In 1898, the City of San Francisco  created a wonderful new Ferry Building to facilitate commuting from the East Bay . But the rise of the automobile after World War II rendered the gorgeous construction obsolete, and its aesthetic ornamentation was covered over and filled in. But then the roads jammed up and ferry service began again, and the 1989 earthquake led to the removal of the Embarcadero Eyesore (an elevated freeway).
Restored to glory in the 1990s, the San Francisco Ferry Building (1 Ferry Bldg, 415/693-0966, www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com , Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m., check with businesses for individual hours) stands at the end of the Financial District  at the edge of the water. You can get a brief lesson in the history of the edifice just inside the main lobby, where photos and interpretive plaques describe the life of the Ferry Building.
Inside the handsome structure, it’s all about the food. The famous Farmers Market draws crowds each Tuesday and Saturday. Accompanying the fresh produce, the permanent shops provide top-tier artisan food and drink, from wine to cheese to high-end kitchenware. Local favorites Cowgirl Creamery and Acme Bread Company maintain storefronts here. For immediate gratification, a few incongruous quick-and-easy restaurants offer reasonable eats.
Perhaps surprisingly, out on the water side of the Ferry Building, you can actually catch a ferry. Boats come in from Larkspur, Sausalito , Tiburon , Vallejo, and Alameda  each day. Check with the Blue and Gold Fleet (www.blueandgoldfleet.com ), Golden Gate Ferry (www.goldengateferry.org ), and Bay Link Ferries (www.baylinkferry.com ) for information about service, times, and fares.