San Francisco’s rich chocolate legacy dates back to 1852, when Domingo Ghirardelli opened shop. Today, a new wave of bean-to-bar chocolatiers upholds the tradition of superior local chocolate stores. If you’re looking for a special-occasion offering (or just a treat for yourself), a beautiful box of bonbons is a sweet choice. For the rare cocoa-averse recipient, check out our picks for gift shops and florists.
Best chocolate stores in San Francisco
At this “bean to bar” chocolate factory and café, everything is crafted by hand in small batches. Watch the staff roast, winnow, grind, temper, mold and wrap their creations before you sample the results. Tours and talks are offered Wednesday through Saturday. Along with single-origin chocolate bars, the café offers a menu of thick-enough-to-stand-a-spoon-in drinking chocolates and mochas, plus desserts such as a decadent, dark-chocolate red velvet beet cake, nib-infused panna cotta and a PB&J cup that crushes Reese’s.
Chef Jean-Marc Gorce has garnered so many accolades (from the likes of the Food Network and The New York Times) for his rich, dreamy bite-sized creations, he could use an extra shop window just to post them all. Instead, he lets the truffles do the talking at his modest storefront in North Beach, turning out irresistible (and inexpensive) confections, from cocoa-dusted crème de framboise and Earl Grey to chili-tequila and vegan soy truffles. Any of them make the perfect partner for espresso-sipping and people-watching on the sidewalks of Little Italy.
Self-taught chocolatier Chuck Siegel has honed his craft over 30 years, developing a loyal following that has taken him from cult purveyor to household name. At his shop and factory in the lower Mission, you can view the production room, then sample and purchase Siegel’s ridiculously addictive signature treats: triple-chocolate almonds, salty-sweet cashew bars, fleur de sel caramels, and his latest seasonal and experimental creations, from gianduja blocks to caramel almond sticks.
Surrounded by locavore restaurants, artisan butchers and bakers, craft beer and wine makers, this factory and small storefront occupies a prime spot in the blossoming SFMade haven of Dogpatch. Dark chocolate is topped with gray sea salt combinations, including signature tiles infused with such flavors as smoked almond and ghost chili, sesame toffee, and burnt caramel. Truffles, bonbons, bars, brittles and boxed chocolates round out the selection. It’s all good, but the popcorn toffee squares and sesame toffee bittersweet tiles are amazing.
Among the Bay Area’s chocolate-making community, Michael Recchiuti is pretty much royalty. His exquisite mini masterpieces are infused with lavender, tarragon, grapefruit, lemon verbena and other farm-fresh ingredients from local purveyors. Many are etched or painted by local artisans, including truffles illustrated with San Francisco landmarks by Creativity Explored, a nonprofit center for developmentally disabled artists. At his Ferry Building Marketplace shop, you can sample favorites such as burnt caramel chocolate, fleur de sel caramels, salted ginger bars and chocolate-covered fruit. Recchiuti also has a small outpost, Little Nib, in Dogpatch where you’ll find boxed chocolates, sauces, nuts and fruits and other popular selections.
Jack Epstein’s Noe Valley boutique carries more than 350 chocolate products from premium small chocolate makers around the world. All the local chocolatiers are amply represented, as are bean-to-bar wizards from across the country and Europe, including Switzerland and Belgium. Not sure what kind of chocolate you like? Come in here for an education.
Domingo Ghirardelli, the granddaddy of San Francisco chocolatiers, opened his factory here in 1852, and despite the touristy crowds that pack in on weekends, this is still the place to head for those classic chocolate squares or a (literally) over-the-top ice-cream concoction. The fountain offers such gut-busting fudge-laden creations as the eight-scoop, eight-topping Earthquake. In back, you can see a demonstration production room where melted chocolate sloshes around in big vats. The Marketplace chocolate shop sells Ghirardelli cocoa products in all forms and flavors: bars, squares, beans, syrups, powder—even boxed inside miniature cable cars.
Despite the fact that it originally hails from LA, See’s has become fixed in our collective consciousness as the special-occasion boxed-chocolate choice. Mary See and her son Charles opened their first shop in 1921, and by 1936 had grown successful enough to expand to San Francisco. Today, See’s has more than 200 shops around the country. These are the nostalgic comfort chocolates you remember from childhood—nougats, buttercreams, chews, Bordeaux, brittles and caramels set in little brown corrugated wrappers. Undoubtedly, part of the allure of See’s is stepping inside one of the tidy, little checkerboard shops, where you can point out your selections to workers in black-and-white uniform dresses reminiscent of I Love Lucy. And no matter how small your order, you always get a free sample.