Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Chocolate & More!

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco is a very popular attraction located at Fisherman's Wharf: the go-to spot for chocolate lovers and the best place for ice cream sundaes at the waterfront.

Is it touristy? Definitely. But the location is authentic and their chocolates are great. Plus they serve tasty and very large ice cream sundaes to go with their chocolate sauces. It's a pretty location as well.

Ghirardelli Square entrance archway and Clock Tower BuildingEntrance to Ghirardelli Square

SF's Gold Rush Chocolate

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company began in 1849 when Italian immigrant Domenico Ghirardelli opened a shop in Stockton, California,  selling candy and other goods to the Gold Rush miners. He opened a second store in San Francisco the same year.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was founded in 1852, and is the oldest, continuously-operating chocolate producer in the U.S.


What's at Ghirardelli Square?

Ghirardelli Square is a full city block of 19th century brick buildings, formerly factories of various kinds, repurposed in the 1960's into a charming collection of restaurants and shops.

The buildings are arranged around a "square", with a mermaid fountain and places to sit.

Clock Tower Building at Ghirardelli Square and Mermaid FountainGhirardelli Clock Tower Building & Mermaid Fountain

The old-time ice cream parlor is on the lower floor of the Clock Tower Building (above).

The location is great, too. The restaurants that face the bay have pretty views of Alcatraz, Angel Island and part of Fisherman's Wharf.

View of Alcatraz, Angel Island, and Fisherman's Wharf from Ghirardelli SquareView from Ghirardelli Square

The star attraction, of course, is the Ghirardelli Company's chocolate shops and ice cream parlors, where visitors have been coming for decades to enjoy their generous ice cream sundaes, and more.

To get a glimpse of how the chocolate was made, head to the lower level of the building with the clock tower; follow the chocolate smell to the back where they have the vat of liquid chocolate.

Original chocolate machine from the Ghirardelli Chocolate FactoryThe original chocolate machine

The giant "Ghirardelli" sign was erected in 1922 and has become a San Francisco landmark. The white lights make a pretty display after dark and can be easily seen by all the ships coming and going on SF Bay. 

Ghirardelli Square was placed on the National Historic Register in 1982, preserving it for the future. Ghirardelli Chocolate is currently owned by the Lindt chocolate company.

How do the locals pronounce Ghirardelli? It sounds like "gear uh deli".

Fun fact: the big sign used to say "Ghirardelli" on both sides, written in white light bulbs, but the neighbors complained (they're super bright), so they took them off the side facing the residential area. 


Things to do in Ghirardelli Square

The main attraction in Ghirardelli Square is, of course, enjoying the Ghirardelli Company's chocolates and ice cream sundaes in their ice cream salon's (4 of them at the square).

There are also a number of restaurants, wine-tasting outlets and shops in the square as well. Even miniature golf, a new addition.

The Sweet Stuff

The original ice cream salon in the Clock Tower Building has expanded over the years to 4 ice cream salons at Ghirardelli Square, so if one is crowded, you can try another. The original salon tends to be the busiest.

The upper level of the Clock Tower Building has an ice cream salon that is open during the busy season, and a new salon was installed a few years ago in the old Woolen Mill building (where the factory was located). Plus a mini salon and chocolate shop faces the bay on the street level on Beach Street.  

The chocolate sauce on their sundaes is hand-made from Ghirardelli chocolate.

Ghirardelli chocolates are sold in all the ice cream salons and in the little chocolate shop at the entrance to the original salon. There's no way to avoid them, so go for it!

Shopping for souvenirs? They sell some chocolates with special packaging that are only sold at Ghirardelli Square.

Ghirardelli menu

Ghirardelli ice cream sundae menuSome of their sundaes

Good to know: if you wander into the little chocolate shops, you'll probably get a free sample.


Shopping

The whole complex of buildings used to have lots of shops on all the levels, but the largest building has now been taken over by the Fairmont Hotel chain. There are luxury hotel rooms in there now ($899 and up per night!) which also are offered for sale in sort of a time-share arrangement.

The shops are primarily on the main level now, mostly upscale boutiques, and are fun to browse.


Wine Tasting

There are two places to do wine tasting on the square.

  • The Wattle Winery offers some of its Alexander Valley (Sonoma) wines for tasting.
  •  Vom Fass carries gourmet goodies and offers wines along with olive oils for tasting.

Ghirardelli Square Restaurants

There are a number of places to eat at the square.

  • San Francisco Brewing Company, a brew pub serving their own handcrafted beer and pub food.
  • McCormick & Kuletos, steak and seafood, great bay view.
  • Pico, a Latino street food restaurant, also good view.
  • The Cheese School, a soup and sandwich place focusing on cheese.
  • The Pub BBQ, Southern comfort food, including brunch on weekends. Open till 1:30 am.
  • Palette Tea House, a new Chinese dim sum restaurant.

Palette Tea House is new, but they are associated with two well-known and very popular dim sum restaurants in San Francisco and Daly City, Dragon Beaux and Koi Palace. Open daily from 11 am. See my page on the best SF dim sum places for info on the other two. 

