Ghirardelli Square’s best
Built in 1900 as a chocolate factory and converted into a festive marketplace in 1964, this beautiful brick complex was the nation’s first quaint upscale shopping center. It is now a National Historic Landmark and home to an assortment of shops and restaurants. Musicians entertain on the courtyard stage each weekend (daily in summer).
Each September, a Chocolate Festival caters to those who are loco for cocoa.
Located at: 900 North Point St./Larkin St
Named for owner Albert Nichols’ great grandmother, Elizabeth Wrightman, the lovely locally made products from this artisanal perfumery include items for the bath, body, and home. I love the lavender products particularly—the sachets, luggage liners—and the attractive letterpress packaging. Items make practical souvenirs, and this is my own go-to spot for memorable gifts. Once I gifted my daughter-in-law with a soft washcloth filled with fragrant bath salts and some bath fizzers, and my granddaughter with a bunny shaped sachet and an egg-shaped fizzer. They loved them.
800 North Point St./Hyde St.
Simply the best French cuisine is found here, from buttery foie gras to smoked sturgeon on buckwheat blini to winter root vegetable soup to juniper-crusted venison to sweet Meyer lemon soufflé cake. A fixed-price dinner includes some of the owner-chef’s signature dishes–glazed oysters with leeks, salmon medallions topped with horseradish mousse, seasonal flambéed fruit prepared tableside—and a cheese cart presents enticing artisanal cheeses. It is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Large flower arrangements greet diners in the entryway, and two sophisticated, intimate dining rooms keep the atmosphere cozy and lively. Worthy of mention, too, is the serene, spa-like ladies room.
The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop at Ghirardelli Square
A small working chocolate factory using original equipment from the early 1900s still operates for show in the back of this classic ice cream parlor. All of the chocolate sauces and syrups are made on site, as is the fudge sold in the shop. After selecting from the mouth-watering menu, ice cream-lovers take a seat and await the fulfillment of their ice cream fantasy. Special sundae concoctions include the Earthquake, which serves four or more people and consists of eight flavors of ice cream with eight different toppings accented with bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds, and cherries, and the Alcatraz Rock, available only by request (rocky road and vanilla ice cream covered with a shell of chocolate, chopped almonds, whipped cream, and a whole cherry). Hot fudge sundaes, sodas, and milkshakes are also available. Ghirardelli chocolate goodies, including a 5-pound chocolate bar, are sold in an adjoining shop. This ice cream shop has several outlets around the square, so if the line is too long move on.
McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood & Steaks
Though most tables in this splendidly appointed seafood restaurant have spectacular views, the half-circle booths on the second of three tiers are choice. High ceilings, floor-to-ceiling leaded-glass windows, and fantastical light fixtures add to an overall elegant ambiance. Designed to please every appetite, the extensive menu changes daily. Starters include delicious crab cakes; sweet, crisp rock shrimp popcorn; and a satisfying, nicely seasoned clam chowder. Among the many seafood dishes, which are fresh whenever possible, are an excellent pan-fried petrale sole with caper-lemon butter and a delicious blackened sea bass with a side of homey mashed potatoes. Pastas, salads, sandwiches, and a variety of meats round it out. A more casual lounge area offers the same incredible view with a less expensive, less extensive menu and the additional option of a hamburger.