The Ferry Building is a San Francisco icon (and one of the many great ones in the city). Amazingly, this historic spot on the Embarcadero has achieved the rare balance between feeling touristy and also being a pretty cool place for locals (hello, farmers market and fancy food hall). If you’re enjoying a sunny stroll along the waterfront and looking for some great restaurants and bars to pop in for a light bite or a full-on meal, check out one of these spots.
photo credit: Hog Island Oyster Co.
Ferry Building Marketplace
A guide to great spots near the historic building isn't complete without mentioning all the great places you’ll encounter walking through its food hall: crackly fresh sourdough baguettes from Acme Bread; meaty sandwiches from Golden Gate Meat Company; juicy burgers and soft serve from Gott’s Roadside; briny, slurpable oysters and hearty clam chowder from Hog Island Oyster Co., and scoops of Secret Breakfast ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. You'll also want to stop by the new outpost of the Oakland-based Red Bay Coffee for semi-sweet charcoal lattes to go.
Fine dining restaurant Saison billed Angler as a casual spinoff restaurant, but there’s nothing casual about this place. The upscale Embarcadero spot feels perfectly suited for trading stock tips with a friend or sitting next to tables full of puffer vest-ed folks who agree that Dreamforce is the highlight of fall. The dining room is a cross between a hunting lodge and a fancy seafood house thanks to a taxidermy bear, decorative wall fish, and a big open kitchen with a wood-burning hearth. You’ll dine on meaty antelope tartare topped with herbs, wild swordfish steaks, a whole head of radicchio doused in an intense XO sauce, and other grilled items from the seafood and meat-focused menu. This power dinner might get pricey (mains range from $23-62), but the views that look straight out to the Bay Bridge make up for it.
This place in FiDi isn’t just the oldest continuously running restaurant in San Francisco, it’s the oldest restaurant in California. And not much has changed since it opened in 1849, from the long, wooden bar to the private white tablecloth-ed dining nooks. Head to this old-school spot to experience a bygone San Francisco era, and also taste a few dishes from their seafood-focused menu, like clam chowder, cioppino, oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes, and petrale sole a la Newburg. During the pandemic, Tadich hit a new milestone in its history—the walk-in only restaurant now officially takes reservations.
photo credit: Mary Lagier
Red's Java House
There are plenty of things to do in this city, like walk along Ocean Beach, chill in Golden Gate Park, or take a trip north for a glass of chardonnay in Wine Country. If you’re seeking a different kind of day, consider spending a lazy afternoon soaking up some sun at Red’s Java House. This pre-Giants game hangout is all about the sunny vibes—it has a back patio right by the Bay Bridge and is the perfect place to enjoy something cold over a burger on a sourdough roll.
photo credit: Nader Khouri
La Mar is a waterfront party. This place looks like a classy teal and blue-colored hotel lobby set somewhere on Miami Beach, with two bar areas and a high-ceilinged dining room. But the covered waterfront deck overlooking some piers is exactly where we want to drink never-ending pisco sours and fill up on tangy ceviche, crispy empanadas, grilled scallops over lentil tacu-tacu, and slow-cooked pork shank cooked with aji panca. This small plates spot is always packed with tourists, locals popping in for the 3-5pm daily Happy Hour, and people in town for some sort of convention, which certainly makes a night here buzzy.
With its brick archways, tiled mosaics, curved iron railings, and royal blue velvet chairs, Boulevard looks like a Parisian metro station or a painting from the Belle Époque. But this restaurant that feels so quintessentially French is actually serving a set menu of Californian-American dishes ($98). The three-course dinner has options like steak tartare with pickled white asparagus, ahi tuna carpaccio with somen noodles, and large plates like juicy pan-seared scallops and pork chops with grape agrodulce. The food is solid but not as memorable as the space and water views. This spot feels like a plush clubhouse for the after-work and business dinner crowd, and it's a great place to sit at the bar, order a la carte, and enjoy a bottle of wine near the Embarcadero.
Yank Sing is the city’s most famous dim sum spot—it’s been around since 1958 and is known to draw huge crowds, especially at the larger Spear Street location inside the Rincon Center. And while they’re arguably not the best dim sum spot in the city, Yank Sing is still a classic we love, and coming here at least once is a quintessential dining experience. Once inside, metal push carts with bamboo steamers will zoom past you, and you’ll have your pick of everything from phenomenal kurobuta pork and Napa cabbage dumplings and steamed BBQ pork buns to scallop siu mai. Get one of everything and don’t hold back.
photo credit: Erin Ng
Located closer to Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the city's best restaurants. The Filipino fine dining spot takes traditional dishes and amps them up with creative, always-refreshing twists. You’ll see sisig fried rice that resembles a bird’s nest, and crispy yuba skin folded up like an accordion on a skewer. Wash it all down with one of their colorful cocktails.
There aren’t a lot of Greek restaurants in San Francisco, but even if there were places on every corner (Souvla is trying), Kokkari would still be one of the best. Everything at this rustic place from the crispy zucchini cake to their braised lamb shank that falls off the bone is delicious, and the roaring fireplace is a great backdrop for birthdays, special occasions, or any time you want to feel like a CEO at a very important power lunch.
Harborview Restaurant And Bar
At this Cantonese restaurant located above Osha Thai, the menu is big and the dining room with Ferry Building views is even bigger (we wouldn’t be surprised if they could fit a 747 inside). This makes Harborview an ideal spot to gather with lots of friends and family to enjoy weekend dim sum or celebrate a special occasion over barbecue, sauteed and braised vegetables, noodle and rice dishes, and more.
This restaurant and bar in Financial District is an after-work hub, so expect most people to be in office attire. There are a few TVs behind the bar, and for big games they roll out some massive screens in the back room full of communal tables, so the whole gang can get involved in the sporting festivities. It’s an excellent place to watch football and wear your knitted Manchester United scarf as well. Does it matter that you’ve never set foot in Manchester? No. This place has the requisite boots to drink your beer out of, and solid pretzels, tots, and sausages.
Pier 23 Cafe
Pier 23 is a family-run bar and restaurant on the Embarcadero with good beer, stiff cocktails, and a menu of things like salads, tacos, and crab cakes. We usually skip the food when we’re here (this isn’t a place where you’ll say, “Hey, try this”), and instead use this spot as a ticket to waterfront drinking. Lots of umbrellas, tables, and plastic chairs fill the cozy but sun-lit outdoor area. Enjoy the views with a drink before moving on to the next spot.
photo credit: Osha Thai
Osha Thai Restaurant & Lounge
There are several Osha Thai restaurants around the city, but the one on the ground floor of 4 Embarcadero Center is pretty large and has a patio overlooking the plaza and Ferry Building. They make reliably great food, with everything from pad see ew and duck curry to noodle soups like khao soi, and it’s an ideal spot for groups or a quick fuel up before or after a stroll on the waterfront. You can also stop here for a few really good cocktails, or daily Happy Hour (4-7pm) with $1 oysters, $5 beers, and $7 appetizers.