Tip: at the Palette Tea House, you can try Dragon Beaux's signature dish: the xiao long bao sampler (soup dumplings in 5 colors) Very nice!

McCormick and Kuleto's steak and seafood restaurant with bay view at Ghirardelli SquareMcCormick & Kuleto's at Ghirardelli Square

Mini Golf - SF Style

A recent addition to Ghirardelli Square is a cute, San-Francisco-themed, miniature golf course, located in the lower level of the Woolen Mill.

Mini golf course at Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco attractions theme.SubPar miniature golf

Just for Kids

Culinary Artistas has cooking classes for kids from age 3 to teens.

It's drop-the-kids-off, so it's a two-for-one: kids learn cooking and parents get a break. Visitors to SF are welcome. See Culinary Artistas for info.


The Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory

Ghirardelli Square is the original location of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory; the factory was set up in 1893, in the building labeled the Woolen Mill.

Woolen Mill Building at Ghirardelli Square, SFOld Woolen Mill Building

Are there tours of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory? Alas, no. But there is a chocolate factory in SF that does tours. See Dandelion below

Where's the Ghirardelli Factory now? The Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory moved across the bay to the town of San Leandro in 1967. They don't do tours at the factory. However, Ghirardelli has an outlet store at the factory location.

Ghirardelli Factory Outlet. This is kind of a local secret; not only is there a big selection of chocolates to choose from, they offer really good discounts. Their outlet store is a popular place for locals to do some Christmas shopping; the prices are really good and they have been giving out free hot chocolate to shoppers...a festive experience.

The factory and outlet store are at 1111 139th Avenue, San Leandro, CA.


Tours of Ghirardelli Square

I'm not aware of any tours that focus just on Ghirardelli Square, but there are tours that include it.

Free walking tour. SF City Guides, a non-profit organization, gives high-quality walking tours all over the city. Their Fisherman's Wharf tour is excellent (I went on it recently) and starts at Ghirardelli Square. The guide begins with information on Ghirardelli, then moves on the other areas of Fisherman's Wharf. No reservations necessary, no charge, just show up at the scheduled time. See SF City Guides for more info.

Hop On Hop Off bus tours. The double decker buses stop at Fisherman's Wharf, and of course Ghirardelli Square is one of the attractions covered in the tour. See HOHO bus tours for more info and booking.

SF City Tour. Popular three-hour tour of the city on a motorized cable car. See city tour for info and booking.


Events at Ghirardelli Square

Popular annual events at Ghirardelli Square:

  • The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival
  • Ghirardelli Christmas Tree Lighting

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival. This is a very popular event featuring chefs demonstrating their chocolate prowess, and local wines for tasting. It usually takes place the second weekend of September. Next one is in 2020; it's not happening in 2019 for some reason.

Ghirardelli Christmas Tree Lighting. Every year in late November they put up a big tree in the square and have a festive tree-lighting ceremony with Santa and music.


Ghirardelli Hours

Ghirardelli Square is open 11 am to 9 pm daily. Restaurants may have different hours.

Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shops. Sun-Thurs: 9 am to 11 pm. Fri & Sat: 9 am to midnight.


Getting to Ghirardelli Square

GPS and official address: 900 North Point Street.

Ghirardelli Square is located at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf (hard to miss with their huge sign once you're at the waterfront).

The complex of buildings is bordered by Beach, Larkin, North Point and Polk Streets, and it sits overlooking the water at Aquatic Park.

Cable Cars: Ghirardelli is one block from the end of the Powell-Hyde cable car route. Catch it at Market & Powell or Union Square. See cable car tips for info on taking a cable car.

Buses: catch the #30-Stockton near Union Square, at Stockton St. & Geary.  Or take the #47-Van Ness that runs from Van Ness & Market, all along Van Ness, out to Fisherman's Wharf. Both buses stop at Polk & North Point, right at Ghirardelli. The #19-Polk runs along Polk St. from 9th & Market out to the wharf, stopping in front of Ghirardelli on Beach St. near Aquatic Park.

F-Line Street Cars. The antique street cars run from downtown, along Market Street, all along the Embarcadero waterfront, to Fisherman's Wharf. Get off at the last stop, Jones St., and walk west (towards the Golden Gate) 3 blocks.

See Muni map for bus and cable car routes.

Map of Ghirardelli Square on the San Francisco waterfront

Parking at Ghirardelli Square

Parking garages in this area tend to be very expensive. Forget street parking...not very nice.

Solutions:

  1. Ghirardelli Square has its own parking garage underneath which is also expensive, but they will give you 2 hours for $5 with restaurant or merchant validation ($25 min purchase). But each hour after that is $8. Also, SF locals can park 3 hours for $5 on weekdays, 3 pm to midnight. Entrances on Larkin and Beach Streets.
  2. Get a reserved spot nearby in a garage or parking lot for a greatly reduced price through Spot Hero

Things to do nearby

Ghirardelli Square is at the western end of Fisherman's Wharf, so all of the waterfront activities are close by. Pier 39 is at the other end of the wharf.

