The last time I came to San Francisco was about this same time of the year. Everyone in the group wanted to do something different. I had one request; I wanted to see the sea lions. We spent the day visiting the bridge and the hills and the trams and everything that San Francisco is so famous for and at the end of the day we stopped for some clam chowder and a sea lion visit only to find that where they are usually hundreds of them today there was only one.
Fast forward many years, 10 maybe, this time I’m with my family and my request is the same. I want to see the sea lions. Guess how many sea lions we saw? 2. But that’s ok because we saw a lot of other fantastic things. I love cities like San Francisco, cities that are full of life, where you never know what you are going to find. A one point hundreds of men in suits riding old motorcycles buzzed by us, much to the delight of my husband and son. There was a surprisingly interesting fire truck show showcasing old fashion fire trucks putting out small fires. We watched San Francisco’s heritage street cars (trams from all over the world operating on the line along the water) go by as we ate our clam chowder at Boudin Bakery where you can get a loaf of bread in the shape of a crab if you so desired. Our walk brought us from the Ferry Building all the way to our next hot chocolate stop; Ghirardelli.
Now there was a time, not too long ago, when I was in love with Ghiardelli and this would have been the first thing we saw on our trip. But alas, it was just a summer fling and I have since matured, perhaps. Although I remember Ghiardelli chocolate with fondness, and I admit I have bags of their chocolate chips in my kitchen that I use in chocolate desserts (best chocolate chips for cookies), it is no longer my chocolate of choice for my home made hot chocolates. But despite this, it was still quite something to visit the place where it all started and for a hot chocolate lover like me, considering how many Ghiardelli hot chocolates I have been served around the world, it was a pilgrimage.
In 1837, Domingo Ghiardelli left his homeland of Italy with dreams of selling confections and chocolate abroad. After spending ten years in South America, he immigrated to the US during the California Gold Rush to see if he could strike it rich. Fortunately for us, he did not find gold, but in 1852 created the Ghiardelli Chocolate Company. In the early 1900s, Ghiardelli Chocolate found a home in Ghiardelli Square, next to San Francisco’s historic piers. Even in 1906 when an earthquake and fire destroyed a lot of the city, Ghiardelli was untouched and continued to make chocolate. In 1923 the neon sign was mounted a top the building to guide sailors to the city of chocolate Today, Ghiardelli is a part of Lindt Chocolate, a very large Swiss chocolate company, but it still feels very local, very San Francisco.
Unfortunately Ghiardelli no longer operates from this beautiful building that takes over what seems like more than a city block, but they have kept a little store and a pretty large café. I suspect this café gets very very busy because it works a bit like a production line. You wait in a long line up outside and when you get to the door you need to order, and pay for your order before you sit down. While you wait they have some old machines from when they used to make the chocolate in this location that are worth taking a look at. At first glace they look like they are actually still operating but what looks like chocolate inside cannot possibly be. The walls are covered in some of the early cocoa powder advertisements that were used in the 1800s, primarily geared towards housewives. There is a little store on the way out where you can also stock up on all the chocolate you could ever need or want.
You have only three choices of hot chocolates, I say only three because I expected there to be dozens. There is a sea salt caramel hot cocoa topped with whip cream, their classic Ghiardelli hot cocoa mix topped with whipped cream, and their decadent drinking chocolate made with melted mini semisweet chocolate chips. We ordered the classic and the decadent.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Ghiardelli, but the reason that it is no longer on a pedestal is that it is too sweet for my taste. I’ve gone darker, single origin and once you go in that direction it is hard to go back (a bit like economy vs business class perhaps? If only I had that choice…). But if you like your hot chocolates less dark and more perky, you will love Ghiardelli. It is decadent and made even more decadent if you watch the kinds of desserts others around you have ordered. The table next to ours ordered Ghiardelli’s apparently world famous hot fudge Sunday with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped almonds and a cherry on top (of course). I’m sure an individual sunday would have fed the whole family but every person ordered, and finished their own.
Even though the chocolate isn’t made here anymore, Ghiardelli has a chocolate festival in this location every year. The smell of chocolate seems to still linger in the air though, maybe it is soaked into the buildings or the city itself (there is a lot of good chocolate coming out of San Francisco, a lot). My kind of town.
I mentioned the hot chocolate was a bit sweet for my tastes, but we needed that extra whipped cream as from here we walked up to the windiest road in the world, and then up and up some more. Don’t trust the maps. What looks like a straightforward walk will instead involve walking up and down a lot of very steep hills (and with strollers in our case, extra work). However, you can’t really go wrong. Pick a street and walk in any direction. There are interesting details and things to see everywhere you go in this city, and there is always a tram you can hop on to save your legs if needed.
Verdict: Ghiardelli was one of those stops I always had to make while living in the US. If you have a sweet tooth, this will be heaven for you. Ghiardelli café, Ghiardelli Square, San Francisco, USA