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How Best to Enjoy San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Chocolate Square
Ghirardelli Square is a San Francisco tourist attraction that you shouldn’t miss out on if you’re in the area. It’s a place where you will find great chocolates, a set of unique little shops to browse through and a little bit of history. It also places you close to a lot of other San Francisco tourist attractions so it fits nicely into a day of seeing the sights in this city. But what’s the best way to make sure that you get the most out of your visit to this former chocolate factory? Follow these steps:
Know what you’re going to see
Many people mistakenly believe that this attraction is still a big working chocolate factory. They expect to be able to take a tour of the grounds and to see chocolate being made by the ton. That’s not what you’ll find here so don’t expect that or you’re going to end up being disappointed. What you’ll find is a few chocolate shops that sell the wonderful Ghirardelli chocolate and a bunch of other shops that sell a variety of niche items. This is an actual square with lots of shopping and a central outdoor seating area where there are frequently concerts and other live performances.
Check out the chocolate-making display
Although this isn’t a factory tour, there is a small corner of one of the Ghirardelli cafes where you can still see chocolate being made. It’s in the main café on the bottom floor at the back of the room from where you order your ice cream or hot chocolate. You can’t miss this place because it’s the one with the big line out front! Interestingly enough, though, there usually isn’t a huge line or crowd around the chocolate-making demo area so you can easily get a good look at some rich chocolate. It’s not a real educational tour but you can snap some cool pictures while you’re there.
Get a sundae … but skip the lines
You can get a variety of different chocolate items at Ghirardelli Square but it’s worth it to splurge and get one of their big sundaes. The chocolate that they use on these is out of this world. Of course, the weather in San Francisco is often too chilly for ice cream so if you can’t stomach the thought of putting something that cold into your body then go ahead and get the hot chocolate which is also world class.
That main room where the chocolate demo is at is where most people get their ice cream. That means there’s always a line here. If you don’t want to wait in line then you should go to one of the other cafes instead. In fact, there’s one upstairs in this same area that is usually a lot less crowded. Of course, sometimes this tourist attraction just gets packed with people but you’ll have a shorter line at cafes other than the main one on most days.
Get your free piece of Ghirardelli chocolate
Any of the cafes and shops that sell the boxes of Ghirardelli chocolate will give you a free sample when you walk in the door. You often get to taste the latest seasonal flavors although sometimes they just have the normal (but wonderful) chocolate squares instead. Enjoy!
Skip buying the chocolate gifts
It’s tempting to spend your money on the many wonderful boxes of chocolate that are on display in the stores at Ghirardelli Square. There are some really great packages that look like they’d make gifts. Most people discover that it’s not worth it to get these though. You don’t really want to have to carry chocolate around with you the rest of the day (trying not to eat it) and the truth is that you can get this chocolate almost anywhere now so it’s not all that special. Get a more unique San Francisco gift for people in your life instead.
Stop into some of the shops
It’s worth it to browse through some of the shops here when you’re done eating your ice cream. There’s a store that sells handcrafted wooden items (including really cool writing journals), a store for people who love pet accessories and a great place to taste and buy wine. Do some browsing. You don’t even have to buy but it gives you something to do while you finish your ice cream.
Look around the grounds
There isn’t a lot of historical information here but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of history. This is an old brick building that’s interesting to explore. Take the time to look around, take some pictures and check out the few sculptures and other items on display here.
Head down to Aquatic Park to take a picture of the Ghirardelli sign
The famous Ghirardelli sign that sits on top of the attraction is huge. That means it’s really hard to get a good picture of it from close-up (although you can usually get part of it fairly well from the square). If you want a better shot, head in the direction of the water. There’s a beach area here called Aquatic Park where you can take some great scenic shots with that sign behind you. You can also enjoy being by the water.
Check out the street performers and artists
There’s one street in between Ghirardelli Square and the water. What you’ll find is a lot of creative folks there. Street performers, caricature artists and people selling items like handmade jewelry are plentiful here. Take the time to check them out. In fact, you can head east from here to see many other local sights (Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, the cable car turnaround) seeing those creative people along the way.