Also, the Maritime Museum is just across the street, on the water. This is a cool art deco building built to look like an ocean liner.

Originally it was intended to be a bath house for people swimming at Aquatic Park. Now it houses exhibits related to San Francisco's maritime history. Check out the beautiful, WPA murals on the walls. Admission is free.

View of Maritime Museum from Ghirardelli SquareThe Maritime Museum

More Local Chocolate Factories

Ghirardelli isn't the only chocolate factory in the area.

See's Candy Factory

See's Candies has a big factory in South San Francisco (a separate town) not far away. All their truffles and cream-filled chocolates are made at this factory. The South San Francisco factory also has a room where they do handmade chocolate for special orders.

See's has a second factory in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, the See's factory doesn't do tours, either. But they have a nice shop where you can buy their candies.

The See's Factory & Shop in South San Francisco

Location: 210 El Camino Real, South San Francisco.

Hours: open daily, 10-7 (Sunday 10-6).


Dandelion Chocolate Factory & Tours

There is one chocolate factory in San Francisco, Dandelion Chocolate, and they do have tours.

Dandelion is a relatively new chocolate company and specializes in handcrafted, gourmet chocolates, made at their facility. They just moved from the Mission District to a new location at 16th Street & Alabama.

Tours of the factory are $15, plus there's a walkway where you can inspect the factory on your own for free.

They have a number of classes as well where you can do tastings, learn about the process, or actually make your own chocolate from the cacao beans. See Dandelion Chocolate for more info and tour bookings.

Dandelion Chocolate Factory in San FranciscoDandelion Chocolate Factory

You can also enjoy a Chocolate Tea (or an Ice Cream Tea) in their recently opened Bloom Chocolate Salon: sample four dainty chocolate-inspired creations, washed down with tea or hot chocolate. We tried both teas; they're a bit pricey ($45 and $40), but fun and very pretty. 

Assortment of desserts in Dandelion's  chocolate teaThe Dandelion Chocolate Tea

Location: 2600 16th Street, San Francisco, at Alabama Street.

Hours: Mon-Thurs, Sun: 10-10. Fri & Sat: 10-11.

Tip: Dandelion has an outlet in the Ferry Building where you can buy their chocolates and get free samples.

Many people rave about their rich European Hot Chocolate.


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SF Chocolate Tours

There are some highly-rated, San Francisco chocolate tours available, as well.

San Francisco is a great place to sample hand-made chocolates from local chocolatiers, and knowledgeable tour guides will take you around to sample a variety of chocolate delicacies and fill you in on the making of chocolate.

The Original San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour.

Spend 3 hours tasting some of the best chocolate in SF while learning about the different types of chocolate, chocolate-making and chocolate history. This is a walking tour that takes you to six tasting spots for chocolate goodies. $56.

See SF Chocolate Tour for more info and booking.

San Francisco Ultra Chocolate Tour. 

Go all-out on a 3-hour, chocolate walking tour that visits seven local chocolatiers and includes cocktail and wine pairings with tasting the chocolates. Age 21+, $90.99.

See Ultra Chocolate Tour for info and booking.


More Sweet Attractions

The San Francisco area has even more candy factories and sweets-related museums.

Jelly Belly Factory

The Jelly Belly Factory is in the town of Fairfield, about 60 minutes north of San Francisco. They sell their jelly beans there, of course, and give tours of the factory.

The Jelly Belly Factory has two tours available:

  1. Free tours. Self-guided tour of the factory and some interactive exhibits. Daily, 9:15 am-4 pm.
  2. Guided tours. Go behind the scenes with a small group to see how their candy is made. Reservations, $59. Weekdays only, 3 times per day.

Tour tips...

  • The factory only operates Monday through Friday, so the self-guided tour would probably be more interesting then, even though the free tours run daily.
  • Also, the factory stops running for three weeks in summer, usually July, so check before going.

Location: 1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA.

Hours: open daily, 9-5. Free samples on the tours.

See Jelly Belly Factory for info on the tours.


Museum of Ice Cream

San Francisco is the permanent home of this "museum" that has also been exhibited in several other U.S. cities.

They've created a fantasy land of colorful, ice-cream-related scenes to enjoy and photograph. This is one of those Super Instagram spots.

One of the highlights: sliding into a pool of giant sprinkles.

The exhibits, such as the cookie carousel and unicorn ring toss, change from time to time.

Key: this is mainly a place to take photos of cute, sweet-related, pastel creations and enjoy the free treats. It's not really a museum.

Visitors have given it mixed reviews. If you're OK with paying $38 for some fanciful selfies and tasty ice cream treats, it can be a fun experience.

Tip: you have to make reservations online; no ticket sales at the door. See Museum of Ice Cream for more info.

Location: 1 Grant Avenue, at Market Street.

Hours: open 6 days, closed Tuesdays.


Note: it appears the cool Pez Museum in Burlingame has closed. 


More to explore nearby...


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