The City by the Bay is chockablock with chocolate shops, candy stores and gourmet markets with all kinds of confections; check out TCHO chocolates, Naked Chocolate, Pacific Puffs, Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

By Nora Cloherty
Originally posted on NYDailyNews.com

Valentine’s Day conjures up thoughts of chocolate and candy. And San Francisco is the perfect destination for New Yorkers dreaming of sweet treats and milder weather.

The City by the Bay is well known for its good food — specifically, great desserts. But instead of visiting crowded Ghirardelli Square or the tourist-packed Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown, you’re better off taking a food tour or talking to locals about their favorite desserts.

Here’s a guide to crafting your very own sweet experience in one of the country’s most magical cities.

TCHO Tour

Luxury chocolate maker TCHO bills itself as the “new American chocolate.” Behind the slogan is a reality: By investing in local cocoa growers, TCHO enables farmers to achieve the highest quality in their beans.

The company’s beans show a bit of personality in the Nutty (Ecuador), Fruity (Peru) and Bright (Madagascar) bars that add interest to your normal dark chocolate experience — all without any added flavors.

To figure out just how they do this, take the TCHO factory tour at 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. at Pier 17.

Pacific Puffs in North Beach began with a family recipe.PACIFIC PUFFSPacific Puffs in North Beach began with a family recipe.

Jane Metcalf, the company’s co-founder, tells us that to fully appreciate the chocolate here, you should compare all the bars mentioned above . You’ll taste the regional differences inherent in cocoa beans. Then, for a boost, take a chocolate shot from an antioxidant-packed drink “that will make you feel happy and focused.”

(Pier 17, 415-981-0189, tcho.com)

Gourmet Walks

Gourmet Walks offers a variety of tours, each showcasing a must-taste variety of local artisanal vendors.

The company is recognized for its guided food and wine tours, but the one we care about is the Gourmet Chocolate Tour — complete with an excellent selection.

My tour tasted rich, chocolate-covered sea-salt caramels at Recchiuti Confections, then airy ganache at Naked Chocolate in the La Cocina stall at the Ferry Building. Next, we strolled up Market St. to Fog City News, a combination newsstand and chocolate shop known for its eclectic assortment.

Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco, creator of the Fleur de Sel Caramels, is a memorable stop along the Gourmet Walks tour.Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco, creator of the Fleur de Sel Caramels, is a memorable stop along the Gourmet Walks tour.

A guide led our group through the complex bars made by Patric Chocolate (among others), treating our palates to subtle notes as well as punches of flavor.

Gourmet Walks is hard-core food tourism that introduces a side of the city you might not find on your own.

(888-277-1796 , gourmetwalks.com)

Bi-Rite Creamery

In the city’s Mission District, Bi-Rite Creamery is a staple among locals and visitors.

Not surprisingly, this homemade, small-batch ice cream is delightful. Pastry chefs-turned-ice-cream-pioneers Anne Walker and Kris H oogerhyde offer scoops, sundaes, popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.

An inexpensive way to get great San Francisco food: sample treats at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.An inexpensive way to get great San Francisco food: sample treats at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

With seasonal ingredients and creative minds, Bi-Rite serves up balsamic strawberry-cheesecake with rhubarb swirl and honey lavender. You might want to consider putting your ice cream selection in between two cookies before you order — it’s an echelon above the ice cream sandwich in your freezer.

(3692 18th St., 415-626-5600, biritecreamery.com)

The Candy Store

Tucked in the Russian Hill neighborhood, t he Candy Store is just a few blocks from San Francisco’s iconic Lombard St. The Candy Store’s owners, Diane and Brian Campbell, sell an astounding array of foreign, nostalgic and hard-to-find treats.

The walls of their shop are lined with jars of colorful black licorice and chocolate-covered almonds from around the world. Diane introduced me to an Italian fondant called Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano. Martha Stewart, during her recent visit, reportedly claimed this one as her favorite. My favorite: the Swedish-imported Sour S kulls, a softer sour with a satisfying chew.

(1507 Vallejo St., 415-921-8000, thecandystoresf.com)

The Candy Store in Russian Hill features an array of foreign, nostalgic and hard-to-find candies.The Candy Store in Russian Hill features an array of foreign, nostalgic and hard-to-find candies.

Pacific Puffs

The Carvolth Brothers opened up Pacific Puffs in North Beach, introducing their mother’s perfected cream puff recipe to the world.

Although their most popular puff is the classic vanilla, Rhys and Trent Carvolth got creative, presenting flavors like salted caramel, peanut butter cream and coconut cream. Pacific Puffs has grown into a cream-filled empire that includes a second San Francisco location in Union Square and a pair of Puff Trucks. Driving around the Bay Area, these food trucks serve up pastries with both sweet and savory fillings.

Find the Puff Trucks at events around the city — and parked at Fort Mason every Friday Night.

(Flagship location at 2201 Union St., 415-440-7833, pacificpuffs.com)

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

San Francisco’s Argonaut Hotel holds a daily wine hour from 5 to 6 p.m.San Francisco’s Argonaut Hotel holds a daily wine hour from 5 to 6 p.m.

Vegetarian and vegan dishes — and, thankfully, desserts — are part of the cultural fabric in San Francisco. Most will set you back a pretty penny, but not at the Ferry Plaza Farmer s Market.

Operating three times a week (Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.), this market is a great way to sample jams, jellies, fruits and cheeses from local farmers, as well as pastries, cupcakes and confections from some of San Francisco’s best bakeries. Buy what you want, or just peruse the samples along Pier 1.

( 415-291-3276, cuesa.org)

IF YOU GO

Getting there:JetBlue has multiple daily flights from JFK to San Francisco International Airport. jetblue.com or call 1-800-JETBLUE (538-2583)

Stay: Both of these hotels are fit for foodies.

– The Harbor Court Hotel, in San Francisco’s Financial District, has partnered with Gourmet Walks to offer a “Chocolate Bliss” weekend package. The package starts at $249 per night and includes a beautifully appointed Bay View room and two tickets for the San Francisco Gourmet Chocolate Tour on Friday or Saturday. Standard room rates at the Harbor Court start at $109 per night. (Book online at harborcourthotel.com or call 866-792-6283.)

– Argonaut Hotel, off Fisherman’s Wharf, offers a “Bike the Golden Gate Bridge” package. The deal starts at $319 per night and includes a deluxe guest room for two and a full American breakfast for two at the Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar. The hotel also offers a nightly wine hour from 5 to 6 p.m. Standard room rates start at $189 per night. (Book online at argonauthotel.com or call 800-790-1415.)