I first attended the Old Town Cottonwood Chocolate Walk in probably either 1999 or 2000. When you're a child, an event like this is fun--it's like trick-or-treating except that you get all chocolate and it's filled with Christmas cheer instead of Halloween fright. But being in December, it was also cold. As the night got darker and colder, we would just skip the last places on the map rather than run over to them in the cold. And after you've done it a couple years, you just kind of stop.
Revisiting good memories from the past in a new way, though, can be great fun. So this year I decided to go for it again--about twenty years later for me, it was the 26th Chocolate Walk for Cottonwood. And it's changed a bit.
I remember getting a hand-decorated bag. It had a glittery Christmas tree on it. Not to say that there was anything wrong with the sticker-bedecked bags this year; it's just a difference. And this year the hours were 3-7. I doubt it started so early twenty years ago; I don't think we waited until dark just because. Maybe we did . . . but I'm thinking they've just brought the start time earlier. If that's the case, I'm all for it. Cottonwood, for those of you outside of Arizona, is in the very center of the state. Phoenix is in the southern half. So Cottonwood (which is two hours from Phoenix) and the rest of the Verde Valley experience cooler temperatures and greater temperature drops than the Phoenix area. In winter, especially after the sun sets, it's cold to be spending much time outside.
Plus, there was some rain on the forecast for evening. So three o'clock sounded like a great time to start to me. Everyone else seemed to be there right at the beginning, too. There are some tickets available at the door, but mainly you'll want to purchase them ahead of time, then you pick them up at the Club House. It was built in 1939 by the WPA with local river rocks.
Old Town Cottonwood itself has changed so much in twenty years. It's been remodeled so much, mainly for the better. It was a little beat up in the nineties; now it has that cute small town look again. And it's filled with restaurants, shops, businesses, and lots of wineries.
The Chocolate Walk gets you your little bag with a map to take to 30 different spots. You have each participating business mark off your map and they give you a piece of chocolate. So it's a great way to refresh yourself on what businesses are there, maybe visit a couple you'd never stepped in before. I did have to do a quick walk through of Papillon Antiques; they have some great pieces there.
There are window displays to check out as you go along, as well as some indoor decorations.
A couple spots had hot chocolate, too, which is great when you are starting to get a little cool.
I took a picture of the bacon chocolate not because I like bacon chocolate (I confess, I picked off the bacon) but because it was the only chocolate that wasn't in a bag. So I figured it was deserving of a picture with Old Town in the background. That white building on the left side is the Tavern, which was once a movie theatre that caught on fire. I remember seeing it like that, as a former theatre.
Technically you can go quickly and finish in an hour. I finished in probably an hour and forty-five or fifty minutes, something like that. Then I bought a tamale to eat on a bench with some of my chocolate while I waited for the lights at 5:30.
They call it a light show. And it may have covered a small space, but hey, it was still pretty great. If this were Disneyland, it would be packed shoulder to shoulder. The lights set up over the buildings can light up to show different shapes and characters. It's all synced to music so that you'll see certain images to go along with certain songs. The images turn on and off and switch up. They're Christmas lights; it's fun.
It was all pretty awesome timing, too. The raindrops started as little speckles once the lights turned on. So I got to enjoy it all without turning into a wet duck.
I took my bag of chocolate and departed through the growing rain.
Here is what 30 chocolates minus a couple that I had on the night look like. Sure, tickets can be a little pricey at $25, but you're paying for a community event and you are in fact getting a pretty decent amount of chocolate. If you're going with a group, you don't necessarily need a separate ticket per person. Depending on how much you want to share, one ticket can be good for two to five people. Of course, I realize I'm saying that as someone who got to keep all the chocolate for myself.
As you can see, they're mainly handmade. Most are pretty simple. Fudge or toffee or pretzels, or this adorable Oreo/Hershey's-kiss/cherry-cordial mouse. But remember, there are also many restaurants (some with quite good food) and wineries in Old Town. So they're not necessarily going to hand out basic fudge and call it quits. A couple of these are going to be quite good, the type that you would spend $2.50 on in a chocolate shop.
So you get the fancy piece of chocolate bark or a great cake pop without the stick and you get the chocolate rice crispy treat and the chocolate cookie. You get a mix and most of it is in what I'd call the "holiday cookie" variety. Homemade sweets, essentially. I mean, if it were going to be about gourmet truffles, well, tickets would be more than $25 and all the businesses would be taking chocolate making classes from Black Butterfly in Prescott beforehand. It's glorified trick-or-treating, remember.
That being said, I'm quite glad I went again. The novelty was great. I had fun. It was a pleasant way to spend a December evening. And I'm enjoying eating my chocolates. Community events are fantastic.