If you really want to impress a chocoholic on Valentine’s Day, consider stopping by one of these chocolate factory tours in San Francisco, New York City, Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Vermont. Most of these tours are free, plus you’ll score complimentary samples — and extra brownie points for creativity.
But even if you can only give your sweetheart a box of chocolates this year, these tours are available year-round (not that you really need an excuse to indulge on your next vacation).
Where: Pier 17, San Francisco
Move over, Ghirardelli. TCHO launched a free factory tour just after Thanksgiving. Though each tour includes complimentary samples of chocolate, cocoa nibs, and biscotti, few people will be able to resist buying the best-selling chocolate-covered mango pieces ($4 for four ounces). And for chocolate lovers who can’t make it to the factory, TCHO is expected to unveil a virtual tour soon.
When: 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily; factory operation may not be in production on all weekends.
Cost: Free tour. Walk-ins are accepted, but there’s a limit of 30 people per tour, so you’ll want to reserve tickets through www.brownpapertickets.com.
Big Island Candies
Where: Hilo, Hawaii
Large glass windows let you watch rows of workers as they hand-dip macadamia nuts in milk or dark chocolate. More adventurous chocolate lovers may want to try Ika, dried cuttlefish dipped in chocolate. You’ll also be able to help yourself to chocolate and cookie samples, all of which you can wash down with a complimentary cup of Kona coffee.
When: Factory operation is viewable 8:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays
Cost: Free admission; two-ounce box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from $4.
Lake Champlain Chocolates
Where: Burlington, Vermont
The 25-minute factory tour includes free tastings of dark, milk, and white chocolate, plus a featured sample that varies by day. The company’s bestseller? Truffles ($2.25 each; $12 for a four-piece gift box).
When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays on the hour; in the summer, there is typically a tasting session and a video demo on Fridays instead of the tour.
Cost: Free tour. Walk-ins are accepted; limit 30 people per tour.
Info: 800/465-5909 for reservations; www.lakechamplainchocolates.comEthel M Chocolates
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
If you’re going to be addicted to something while visiting Vegas, it might as well be to chocolate. The free self-guided tour lets you peer into the factory and learn about the chocolate-making process. End the tour with a sample of white, dark, milk, or various seasonal chocolates. Considering that the factory receives about 700,000 visitors per year, that’s a lot of free samples.
When: The factory — in Henderson about a 15-minute drive from McCarran airport — is open daily, but the machinery tends to operate Mondays-Thursdays only.
Cost: Free tour
Mast Brothers Chocolate
Where: Brooklyn, New York
Of these five chocolate factories, this is the only tour that charges for a behind-the-scenes look. Then again, this craft chocolate factory is a much smaller operation than some of the other companies. Made from organically farmed cacao from Madagascar, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, the exquisitely wrapped chocolate bars come in equally delicious flavors like Fleur del Sel ($7).
When: 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: $9.99 per person for a tour; reserve tickets through www.brownpapertickets.com