Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square offers not only a
complete residence for living and entertaining,
Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco has a rich
history and is one of the most-visited tourist
attractions in the city.
relentless icy wind swept in from San Francisco Bay,
blowing away the fog to reveal the 19th century three-masted
schooner C.A. Thayer anchored offshore. Farther out,
Alcatraz Island was circled by seagulls and besieged by an
armada of tour boats plowing through the chop.
two attractions were in the sight line of another San
Francisco landmark, also on the National Register of
Historic Places. Ghirardelli Square draws about 3.4
million tourists a year, says the San Francisco Travel
Association. They’re part of the 18 million-plus annual
visitors to the City by the Bay, an astounding number for
a mere 49 square miles to accommodate.
locals from nearby Russian Hill neighborhoods are
increasingly attracted to Ghirardelli Square for selective
dining and sipping, tourists from dozens of countries
descend on it as a vacation must-see. They spill over from
the frenetic circus that is Pier 39 (is there anything
better than watching sea lions?) and from the nearby
Powell-Hyde cable car turnaround. They arrive fresh from
the seafood restaurants farther along Fisherman’s Wharf,
and from the lumbering hop-on, hop-off tour buses.
take selfies in front of the plaza centerpiece, Andrea’s
Fountain, with its bronze sculptures of mermaids forged in
1968. They stare in dazed delight 100 feet above the plaza
at the 15-foot-tall letters in the light bulb sign that
has spelled out "Ghirardelli" since 1923, then
move on in search of souvenir sourdough bread.
first they join the mobs in the three Ghirardelli
chocolate shops, shuffling in line for bags of sea
salt-caramel squares and "world famous" ice
tourists may not notice, but Ghirardelli Square is
undergoing a renaissance. More shops and restaurants are
open than in recent years, and an impressive number of
them have direct ties to parent or sister stores in other
parts of the city.
instance, Le Marais Bakery & Bistro opened about 1 1/2
years ago as an offshoot of the main bakery in the Marina
District, and a third is planned for the Castro District.
Mashka, purveyor of "handmade in San Francisco"
artisan jewelry, is conjoined to the main store and studio
in North Beach, with a third outlet in Mill Valley. The
Bluxome Street Winery tasting room opened nine months ago
and serves flights of red and white, spreading the word
about its parent urban winery in the SOMA District.
activity makes a visitor wonder: Could the new owner —
giant real estate developer Jamestown of Atlanta — be
using this strategy to turn the trilevel square into an
authentically local destination? To make it more of a
genuine San Francisco experience for tourists and attract
city natives who disdain it as just another tourist trap?
focus is always to bring in exciting food (and drink)
purveyors and local concepts that offer local
flavors," said Jamestown corporate communications
manager Thomas Sandlin. "It’s crucial to the fabric
of every (center) we’ve done, (such as) Chelsea Market
in New York and Ponce City Market in Atlanta. Food is
really what brings people together."
TOUR OF DISCOVERIES
all that in mind, we dropped by most of the 20 retailers
in the square and asked them if they’re seeing more
locals as customers. The answer was mostly yes, to varying
window shopping in boutiques and other specialty shops
showed racks of couture and shelves of bath oils and body
lotions, cookbooks and guidebooks, greeting cards and
stationery, children’s toys and fine art, designer
jewelry and local crafts, sunglasses and wallets, and a
landslide of other mostly tasteful merchandise.
that, these were our favorite stops:
Waxman’s is the prestigious new anchor in Ghirardelli
Square, filling a 6,000-square-foot space first intended
to house San Francisco chef Gary Danko’s second
restaurant. Danko changed his mind, so Jonathan Waxman was
native Waxman helped pioneer California cuisine with Alice
Waters at Chez Panisse in the 1970s, later finding fame
with his California-influenced restaurants in New York. In
May, he was named the "best chef in New York" by
the James Beard Foundation.
6-month-old eponymous dinner house is handsome and high
energy, with his trademark open kitchen and wood-burning
oven. The clientele is "almost exclusively local.
There’s nowhere else to eat around here," he said.
loved the signature wood-fired half-chicken, succulent,
crispy and slightly smoky, accented with a salsa verde
(anchovies, garlic, olive oil and herbs) that gave it
incredible depth of flavor.
door, the more casual (but still classy) Waxman’s
Pizzeria & Cafe was jammed at lunchtime, the lines out
the door. Here’s a secret: The ingredient that makes the
pizza dough so mysteriously tasty is honey.
We found a treasure trove of oils, vinegars and spirits
inside Vom Fass. The mother ship opened as a local shop in
Regensburg, Germany, in 1994 and has since expanded to
more than 300 franchise outlets worldwide. Vom Fass deals
directly with small family producers, growers and
distillers, mostly in Europe but also California, said
Mike Pollastro, who owns the shop along with wife
Adelaide. "It brings its equipment directly to them
and packages at the source," Pollastro said.
of the walk-in experience involved sampling dozens of
seasonal, small-batch oils (olive, pistachio, apricot) and
vinegars (balsamic, honey, pomegranate). Our favorite
match was pistachio oil touched with sweet-piquant vinegar
distilled from mead.
80 kinds of spirits in decorative bottles from 20
countries crowd the rows of shelves — Irish whiskey,
anejo tequila, organic lemoncello (from California),
elderflower liqueur, fruit-flavored vodkas, absinthe,
single-malt Irish whiskey and 50-year-old cognac. "It’s
the stuff that usually never reaches the U.S. because it’s
consumed at the points of origin," Pollastro said.
