San Francisco has plenty of iconic landmarks but one of its most beloved is Ghirardelli Square. This historic former chocolate factory sits in the heart of the city, just steps from Fisherman’s Wharf and the waters of San Francisco Bay, offering stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The three-level indoor/outdoor square dining, retail, and entertainment complex, featuring a famous 15-foot-high illuminated sign, appeals to families, tourists, and even locals, who all appreciate the square’s rich history and its significance to the city.
It all started back in 1849 when Italian-born Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli started his chocolate-making factory, turning out sweet treats for the city’s enthralled residents. Though the factory ceased operation in the 1960s, the complex has been turned into a successful re-use development site. And while it cherishes its history — it was granted National Historic Register status in 1982 and there’s still plenty of Ghirardelli chocolate to sample — the square isn’t stuck in the past. It’s added plenty of new businesses, many of which are local to San Francisco.
Just one of the many businesses located within Ghirardelli Square include a charming retail shop called Lola, which sells specialty gift items. Owner Amy Nanola loves being associated with such an iconic San Francisco locale. “We appreciate that Ghirardelli Square believes in smaller, family-owned businesses like ours,” Nanola says. “We put our heart and soul into making Lola inspirational and thoughtful to both tourists and our neighbors.”
The shop, named after Amy’s grandmother who once owned shops in the Philippines (lola is the word for grandmother in the Tagalog language), carries everything from scented shea butter lotions and humorous greeting cards to socks adorned with San Francisco designs and one-of-a-kind jewelry. “Our team focuses on being ambassadors of Ghirardelli Square and San Francisco. If you have a good time in our shop, it transcends into an overall positive feeling that we had a little part in shaping.”
Other business owners that are thrilled to be located within Ghirardelli Square are Jennifer and Josh Leavy of San Francisco Brewing Co. & Restaurant, complete with an on-site craft brewery, an outdoor beer garden with fire pits, and a spacious indoor restaurant. “We are very excited to be part of Ghirardelli Square’s revitalization,” says Jennifer Leavy. “It has a long history in San Francisco and we feel it was very fitting to be located in such an iconic building. It’s also very important to us that we were bringing manufacturing back to the square, as that was such an important part of its history as well.”
The brewery/restaurant offers a large variety of seasonal and flagship beers, including Alcatraz Amber and Fog City Hazy IPA, along with more offbeat selections like Revenge of the Nerds, a sour beer made with Nerds candy. The menu features gourmet burgers and artisanal pizza, and according to Leavy, there’s something for everyone. “We’re inspired by the coming together of cultures and experiences and the historical landmarks that have a story to tell, but we also have our own modern-day story to tell,” she says. “And we’re proud to share our passion with all the San Franciscans and visitors coming to the square.”
Ghirardelli Square also offers plenty of entertainment options and one of the most popular is Subpar, an 18-hole mini golf course. “It’s an exciting time to be at the square — the place is already a landmark, but the push for a wider variety of retailers brings more character to the square. It pushed us to stand out, but truthfully, being outlandish has always been our strong suit.” says owner Michael Taft. Indeed, the whimsical course, based on famous Bay Area attractions, is hard to forget.
A few famous ones you’ll recognize include Lombard Street (the “crookedest street in the world”), the Transamerica Pyramid, The Painted Ladies, the Golden Gate Bridge, and even Ghirardelli Square itself. “Customers love the theme of San Francisco landmarks — it ties us to the city we are in and it’s essential to our success. Tourists love it because it gives them an idea of places to go, and locals love it because it reminds them that their city has so many amazing things to do and see.” After playing all 18 holes, you can stop by the snack bar for tasty bites like wings and mini corn dogs, and you can even play video games and skee ball in the arcade. “We were fortunate that Ghirardelli Square chose us...they saw something in our little homegrown Alameda golf course and worked with us to make it happen. We couldn’t be happier with the results.”
So on your next visit to Ghirardelli Square be sure to check out this trio of hotspots, as well as all the other exciting businesses located within Ghirardelli Square — and, of course, you can’t leave without sampling some Ghirardelli chocolate!