Episode 2: A little mini-series on what to do in Las Vegas besides gambling – and there’s a lot!
Many years ago, I was introduced to Ethel M Chocolates by my sister, Susan. A frequent traveler to Vegas from where she lived in San Diego County, Susan often visited Las Vegas without letting any family know she was in town and so she could do the “tourist thing” all on her own and not feel obligated to visit anyone because no one knew she was there. Brilliant move on her part, don’t you think? She knew The Strip up one side and down the other; she knew the shows – which ones to go see and which ones were a waste of time in her book; she knew the odd little places to go that I didn’t know about. Ethel M is one of those places. She has my never-ending gratitude.
Not too far from The Strip in a commercial area east of McCarran International Airport in nearby Henderson, there lies an unlikely factory that makes chocolates that are world-renown and very delicious in their own right. I’m not a chocolate connoisseur by any means, but I do know what I like. If you know what I mean.
Over one hundred years ago, Ethel Mars began teaching her son, Forrest, to make chocolate at their home in Tacoma, WA. He continued perfecting his passion for chocolate over the years and founded Ethel M Chocolates in 1981. The factory is open for self-guided tours during business hours of 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM and the tour is free. Everything is well-marked so it’s easy to see where the chocolate is melted, the cream is beaten, and the centers are dipped, until finally the conveyor belts take the finished products to the packaging stations. The candies are then transported to the Gift Shop, the last top on the tour, where you can purchase them directly, or sent out around the world. Once you’ve completed the factory tour, don’t miss getting a free sample of chocolate to stimulate your taste buds for more. And of course, then you can buy more before you leave the building.
Ethel M has a few signature candies but one of my favorites is the Dark Chocolate Lemon Satin Creme. Melt one of these babies in your mouth and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to Chocolate Heaven. Nuts and caramels, creme liqueur-filled centers, milk and dark chocolate truffles – all are to be had in the little gift store. Pick your favorites and try a few.
On the grounds outside the factory is a three-acre Botanical Cactus Garden. Here you can walk off those chocolate calories and see more than 300 varieties of cactus and succulents, including yuccas, aloes, agaves and more. The cactus typically bloom near the end of April and continue for some months. During the holiday season at the end of the year, the cactus garden is decorated in thousands of lights and becomes a night-time winter fairy garden, complete with visits from Santa Claus and carolers.
While Ethel M’s may not be on the same level as hand-made chocolates found at a tiny artisanal chocolatier, the chocolate is delicious and the tour is a fun – and tasty – place to get away from the hub bub of The Strip and spend a few moments relaxing in the desert. With a bite of yummy chocolate at your side, and in your mouth, what could be better?
Ethel M Chocolates is located at 2 Cactus Garden Drive in Henderson, NV, and is open daily from 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM – the best time to visit to see the factory in operation is Monday-Friday from 10 AM – 4:30 PM. CLICK HERE for their website.
Have fun and enjoy the tour! And the chocolate!