Weekend Trips for the Chocolate Lover
Calling all chocoholics! Plan a cacao-inspired weekend with tours, festivals and chocolate shops.
Photo By: Manoa Chocolate Hawaii
Photo By: Hershey's Chocolate World
Photo By: Donato Sardella / Contributor
Photo By: Ghirardelli Square In San Francisco
Photo By: Stephen Chernin / Stringer
Photo By: Jean Philippe Patisserie
Photo By: Alma Chocolates
Photo By: John Sciulli / Stringer
Photo By: Chocolate Vitale
Photo By: Richard Lautens
Hawaii is the only state that grows cacao beans for chocolate production, so what better than to visit the source? There are more than a dozen chocolate shops scattered around Honolulu; among them is award-winning Madre Chocolate. Its bean-to-bar chocolate is made on Oahu in Kailua, which has become an artisanal chocolate epicenter. Try the Hawaii Origin Bars, like Coconut Milk and Caramelized Ginger. You can even buy a bean-to-bar chocolate-making kit or take a five-day chocolate boot camp class.
You can find Manoa Chocolate Hawaii in Honolulu, but detour to its flagship, a half hour outside the city in aforementioned Kailua, to take a 45-minute tour of its chocolate factory. Afterward, a tasting might involve in-demand flavors such as Hawaiian Sea Salt, Goat Milk or Ghost Pepper. Not least, Honolulu Chocolate Company is a local favorite for its chocolate-dipped fruit; the small-batch chocolate is made at its factory behind the store in Ward Center.
Entrepreneur Milton Hershey didn’t just establish his now-famous chocolate factory in Hershey; he also helped create the town and the beginnings of what would become Hersheypark. After Hershey’s death the town continued to build on its chocolate legacy with the creation of Hershey’s Chocolate World, an entertainment complex that’s a chocoholics dream, complete with a chocolate tour ride, the chance to create a chocolate bar or personalized dessert and chocolate tastings. All things chocolate extend to other properties, such as The Hotel Hershey, where you can get chocolate-themed spa treatments. Chocolate fiends can also experience chocolate-infused drinks and dishes, like cocoa-smoked chicken wings, at the resort’s different restaurants.
Although you can find Vosges Haut-Chocolat nationwide, the brand, best known for exotic flavors and bacon chocolate, is based in Chicago. Chocolat Uzma Sharif has won a following for its small batch chocolate infused with ingredients such as Indian chili and rose water. You can even take a chocolate-making class with Uzma Sharif herself. Newcomer Veruca Chocolates whips up handmade, gourmet creations that are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
For more than 100 fine chocolate options, beeline to the annual Chicago Fine Chocolate Show held at the Navy Pier. The best part? Free samples. True aficionados shouldn’t miss The Chicago Artisan Chocolate Festival, featuring some of the best local and national chocolate makers. However, if you really want to elevate your chocolate knowledge, the Chocolate Academy offers classes ranging from beginner to advanced.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco’s chocolate history all started with Ghirardelli. The now-ubiquitous chocolate company was founded in 1852, and claims to be the nation’s oldest continuously operating chocolate maker. Every year it holds a weekend-long
Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival, filled with live music, chef demos and opportunities to gorge on Ghirardelli chocolate.
Beyond Ghirardelli, there are now dozens of artisanal chocolate shops in the city: at small batch Dandelion Chocolate, you can take a “bean-to-bar” tour of its factory, pop into its café and participate in chocolate classes. They even organize educational chocolate vacations. Charles Chocolates, Recchiuti Confections and Christopher Elbow are other standouts. To properly understand San Francisco’s burgeoning chocolate landscape, consider a walking tour with Gourmet Walks.
New York City
NYC is a chocolate-lovers heaven, loaded with dozens of excellent chocolate shops. Of note are Li-Lac Chocolates, whose founding in 1923 makes it the oldest in Manhattan; you can watch chocolate making in action at its factory in Brooklyn. Not only does Nunu Chocolates have some of the best artisan chocolate in the city, but you’d never guess its founders are self taught. MarieBelle is one of the best (and most charming) spots to sip rich hot chocolate, while world-famous Jacques Torres still operates its original location in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Kee’s Chocolates began as a combination flower/chocolate shop, and has evolved into a destination spot for inventive and unexpected chocolates, such as blended pepper and elderflower. Try your hand at making chocolate by taking a two-hour class at Raaka Chocolate’s factory in Brooklyn—your own creation is a sweet reward.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas may lack the homegrown faction compared to other places, but it is one of the best cities for finding destination-worthy chocolate. Celebrated pastry chef François Payard has a museum-quality shop at Caesars Palace, selling some of the finest Parisian-style chocolates and pastries around. Acclaimed Jean Philippe Patisserie dazzles with artfully crafted bonbons and decadent chocolaty cakes, pastries and more. The pièce de résistance at his Bellagio location is the floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain, recognized as the largest in the world by Guinness World Records.
