This lively plaza at the eastern end of Market Street is a popular lunchtime gathering place for workers in nearby office buildings. Parents bring their children to play by the Vaillancourt Fountain, while shoppers flock to the regular crafts markets along the plaza’s edge. In summer you can enjoy a series of free lunchtime concerts here, while the winter holiday season marks the return of the outdoor ice skating rink. In recent years, a company has offered zipline tours over the plaza, with sweeping views of the waterfront, during the summer months.
Opened in 1972, Justin Herman Plaza, which is named for the city planner who led redevelopment efforts in the area, was designed by noted architect Lawrence Halprin. At that time the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway loomed directly behind it, dominating the skyline and cutting the plaza off from the waterfront beyond. After the 1989 earthquake, the freeway was torn down, and now the plaza is backed by palm trees, with the Ferry Building tower, just across the Embarcadero, dominating the view. The fountain, by Canadian artist Armand Vaillancourt, has been controversial since its installation — some residents complain that it’s ugly, while others like to climb around and above it, enjoying the play of water as it spills from the fountain’s rectangular steel and concrete arms.