Life is short; eat dessert first. A party without cake is just a meeting. There is no better way to bring people together than with desserts. All are mantras to live by and Los Angeles, and the cities that surround it, offer plenty of places to act on them. From fried dough and flaky fruit-filled crusts to ice cream sandwiches and alcoholic gummies, the following 15 spots take the cake when it comes time to indulging in the sweet life.
Let this southern transplant (and ex-lawyer) comfort you with flaky all-butter crusts and fabulous fillings. She grew up baking with the women in her family, and eventually her pastime turned into a passion and then into two storefronts in Brentwood and West Hollywood. Indulge in year-round beauties like the Cowgirl (a chocolate chess) or key lime pie, fruit pies only offered when the star filler is in season, limited-edition offerings like chocolate-infused crust, or the rotating line based on classic candy bars like Twix and Payday. The best part? They cater to all levels of hunger by offering two-inch round bites, single slices, hand pies, minis, and 11-inch pies. Sit in and pair it with fancy coffee concoctions. Gluten-free and vegan options are available.
They’ve been crushing the candy game since opening their first boutique in Beverly Hills in 2013. Now with outposts all over the Southland including in Century City, Glendale, and El Segundo, this is the company behind the Rosé- and Dom Perignon-infused gummies, which once had an 18,000-person waitlist. Head to one of their light and bright stores to design a bento box. Fill it with chocolates and confections, many of which were made in collaboration with other hip companies like Tito’s Vodka, Pressed Juicery, and Alfred Coffee (first coffee-charged caffeinated bears). There’s something for every holiday and occasion as well as everyday splurges.
Ethel M Chocolates
Of course this company is based in Las Vegas. Their products, including the sea salt caramels, pecan brittle, toffee bites, and XO Cognac truffles are so sinfully delicious, you’ll be happily cheating on your diet in no time. Luckily, what is made in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas as the company opened up shop at the Glendale Galleria in 2019. Drop in for daily chocolate tastings to learn about how cacao is sourced, refined, and produced, and eat some treats. They go all out at Christmas and Valentine’s Day, offering limited-edition products like chocolate-covered strawberries and themed tastings. Grab favorites by the piece or by the gift box.
Adorkable pastry whiz Christina Tosi is building a dessert empire, one layered cake at a time. You can find her now iconic naked cakes along with cake truffles (cobbled together from leftover cake scraps), gooey Crack Pies, and her sweet and salty Compost Cookies at the recently opened L.A. flagship on Melrose. Some gluten-free versions are available. As it is also considered an active lab where they cook up new ideas, you might happen upon the next big thing. The cake and pie making classes are a fun way to spend date night, and there are easier classes like cookie decorating aimed at getting kids in the kitchen.
These aren’t your grandpa’s amusement park churros. The downtown Long Beach newbie churns out made-to-order Brazilian-style fried, sugared sticks of warm happiness. They tend to be softer and creamier than their state fair relatives with a little bit of crunch on the outer shell. Choose the stuffing (strawberry jam, chocotella, or caramel leche) and toppings (Oreo crumbles, cereal, and nuts). There are vegan options as well as seasonal heart-shaped minis. It’s a perfect stop for cruisers on their way to the ship or in port for the day.
Trejo's Coffee & Donuts
Talk about diversifying. Character actor Danny Trejo is apparently as comfortable with a grill and mixer as he is with a machete or a machine gun, as he is now the namesake and owner of both a taco cantina and a donut shop. The pink store, emblazoned with two giant Man One sketches of his mean mug, is hard to miss. A parking lot is an added bonus. All the usual suspects are here from donut holes to buttermilk old-fashioneds and vibrantly colored raised donuts, but you’re going to want to skip the basic bad boys and instead do hard time with the donuts with a Mexican twist. The most wanted include: Abuelita (dark chocolate with chocolate crumble), horchata cream filled, margarita, or the maple pig with candied bacon. They serve several vegan varieties and coffee, too.
An LA institution since immigrants Rosa and Raul opened the first storefront in 1976, this Cuban bakery is most known for its authentic guava strudel and the dulce de leche Besito. But you can’t go wrong with any of their croissants, Danishes, tarts, cakes, cookies, or sweet empanadas. (After standing in the always-there, sure-to-be-long line, you might as well get a box of equally yummy savory empanadas or potato balls.) Also, be sure to have your order top of mind when you get to the counter, whether at the Burbank, Glendale, Downey, or Buena Park chapters, or the locals will get restless. And you won’t like us when we’re hangry.