One of the most relaxing spots on the square is the patio
adjoining the spacious Bluxome Street Winery tasting room,
which opened nine months ago after Jamestown solicited its
owner to come aboard. The grapes are sourced mainly from
the Russian River Valley and processed in San Francisco.
tasting room hosts a "locals night" on
Wednesdays with live music, said wine club consultant
Jesse McGrew. "Plus, we have special events for wine
club members, (mostly) people who live in the city."
Rock and blues music poured out of the street-level Pub
BBQ restaurant, where brisket is smoked for 14 hours over
hickory and applewood. That Texas specialty joins pulled
pork, St. Louis-style ribs and hot links on a menu that
could be at home anywhere in the South.
is no rib joint serving classic comfort foods, but, as its
motto puts it, a 2-year-old "sports bar done
right" with nine taps, big-screen TVs, weekend brunch
(chicken ‘n’ biscuits) and a late-night menu available
until 1:30 a.m. The place to be is the eight-table patio,
where diners can spot the Golden Gate Bridge on clear
Pub is owned by savvy San Francisco restaurateur Scott
Broccoli, creator of Ace’s sports bar on Nob Hill and
Dobbs Ferry restaurant and bar in Hayes Valley.
get our fair share of tourists, but we get a big rush of
locals and regulars during special events and (televised)
sports games, and on weekends and at nights. It’s become
a locals’ destination," said hostess Kendra Wilson.
Yap specializes in high-quality dog apparel, but the
displays of bow ties, jewelry and sailor suits can be
sell a lot of well-engineered safety gear, such as the Yap
Wrap, which we’ve made for 14 years," said manager
Adam Leigh. "We have vets from UC Davis and the
University of Pennsylvania who advise us."
the "cute fluff certainly sells well," he said.
"We have sweaters, sweatshirts and airline travel
gear for the mommy who wants half-purse, half-dog
has catered to dog lovers for six years, with a satellite
store in Monterey. "A lot of things have changed
here, and for the better," Leigh said. "People
think, ‘Oh, no, it’s Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s going
to be a madhouse,’ but that’s not true. It’s an
upscale clientele and everybody seems to have a smile on
"We had some customers from Paris who told me our
croissants are better than the ones they get back
home," said Katherine Ma, the barista at Le Marais
bakery. We stocked up, adding several flavors of macarons
and a loaf of crusty bread.
do see a lot of locals and regulars who come in for our
coffee and croissants," Ma said.
One of the square’s retail veterans is the Wattle Creek
Winery tasting room, the first such to open in San
Francisco (2004). For a decade, "wine educator"
Jesse Weber has poured vinos sourced from grapes grown in
the Alexander Valley.
are a lot of people who work and live around here, so we
definitely have more locals coming in," he said.
"Many of them are wine club members or are curious
about what’s going on."
A pop-up beer garden from the highly regarded
Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewery offered a brief respite
for the walk-weary at picnic tables under a huge awning.
Bartenders filled glasses from four taps while a
three-piece jazz band played on a small stage. The brew
station will pour from noon to 7 p.m., Thursdays through
Sundays through Labor Day. Jamestown is undecided about
what to do with the space when the beer garden departs in
September, said spokesman Sandlin.
two retail spaces are under renovation, and we’d heard
speculation about the addition of a "cocktail
element" to the square’s menu. But "there is
nothing to announce right now about the future
tenants," Sandlin said.
THE SONG OVER?
missing piece of the Ghirardelli Square experience was the
traditional scene of street performers playing on the
plaza. Sandlin said he would "touch base with my team
to see how they feel (about the issue), because they’re
on the ground in the neighborhood."
Stosic from Croatia was the sole entertainment on the
square during our visit, his amplified voice and music
evoking the days when the square resembled a street fair.
Between gigs there and the nearby Cannery (once a working
factory, now shops and restaurants), Stosic has played
Fisherman’s Wharf on and off for 16 years.
times were different," he said during a short break.
"Years ago, there were more benches, and an older
crowd would sit around and listen. I would get good tips
and sell 80 to 100 CDs a day. Today I’ve sold two."
a small group of tourists who had paused nearby to listen
was a father and his two sons. Dad dispatched one of the
boys, looking no older than 12, who approached the busker
with a dollar bill.
dad wants to know if you’ll play a Jimmy Buffett
song," he said.
we walked away, the wistful lyrics of "A Pirate Looks
at 40" echoed off the storefronts and swirled around
the crowd, which, in its rush not to miss anything,
treated the classic tune as white noise. One lyric in
particular caused us to pause:
mother ocean, after all these years I’ve found
occupational hazard being my occupation’s just not
feel like I’ve drowned, gonna head uptown …"
Square is at 900 North Point St., about a mile west of
Pier 39 and across the street from the San Francisco
Maritime Museum. It regularly hosts special events,
including the 21st annual Chocolate Festival, Sept. 10-11
(ghirardelli.com/events) and Uncorked: The San Francisco
Wine Festival, May 6, 2017 (sresproductions.com).
more information: 415-813-6758, ghirardellisq.com
Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square is a private
residence club that rents condominiums as available
($800-$1,600 per night). Information: (800-921-8865),