The San Francisco Ferry Building and Waterfront

We’ve got lots of posts coming up on the California trip!  After Astrid spent hours organizing, filing, and uploading our pictures, we’re ready to start posting.  I find the natural environment in San Francisco to be one of the most beautiful and breathtaking in the world, so let’s start with some images of the city’s figurative entrance along the waterfront at the Ferry Building.  

The San Francisco Ferry Building sits at the head/foot of Market Street, at the intersection with the Embarcadero (image from Wikipedia)

The Ferry Building marks the bay end of Market Street, San Francisco’s main street, at the intersection with The Embarcadero.  Embarcadero itself means “the place to embark” and runs along the waterfront from the famous Pier 39 of Fisherman’s Wharf around past the Ferry Building to the new Mission Bay district.  The plaza in front is a busy and friendly pedestrian place today, and Wikipedia claims that in the 1920s and 1930s it was one of the busiest pedestrian places in the world, with passengers transferring between ferries and streetcars.

The building dates from 1898, having survived both major earthquakes  (1906 and 1989) and, perhaps with more difficulty, the construction of the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges and the 40-year existence of an incredibly ugly double-deck freeway in front of it.  The bridges of course dramatically reduced the ferry traffic, and the freeway created a physical  barrier between the building and the rest of the city.  In one of the more famous urban planning triumphs of the recent past, the freeway was torn down after being damaged in the 1989 quake, and the bright and friendly pedestrian area was finally restored, with the building once again fully featured as the crown of Market Street. 

Although not as tall as the modern towers, the building is a key feature of SF's financial district, sometimes known as "Wall Street of the West"

Given the building’s low profile, the clock tower is the visual landmark – we were a bit disappointed to learn that it is essentially a replica of a 12th century one at the Cathdral of Seville in Spain.  I suppose that is to be expected in Spanish-founded California, but in a sense it would be nice if such an icon of the city was a San Francisco original.

After a lot of work, the building re-opened in 2003.  The ground floor is a very highly regarded gourmet food marketplace, with restaurants along the edges, and a farmers’ market along The Embarcadero side several days a week.  The bay side has been fixed up too, with commuter ferries to several cross-bay locations.  Onward transport connections are very good, with the F-Line historic streetcar line runs right out front as do multiple Muni bus and trolleybus lines, and both BART and Muni Metro services just about a block away at Embarcadero Station (see separate future posts).   

The colourful historic streetcars of the F Line stop right in front - can you imagine this scene 20 years ago with an ugly double-deck concrete expressway there?

Walking south/east of the Ferry Building, The Embarcadero has a generous  promenade along the water that provides striking views of the Bay Bridge.  Although this was all once working waterfront, virtually all commercial functions moved long ago to Oakland, where the port is much larger with better inland transport links and can accommodate containers, so San Francisco has been redeveloping the waterfront with new housing, including the new (2000) ballpark for the world-champion SF Giants.  Overall, the waterfront is a very pleasant place to stroll, especially on a sunny afternoon!

The promenade and piers of The Embarcadero offer stunning views of Yerba Buena Island, where the bridge becomes a tunnel

The lovely promenade with city skyline to the left, Ferry Building in the background, and bay to the right - this is Cupid's Span by Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg, which apparently is designed to represent where Tony Bennett left his heart in his famous 1962 hit "I Left My Heart in San Francisco"


Posted on 06/02/2011, in travel, Travel to the States and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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