The Westwood cookie monster has been an important part of UCLA students’ late-night meal plan since 1983. But there’s no reason why they should be the only ones to cash in on one of the best food bargains—single cookies for 50 cents or custom ice cream sandwiches for $3—in the state. Mix and match 10 types of cookies including M&M and snickerdoodle with a dozen Dreyer’s flavors. You can also pick up brownies, shave ice, and sundaes at the counter. Be warned that the late hours and cheap prices mean it is always packed.
Everyone screams for ice cream, and thus L.A. is chock full of scoop shops from the classics like Ben & Jerry’s to dairy dignitaries like Salt & Straw who whip up new-fangled flavors both sweet and savory. There are so many worthy places to grab a cone that ice cream got its own best-of list. Highly recommended is the ultra-creamy McConnell’s out of Santa Barbara and the travel-inspired Wanderlust Creamery with its exotic flavors like sticky rice and mango or ube malted crunch and four locations (Tarzana, Venice, Pasadena, and Atwater Village).
Founded in 1950, this old Hollywood chocolate brand found a new lease on life when cacao creative Jonathan Grahm walked through their doors and injected modern flavor combinations, art, and personality into the product and its vibrant packaging. Now the candy bars and individual truffles, all made by hand using fresh and premium ingredients, are approved by Oprah and Gwyneth. We’re partial to the California Love (dark chocolate with crushed San Francisco sourdough pretzels), but the new organic vegan paleo line featuring superfoods like Reishi mushrooms, Acai, and turmeric might be the most Golden State item to gobble. If you aren’t into mixing dessert and wellness, go for bars featuring things like caramelized popcorn, coffee, whisky, and potato chips in their stores in Century City, Brentwood, and at the Hollywood chocolate factory (soon to offer tours).
Opened by "Sugar Rush" judge Candace Nelson in Beverly Hills, the OG all-cupcake bakery is still rising to the occasion 15 years later with their signature swirl frosting technique, fondant dot centerpiece, and 21 flavors, including banana dark chocolate, triple cinnamon, salty caramel, and lemon coconut. A few are even made sugar-free, vegan, or gluten-free. Southern California’s eight stores also stock seasonal flavors like raspberry chocolate chip or stuffed French toast, cookies, and brownies. Nelson expanded into ice cream a handful of years ago and pioneered cupcake ATMs, which can help avoid long lines of loyalists. The tré LA experience will likely be the most whimsical withdrawal you’ll ever make.
When you’re craving a snack that hails from south of the border, get yourself to Boyle Heights and this beloved Mexican bakery established in 1952. New ownership took over in recent years and gave it a much-needed facelift but thankfully knew better than to mess with the pan dulce or traditional cookies like "polvorones de azucar," "chocolate conchas," or the tri-colored "payasos." There are also three varieties of flan and six cakes including horchata, tres leches, and piña colada sold by the slice as well as whole. Pair any of those with Latin-inspired lattes and mochas. And unlike most of the places on this list, you can get an actual meal here, too. Can’t beat their tamales or tortas.
The Dolly Llama
Pretty sure there’s at least one Dolly Llama on the path to enlightenment. But in the meantime, make your earthly journey better by visiting the four LA outposts (Koreatown, Northridge, downtown, and Sherman Oaks) to enjoy bubble waffles with ice cream and toppings, thick milkshakes, or OG liege waffles covered in things like Speculoos crumbs, gummy bears, Nutella, bananas, and cereal. Dolly Llama also gets high praise for their petite waffle sticks and ice cream sandwiches made with two circular Belgiums.
Although Paris is always a good idea, you probably can’t hop the pond every time you need a fix of the classic French macaron. For those days, there’s ‘Lette. With outlets in Beverly Hills and Little Tokyo, the display cases contain a rainbow of colors and they’re known for their flavor variety. At once crisp and pillowy, the almond-based meringue sandwiches taste of raspberry, red velvet, violet cassis, pumpkin, earl gray tea, rose, passion fruit, and PB&J.
Cake Monkey Bakery
Feel like a kid again at this Mid-City pastry palace putting a modern spin on nostalgic treats like Ding Dongs, Pop Tarts, Ho Hos (the El Rollo), Sno Balls, Little Debbie Crème pies, and s’mores. For years, they focused on custom orders and catering, but with the opening of the storefront in the Fairfax District in 2015 across from CBS Studios, people can now sit inside and out and savor their cheat day delights. Start in the morning with breakfast pastries and coffee. Don’t miss their iconic cakewiches and individually sized layer cakes. If you have timed your visit right, grab some Passover Crack, an addictive and holiday-approved jumble of matzo, chocolate, toffee, and nuts.