffic in pouring rain that day, but it was far more orderly than the chaos in that video. lol. A total pleasure to hear from you, Sue, as always, and my best to both you and Dave. I hope you come back to SF again sometime. In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

    • I’m glad to know you are familiar with the Ferry Building, and that you liked the history. There’s really a lot of history down there at the Ferry Building, much more than I could fit into a short post. Many thanks, Stella and Laura.

  4. Love hearing about SF history from you, Jet! And the film clip from 1906 was fabulous. Surprising that anyone could make it from one end of Market St to the other in one piece with all of the activity, chaos and confusion! Enjoyed memories of being there with you…

    • We’ve had some great times down there at the Ferry Building, Nan, I’m glad this post brought you the memories. Glad you enjoyed the film clip, too. The restorer did a really good job. And I completely agree, it is difficult to imagine how anyone made it down Market Street in one piece! So lovely to hear from you, dear Nan, thank you.

    • Yes, the earthquakes brought down so much at that end of Market St., in 1906 it was all the buildings, and in 1989 it was the freeway, but amazingly, the Ferry Building stayed up. Glad you enjoyed the post, Anneli, and the video. It was truly a pleasure to do. My warm thanks.

  5. really enjoyed the video Jet! there were no traffic lights back then and you see horse-drawn carts and car just free wheeling. it shows a lot of respect and discipline among the drivers and people crossing the streets back then. this iconic building is truly a pride of SF rich history worth visiting. great photos as always. thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Dear Wilma, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and visit today. I really like that video, too, it says so much about life in 1906. I’m glad I could share it with you. Hoping your weekend is a delight….

  6. Cool old building and impressive it made it through multiple earthquakes. I enjoyed seeing the old film riding down Market St. Gosh, the traffic seems almost as nerve-wracking as today’s!

    • Yes, it truly is a cool old building and I’m glad you enjoyed the video clip, too, Eliza. Such crazy traffic for being over a hundred years ago! Thanks so much for your visit today, I always enjoy your visits.

  7. What a tremendous post about a tremendous location (the Ferry Building and the wider city!) The film from 1906 was fascinating, with the cars, trams, horse drawn carts, horses, bikes and pedestrians. Exciting then, and exciting now, although watching the footage knowing what was just ahead was rather haunting. And all the people are now ghosts. I think we’ve both been visiting, mentally, the early years of the previous century these past few days…
    Thanks, Jet, thoroughly enjoyed this, and of course, some happy memories from that location!

    • I so appreciated and enjoyed your lovely comment, pc. Glad to bring back happy memories (and for me too) and share the current and historical sides of SF. I remember how intrepidly you and Mrs. PC walked around SF when you visited, true adventurers. A pleasure and joy to share SF with you this week. Thanks so much for your visit and comment.

    • Yes, as you say, Jan, so much to enjoy at the Ferry Building. I hear there is a new ferry dock being built next door too, to accommodate the expanding ferry passengers. Thanks so much, as always.

  8. Hi Jet, Terrific post on one of my favorite spots in SF. Your summary of the history along with Athena’s photos made for an enjoyable read. Thanks! (Go Warriors!)

    • I am delighted we both consider the Ferry Building one of our favorite spots, Jane. The previous commenter, also a Bay Area resident, said the same. You can’t go wrong with good food, boats, and the sparkling bay. My warmest thanks for your kind comment and visit.

  9. I liked your post very much, I could feel the love that you have for San Francisco. Many great things other than the earthquakes, have been added for the advance of inventions and comfort of the people that lived in San Francisco. Thank you for the wonderful tour. 🙂

    • I enjoyed your comment very much, HJ, thanks so much. Yes, I do have a love for San Francisco, and I’m glad you could feel it, and super glad I could give you a glimpse of the Ferry Building. Warm thanks, as always, dear friend.

  10. Great write-up and pictures – luved the 1 you took of Athena. Now I have to go find a Dirty Harry movie

    • Really glad you enjoyed the Ferry Building post, Bill, and I have great memories of our joyful time there just a year ago. Glad you liked the photo of Athena on the ferry. For that year when we were displaced after the fire, we had the fun of living in a ferry-commute town, and what a thrill it was for her to take the ferry to work. Have fun watching Clint Eastwood in the 70s down near the Ferry Building. Many thanks.

  11. The Ferry Building in San Francisco does have its history, still standing strong after a few earthquakes. The market set-up seems like a great set-up for it – fresh food, cafes and events to bring people together 🙂

    • I really enjoyed sharing the history of the Ferry Building, David, and am glad you felt it come alive. There is so much history at that building, much more than I could fit into a short post. My favorite thing down there is to sit outside and watch the boats, commuters, and gulls. My warm thanks.