However, not all of Vegas’ best chocolate shops are branches. HEXX chocolate is a local bean-to-bar chocolate maker that focuses on single origin dark chocolate. It’s conveniently located on the strip, and offers free tours of its kitchen. Or eat your way into a chocolate coma at the Las Vegas Chocolate Festival and Pastry Show, which showcases some of the world’s best chocolatiers and pastry chefs.
Along with craft beer, Portland has a thriving chocolate scene. Moonstruck Chocolate can be credited with launching the city’s artisanal chocolate movement in 1993. It still specializes in handcrafted batches, from truffles to chocolate bars; look for seasonal specialties, such as mushroom-shaped truffles. Moonstruck also has five cafés in which to linger. Trendsetter Xocolatl de David has won awards for its Brown Butter Crunch Bar and Sourdough & Olive Oil Bar, while the limited-edition Foie Gras Chocolate Bar is among its truly unconventional creations. Alma Chocolates distinguishes itself with chocolate icons, from the religious to the symbolic, which are covered in edible gold leaf foil.
As the name suggests, Batch PDX whips up small batch goodness while elevating truffles to the next level. For example, the Vietnamese Ice Coffee and Thai Ice Tea appear to be miniature cups filled with liquid. Batch doesn’t have a brick and mortar store, but its creations can be found at Cacao, a specialty shop that sells some of the best craft chocolates from around the world.
Los Angeles, California
LA’s chocolate roots run deep: See’s Candies has been a local institution since 1921, and classics, such as nuts and chews and milk buttercreams, are among its best sellers. At the other end, trendsetting Compartes Chocolatier is renowned for its next-level artistry, although it’s just as much about the taste as it is about the eye candy. Its truffles come in a wide assortment of flavors, (Browned Butter, Tequila Lime) and are decorated with a complementary graphic. Its chocolate bars, like the glittery Bijou, are unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Valerie Confections has earned major accolades for its hand-dipped Petits Fours; the fact that its first cookbook was a James Beard-award finalist is further testament to its craft. When available, grab a chocolate Oscar statue as an iconic souvenir. ChocoVivo was the first in LA to focus on bean-to-bar production, and uses an ancient stone grounding technique employed by Mayans and Aztecs. It produces only dark chocolate, so opt for one of its pure chocolate bars to really taste the flavor.
Add chocolate to the list of things Seattle does well. Theo Chocolate was among the vanguard, and the first chocolate factory in the nation to be designated organic and fair trade. It’s also known for its handcrafted chocolate bars in a variety of common (sea salt) and uncommon (coconut curry) flavors. You can schedule a factory tour, or check its calendar for chocolate-making and chocolate-tasting classes. Fran’s Chocolates is a local institution, and Bobby Flay had nothing but high praise for the gold bars, which he compared to gourmet candy bars, while the salted caramels are among its best sellers.
Chocolat Vitale is where to go for European-style drinking chocolate, and you can also buy some to bring home. If you don’t have time to hit all of Seattle’s chocolate shops, the Chocolate Box sells a curated selection of the best local and international chocolate offerings. The store also holds chocolate-making classes and chocolate- and wine-pairing events.
Chocolate lovers should bypass the major theme parks in favor of chocolate attractions. The World of Chocolate Museum & Café provides a 45-minute guided tour that covers the history of chocolate and the chocolate-making process. Throughout are 25 chocolate sculptures of iconic landmarks that help illustrate this history, and yes, there are chocolate samples. Chocolate Kingdom is a better option if you have young children in tow, since it’s a more interactive experience.
As far as chocolate shops, David Ramirez Chocolates is worth a visit for its handcrafted, visually stunning chocolates, along with its macarons. Farris and Foster’s Chocolate Factory is popular for its chocolate-making classes—resulting in a pound of chocolate. Speaking of which, the Festival of Chocolate is the largest chocolate event of its kind in the Southeast. Besides plenty of options to buy chocolate, there are also chocolate classes, demonstrations and chocolate-pairing seminars.