SAN FRANCISCO -- The Conservatory of Flowers and the Ferry Building -- two historic San Francisco landmarks -- reopened in the last six months and have been attracting thousands of visitors ever since.

"We have two attractions that were grand when they were built and are now grand again," said a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The ferry building is not just a transit hub but a culinary attraction, while the Conservatory of Flowers has been reinvented and is worth visiting all over again."

David Jones, sales manager for Gray Line, one of the largest sightseeing companies in San Francisco, said the firm's standard three-and-a-half-hour city tour passes in front of both attractions.

"We explain the history of the Ferry Building and the conservatory and then people can decide if they want to go back later on their own and explore," he said.

Trolleys stop at San Francisco's Ferry Building.The tall clock tower of the Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street, has been a city landmark since 1898.

Until the 1930s, ferries were the only way to cross the bay, and those that arrived from the East Bay and Marin docked at the building.

Then commuter traffic shifted to the automobile and crossings via the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge until, by the 1950s, ferries were not the transportation of choice. But there was a renewal of ferry traffic after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which led to the dismantling of the Embarcadero Freeway and an extensive renovation of the waterfront.

The multimillion-dollar facelift of the Ferry Building brought it back to its original grandeur. Commuters and tourists walk through the building's food hall on their way to and from the docks to meet ferries going to Larkspur, Sausalito, Vallejo and Alameda.

To reach the Ferry Building is a cinch. It's a seven- to 10-minute ride on the F Line's trolley cars south from Fisherman's Wharf or east from the downtown cable car turnaround on Powell Street.

The Ferry Building's first floor is now a handsome, European-style food hall.

Among the foodstuffs available are confections from two local chocolate-makers, Scharffen Berger and Recchiuti; fresh oysters from the Hog Island Oyster Co.; stone fruit from Frog Hollow Farm; award-winning artisan cheese by Cowgirl Creamery of Point Reyes; and bread by Acme of Berkeley. There are also bookstores and kitchenware shops.

A renowned farmers' market set up in the building's open-air arcades features stands selling vegetables, fruit, bread, cheese and many other products. The market is open Tuesdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); Thursdays (2 p.m. to dusk); and Saturdays (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.). For more information, visit www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com.

Meanwhile, the Conservatory of Flowers is across town in Golden Gate Park. The conservatory, the largest of its kind in the Western hemisphere, is a beloved local institution. Visitors have roamed its humid rooms since it opened in 1879.

The Victorian-era building was nearly destroyed by hurricane-force winds in the winter of 1995. It was painstakingly renovated with $25 million provided by private donors.

Since its reopening in September, thousands of visitors have flocked to see the Conservatory of Flowers.

The domed central room contains plants from the lowland tropics, including a philodendron that is 100 years old and was maintained while the building was being rebuilt. Its canopy of huge leaves covers a variety of other plants, including some of the conservatory's oldest and most valuable specimens.

In the east wing is a gallery devoted to the tropics, with hundreds of orchids that grow on the back of gnarled trees.

To the east of the room is the gallery of aquatic plants, with pools of water cascading into one another. Giant Amazon River water lilies that can grow to six feet and support the weight of a small child float on top of the pools.

On the west wing of the conservatory is a room devoted to potted plants, which are changed with the seasons.

A fifth gallery is for special exhibits and contains a classroom for schoolchildren.

The conservatory is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors. For more information, log on to www.conservatoryofflowers.org.

To contact reporter Laura Del Rosso, send e-mail to [email protected].

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