Near downtown San Francisco it's expensive or time-consuming or both to park, but there's a lot of convenient Our ferry Our ferry public transportation. Take the Oakland-Alameda-San Francisco ferry, for instance: we did. Our catamaran crossing took 25 minutes, and there was plenty of free parking at the Alameda terminal. We had the opportunity to inspect the giant Oakland cranes up close, with no less than five container ships going in or out today. The breeze topside was definitely brisk, there was a light overcast, and the passengers included shoppers, sightseers, cyclists (who board first and get off last) and the occasional businessperson.

Inside the Berry Building Ferry Building interior We left the ferry at the Ferry Building. This is a highly successful new tourist venue concentrating on food -- its ingredients, preparation, and consumption. Today a farmers' market was in full flower on the street side of the building, featuring vegetables not often seen in the supermarket. We admired squash blossoms, little cartons of okra, and grapes varying from green Thompsons to the tiny champagne grapes currently in vogue here. Inside, the first store we found specializes in mushrooms; nearby shops featured kitchen tools, meats, cheese, chocolate, tea, artisan breads, caviar, olive oils, wine, ... why, the whole building must have been 500 feet long!

The major Ferry Building restaurant is The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in locally-grown food. Another tempting place calls itself a Japanese delicatessen and offers salads and beautiful small creations to be San Francisco hills The City from the waterfront selected at a cafeteria-like counter. Fortunately, it was still too early for lunch, or we might have simply spent the day in this building.

Instead, we ambled down The Embarcadero (why not El Embarcadero or The Waterfront?), ultimately reaching Pier 41, where we would board our return ferry. Along the way we passed new buildings with empty office space, a historical walk with bronze plaques featuring quotations about San Francisco, an international trade mart, a cruise ship terminal, a diner, an Irish bar, here and there a few feet of "public waterfront", a yacht basin, the performance of "The Royale Invitation" in the spiegeltent Teatro Zinzanni, a garage for the Gray Line's "Cable Car" tour buses, and more. we enjoyed views of Coit Tower and Castle Julius and our legs grew weary.

Suddenly Pier 39 was upon us. The favorite destination of all the teenagers in our family was buzzing with tourists of all sizes, ages, and nationalities. Sea lions at Pier 39 Sea Lions at Pier 39 We enjoyed the view of Alcatraz Island and the various shops -- pearls from oysters, the carousel, magic tricks, city souvenirs of all descriptions, chocolates and fruits and fried clams. One big draw to Pier 39 is viewing sea lions. These animals arrived at this part of the bay in the 1990s and have made themselves at home ever since. Their barking can be heard long before they come into sight.

Forbes Island Forbes Island Between Pier 39 and Pier 41 is Forbes Island, which is not an island at all but a self-contained motor vessel, designed for special dinners and events. Guests can climb the tower to the lighthouse, or catch underwater sights while dining. It is permanently moored here, probably to the great relief of water traffic.

Near Pier 41 with its sidewalk mimes, we watched as groups of bicyclists were fitted out for excursions. The featured route is to bike across the Golden Gate bridge and return by ferry, but other recommended routes are the city-wide bike paths including rides in Golden Gate park. They all looked attractive on this sunny day. As the riders were given their helmets, a couple of tiny bike-carrier cars pulled up, each burdened with an additional dozen bikes. A land-office business, to be sure! Re-stocking the bicycles Additional bikes

We returned in mid-afternoon. Our ferry left Pier 41, then stopped at the Ferry building before crossing the bay to the Oakland and Alameda shore. Our captain had to steer to avoid all kinds of craft, from the container ships with their tractor tugs to Coast Guard cutters to tiny skiffs to sailboats (which of course have the right of way), so he urged everyone debarking at Alameda to get ready so he could make a speedy getaway to cross the channel to the Oakland terminal.

We are just getting to know the region dominated by the San Francisco Bay and its extensions, estuaries, and rivers. The waterfront seems to us to be growing more beautiful and fascinating year by year, and we're grateful to have the possibility of crossing by ferry. To us it seems quite the most elaborate waterfront of all the metropolitan areas we've visited.

Oh by the way, there is available for sale, a 6-acre island in San Francisco Bay. See the website at