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.
Begin your tour with lunch at 20th Century Cafe just a few blocks from the heart of Hayes Valley. This elegant cafe is the closest you will get to a grand European coffee house in San Francisco. Every detail of the restaurant, from the Art Nouveau light fixtures to the sterling silverware, reflects the Old World ambience. 20th Century Cafe serves a unique menu of Eastern European cuisine, inspired by cafe owner Michelle Polzine’s travels through Vienna, Budapest and Prague. Specialties include green garlic soup, Hungarian chicken salad sandwich and pastrami reuben. The desserts are mostly Viennese classics like linzertorte and sacher torte as well as the cafe’s famous 10-layer Russian honey cake (krasinski torte) which was featured by 7×7 Magazine as one of the top 100 dishes to eat in San Francisco before you die.
20th Century Cafe, 198 Gough Street, San Francisco (415) 621-2380. Closed on Mondays.
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.
Christopher Elbow, 401 Hayes Street, San Francisco. (415) 355-1105
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.
Chantal Guillon Macarons, 437 A Hayes Street, San Francisco (415) 864-2400
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!
Smitten Ice Cream, 432 Octavia Street #1A (at Linden Street) (415) 863-1518
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.
Miette, 449 Octavia Street, San Francisco (415) 626-6221