Hayes Valley Sweets Shops, A Walking Tour

Avital Ungar

Hayes Valley is undergoing a gourmet renaissance of epic proportions. Once an unappealing section of city streets between downtown and the central freeway offramp, Hayes Valley has blossomed into one of San Francisco’s most stylish and desirable neighborhoods. This fashionable window-shopping destination is full of fancy home decor boutiques, trendy clothing stores, top-rated restaurants and some of the most enticing sweets shops in the city.

Roshan Vayas

For foodies who love desserts, Hayes Valley is the ultimate place to explore. Although not really a valley, the several blocks along Hayes Street from Franklin to Laguna that comprise the neighborhood are pleasantly lacking any gradient (unlike the city’s arduous hills). So it’s an ideal place for pedestrians to take a leisurely stroll on a sunny or even a foggy day. Of course the most fun way to discover Hayes Valley is by taking a sugarcoated walking sweets tour.
This Self Guided Walking San Francisco Hayes Valley Sweets Tour will take about 1 to 2 hours and is approximately .5 mile in length walking and completely flat. It will visit 5 notable sweets stops.

1. Christopher Elbow Chocolates

Candy Store, Pastries, American

Chantal Guillon Macarons
© Martin Hapl
Walk a few blocks up Gough Street towards Christopher Elbow. At this enticing intimate chocolate shop, dazzling chocolate truffles are displayed like jewelry. The award-wining artisan chocolatier is renowned for its unique flavors and artistic presentation. Christopher Elbow uses the best quality chocolate, a blend of Valrhona and El Rey. During your visit, be sure to sample the decadently delicious hot chocolate, listed by Food & Wine magazine as among the ‘Best Hot Chocolate in the U.S.’ Guests may relax in the lounge area while sipping hot cocoa. Before leaving, select an assortment of chocolates to take with you. Favorite flavors are Venezuelan Spice, Passion Fruit, Fresh Mint, Macadamia Praline and Bananas Foster.

2. Chantal Guillon Macarons

Bakery, French

Smitten Ice Cream
© Lisa Alexander
Opened in 2009 by Parisian restaurateur Chantal Guillon, this inviting little boutique is a highlight of the Hayes Valley Sweets Tour. The sleek atelier-style shop beckons visitors with its rainbow assortment of authentic French macarons, made following traditional recipes. A macaron is a special type of almond-based cookie (actually a cookie sandwich) with an exquisite fruity or creamy filling. Chantal Guillon’s flavors range from classics like chocolate, vanilla and rose to more innovative varieties such as blood orange, guava and blueberry crème fraîche. Choose a collection to be packed up in a dainty gift box. (Macarons keep for a few days.) You could also sit at one of the small tables in front to savor the macarons with a cup of tea.

3. Smitten Ice Cream

Ice Cream Parlour, Ice Cream

Continue your tour by sampling some of San Francisco’s finest artisan ice cream. Smitten Ice Cream has an open-air shop in the center of Hayes Valley next to a cheerful park with interesting art installations. Since 2009, Smitten has delighted locals with its light, fluffy ice cream made from the finest natural ingredients (and no artificial flavors) like fresh mint, organic strawberries, fresh-picked lemons and Blue Bottle coffee. Owner Robyn Sue Fisher began selling her ice cream on the street from a Radio Flyer wagon but her ice cream quickly become so popular that Smitten now has five store locations. On weekends expect a long line, but it’s worth it!

4. Miette

Bakery, Pastries

A perfect ending to your tour, Miette is the most charming boutique in Hayes Valley. This adorable old-fashioned candy shop and bakery is adorned in pastel colors with lovely floral patterned wallpaper. Like a vision in a child’s dream, row after row of glass jars are filled with colorful sweet treats. At Miette, you will find delectable imported candies from all over Europe such as German gummy bears, Swiss chocolates, Italian praline, French caramels and British gumdrops. The licorice assortment is astounding, with over 20 distinct varieties. Miette also has its own house specialties including Ballpark Brittle, a buttery toffee made with Spanish peanuts that has received rave reviews. Another customer favorite is the Turkish Delight, delicately fruit-flavored jellies coated in powdered sugar. Any of the candies will make a delightful souvenir. If you still feel like indulging, try one of Miette’s cupcakes topped with irresistibly rich buttercream.

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