With so many Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop locations popping up around the country, it seems like I run into a Ghirardelli shop every time I take a vacation. My Ghirardelli shop vacation stops started when I visited the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop at Disney World’s Downtown Disney. (The Ghirardelli chocolate business has been booming at Disney World for more than 15 years now.) Since that first visit in early 2012, I’ve had a mocha and purchased a few chocolate squares at four different locations: Kissimme, Fla., Anaheim, Calif., San Francisco, Calif., and Monterey, Calif.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shops are all consistent in quality and service. Each store has the same menu, which includes hand-scooped shakes and malts, ice cream sodas and malts, hot and cold beverages, ice cream scoops and cones, and numerous ice cream sundaes. For the very brave Ghirardelli customer, there is the $34.95 “Earthquake,” which has eight scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds, chocolate chips and cherries. Other items are for sale around the shop, including Ghirardelli squares and bars, boxes and tins of chocolate and more.
Every visitor to a Ghirardelli shop is greeted by a friendly employee who hands out a sample Ghirardelli square. This person can show customers around the store, make chocolate recommendations, point out new flavors or suggest something off the menu.
Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shops are not just an experience for the tastebuds. Each shop I have visited has been instantly recognizable, with its brick facade, blue awning and Ghirardelli sign made up of many white light bulbs. The inside is beautifully designed and stocked, with attractive displays of chocolate, inviting seating with wooden chairs and a calming brown and blue color scheme.
The shop at Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, Calif.) features an animated mural behind the counter that Disney Imagineers created. Pieces of the mural move when certain sundaes are ordered. If you order “The Earthquake,” the mural shakes as if there is an earthquake. If you order “The Cable Car” sundae, a cable car drives around. “The Domingo,” which is named after Domingo Ghirardelli, the founder of Ghirardelli chocolates, a portrait of Domingo lights up underneath the clock on the clock tower. Other moving parts include a gold miner panning for gold, Ghirardelli workers making chocolate and lights lighting up in the buildings.
The building and displays are beautiful enough, but the view from the seating areas is also a sight to see. At the location on Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif., a dark chocolate square melted on my tongue as I took in the view of Monterey Bay—and a seagull picking at an empty sundae cup! At this location, there is also a small courtyard with an impressive old tree for shade. In San Francisco, I sipped my hot mocha with whipped cream and topped with tiny chocolate chips while looking out the store’s window at the San Francisco Bay.
The original location in San Francisco stands in Ghirardelli Square, the site of the original chocolate plant (chocolate is no longer manufactured at this site). Domingo Ghirardelli purchased this city block in 1983 to build the brick Ghirardelli Chocolate Company headquarters. In the 1960s, he sold the land, and a San Francisco resident purchased the land and preserved it. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the exclusive San Francisco-themed merchandise that can be purchased here, there is a feeling of history that makes this shop the most worthwhile Ghiradelli shop stop!