Bowers Museum is the sweet spot for the International Chocolate Festival

The International Chocolate Festival is hosted by Bowers Museum.
The International Chocolate Festival is hosted by Bowers Museum in partnership with UCLA lecturer and “California’s Chocolate Guru” Lee Scott Theisen.
(Courtesy of Bowers Museum)

On Feb. 4 and 5, the fourth annual International Chocolate Festival will come to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. To sweeten the deal, the event coincides with Museums Free-for-All day, in-person for the first time since 2020.

“We are thrilled to be able to collectively welcome visitors from across the region on this special day once again,” Briana Sapp, SoCal Museums president and director of marketing and communications, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, said in a media release. “The Museums Free-for-All has always been a celebration of the varied and remarkable institutions in Southern California, and it is meaningful to continue this tradition of accessibility and joy.”

The International Chocolate Festival is also free thanks to a grant from the Nicholas Foundation, but it will feature special ticketed programming too.

The event begins on Feb. 4 at 11 a.m. with a free family festival with unique tastings of foods made with regular and specialty chocolates for sale by Gourmet Chocolatiers, like Letterpress chocolate. Activities will include art projects, face painting, and musical and dance performances from cultures with historical ties to chocolate, like Mexico, South America, Africa and Indonesia. The day will also include a tasting of cacao origins from around the world with Fresco Artisan Chocolate’s founder and chocolate-maker Rob Anderson. Guests can taste and review seven different chocolates, which have collectively won 24 international awards, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tickets for the tasting are $40.

On Feb. 5, UCLA Lecturer Lee Scott Theisen, known as “California’s Chocolate Guru,” joins the festivities. Theisen teaches the history, science and economics of chocolate at UCLA and hosts a chocolate podcast. Theisen will host an introduction to fine chocolate tasting in the Norma Kershaw Auditorium from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., highlighting how to taste craft chocolate along with some of the confection’s history. The event is free, with to-go tasting samples for the first 50 attendees.

At 2:30 that same afternoon, Theisen will join Blinking Owl Distillery’s head of tasting, Dylan Almendral, to host a chocolate and whiskey tasting in the Fluor Gallery. Blinking Owl is Orange County’s first craft distillery, making spirits right in Santa Ana using locally sourced certified organic grains, fruits and botanicals. Almendral will pair house-distilled whiskeys with Theisen’s selection of chocolate, including Fu Wan from Taiwan, Guido Gobino from Italy and Definite Chocolate from the Dominican Republic. Tickets for this 21-and-over event are $50.

Museums Free-for-All day is Feb. 5, with over 30 Southern California museums (Bowers included) offering free general admission for the day. Other participating Orange County museums include the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.

Each year, SoCal Museums hosts the day in an effort to encourage the community to explore local art museums and create equity by making art accessible to all. While the event was paused during the pandemic, Sapp said SoCal Museums is thrilled for the successful initiative’s return.

“We hope this will be an opportunity to both revisit old favorites and see new exhibitions or to try somewhere new,” said Sapp.

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