  12. It’s good to know there are millions of people using the building once more Jet. That video is absolutely fascinating. I think I have seen it before but it certainly merits more than one viewing. The range of vehicles and transport and the interesting road sense they demonstrate is quite funny. And to think it was made just 4 days before the earthquake and to see the aftermath – incredible piece of archive footage. Thank you.

    • I am happy you had the chance to watch the old SF video, Alastair, and I agree, incredible archive footage. I chose a version that had recent added footage, and I think they did an outstanding job. There is a small transportation museum near the Ferry Building that plays that video continuously and I never tire of watching it, because as you say, it merits more than one viewing. Hard to believe there was so much going on and yes, I, too, think it’s quite funny. Always a complete joy to “see” you, my friend, thank you.

  13. I enjoyed watching the entire video, I actually forgot the quick comment that four days later the earthquake hit. The video made me laugh, I couldn’t believe we didn’t see an accident, oh my goodness! The kids trying so hard to get in the video, and adults in cars too, tickled me, I really enjoyed it. When it ended and flashed text about the earthquake, I was stunned….I then remembered. What a compelling documentary to have been filmed just four days prior, thank you for sharing it and the history behind the Ferry Building, as well as Athena’s photos. How wonderful it has withstood the test of time, I hope it stands tall for many, many years to come!

    • A pure delight to get your comment, Donna, thanks so much. I’m glad you got to watch the entire video, it is such an eye-opening account of life in 1906, and it made me laugh too. So much going on! And yes, a shocking turn when you see it was just four days before the big earthquake. My warmest thanks for your comment and visit, it is much appreciated, as always.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the Ferry Building post, Cathy. The Gandhi statue was presented to SF in 1988 and is honored for his dedication to non-violence. It’s eight feet tall, and bronze, and the only statue in the area, and stands out. I like to meet up with friends there because it is easy even for non-San Franciscans to find, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time there, and enjoy watching all the different people who approach it, read the plaque, rub the toes, and show appreciation for this remarkable man. Thanks so much for your visit and comment, always a pleasure.

  14. I arrived in San Francisco in 1968, but I wasn’t aware of the Embarcadero construction at the time. I suspect I was in a bit of a haze taking in all of the City’s great charms. The one thing that struck me about the Ferry Building is how it’s been completely dwarfed by the buildings behind it. Either my memory is off or there were a lot more tall buildings that popped up in that area after I left. Had to count…. I think it’s been at least 40 years since I’ve seen the stately Ferry Building. Come to think of it, I watched the Pyramid Building being built during my time. Left a few years after completion. What a marvelous city. Pity the hurry and the bustle of any city is hard to take these days, even back then I yearned for something closer to nature.

    Love Athena’s images. The city inspires them. My favorite shot was the first one with the Bay Bridge in the background. Thank you both for sharing the history. And, by the way, the video was a hoot… it is a wonder that there wasn’t at least one collision. The timing so shortly before the earthquake was pretty amazing to capture all that was so soon to be demolished.

    • I really enjoyed your contributing comment, Gunta. Loved that you were there when the Pyramid Bldg was built. Yes, you are right, a whole lot of towering high-rises have been built since you were there, and they do dwarf the Ferry Bldg. The area South of Market has most recently shot up with dozens of new, tall office buildings. It is a very fast-paced city, like they are, which is one of the main reasons I like visiting the Ferry Bldg. You can sit on a bench and watch the boats and gulls, and leave the city literally behind you. That photo you refer to of the Ferry Bldg. and Bay Bridge was taken from the Hyatt across the street, which is one of the tall Embarcadero Bldgs. It’s one of my favorite shots too. Dear Gunta, thanks so very much for your thoughts, memories, and insight…always a pleasure.

  15. I never realized that there were ferry boats which operate today. And that they will take people further into the city. Totally makes sense as a way to beat the traffic. Thanks for the interesting history, the tour and the photos.

    Peta

    • Yes, there is a network of ferries that take people across the bay to ferry docks in Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon, Vallejo and other cities. But they do not take people further into the city, I’m sorry if that was confusing. The buses, BART, Muni underground, and streetcar systems take people further into the city, as far as the SF airport and beyond. Really a pleasure to “see” you today, Peta, thanks so much for your visit.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the Ferry Building post from SF, Bertie. And you’re right about that video and the traffic way back in 1906–cross when you can. Fun to share it, glad you enjoyed it.

  16. Nice walk. Thank You having me the possibility to visit San Francisco thru Your beautiful photos. I really enjoyed it. We have been there twice, but is long time ago. San Francisco is the town, which stay in our memories.

    Happy weekend!

    • Hi Matti, I am pleased that you have visited San Francisco, it is so far away from Finland. I’m glad the Ferry Building post brought your memories to life. Thanks so much.

    • Yes, it’s amazing how the new skyscrapers are now towering over the Ferry Building. I like your observation, that it looks “very confident” and I agree with you, Inese. Thanks so much.

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