If you trek all the way down to Ghirardelli Square, which locals rarely do, and get into that long line of tourists, which was a constant before the pandemic, you can smell it — chocolate in the air. Ghirardelli doesn’t actually manufacture chocolate in San Francisco anymore, but that doesn’t diminish the gloss of the Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop, with its exposed brick, brass rails, and two levels’ worth of old-timey equipment and fun history facts. Not to mention gooey hot fudge sundaes. Melted down daily from wafers, the fudge is ultra-smooth, with the telltale sheen of emulsifiers and stabilizers, and an aroma that billows out onto the square the same way Cinnabon cinnamon scents a mall.
Chocolate has a rich history in San Francisco, from the first miners seeking gold to modern makers refining beans. Get a taste for that tradition first — then, whenever the craving strikes, check out these modern chocolate shops.
The History of Chocolate in San Francisco
It’s a fun fact that Ghirardelli is the oldest continuously run chocolate factory in the United States. Beyond that, once you start scraping the bottom of the bowl, you can almost taste the entire timeline of America’s chocolate legacy — starting as far back as the Gold Rush days, when French and Italian immigrants first started producing chocolate on a large scale, and progressing to Scharffen Berger’s small-batch revolution at the end of the millennium. Then there’s Dandelion’s gleaming factory, whose California sensibility — chasing down the best ingredients and treating them as lightly as possible — is helping to lead the craft chocolate movement today. In that way, taking a spin back through San Francisco’s chocolate factories is like sifting through the archives of chocolate in America.
Ghirardelli was founded in 1852, well before Hershey’s in 1894 or Nestlé Tollhouse in 1939. Domingo (born Domenico) Ghirardelli was an Italian immigrant who came over during the Gold Rush, first opening a general store in Stockton, then a candy shop on Kearny. The factory moved into the Pioneer Woolen Building on the waterfront in 1893, where Ghirardelli Square resides today. Extraordinarily, it survived the 1906 earthquake, going back to business after only 10 days. Its days as a small, homegrown business in San Francisco are long past, however: Now the company is owned by Lindt, a global giant, and its chocolate is milky sweet and mass-produced at its facilities in San Leandro.
What’s less well known is that San Francisco is also home to one of the…