Thanks to LA’s mild weather and the fact that frozen treat fans can enjoy it mostly year-round, the city has no shortage of scoop shops. Which means there’s no reason to settle for a mediocre milkshake or a low-caliber cone so when your stomach starts screaming for ice cream, head to one of these premiere parlors.
Adrienne Borlongan sends taste buds on a vacation every item in her arsenal is inspired by a destination, culture or ethnic cuisine. Think Thai sticky rice mango, Pretzel + Rugbraud from Iceland, a milky formula with preserved Japanese cherry blossoms and a chicory coffee and fried beignet blend based on breakfast at Café Du Monde in New Orleans. Ube ice cream and cones reflect growing up in a Filipino family. Tarzana is the OG spot but Wanderlust cravings can be satisfied in Venice and Atwater Village too.
Given that McConnell’s has been making velvety ice cream from scratch without fillers or artificial flavors since 1950, it’s safe to say that Santa Barbara’s finest was way ahead of the artisan trend. Angelenos are still on a sugar high from the creamery of the crop’s decision to move to town to peddle must-eats like chocolate-covered strawberries, Earl Grey tea & shortbread and peppermint sticks in four shops.
Natasha Case and Freya Estreller turned their adventurous palettes, love of architecture and talent for baking into a successful ice cream sandwich empire that includes mobile trucks, a grocery store line and scoop shops in Pasadena and Culver City. Batches are made at a 20 percent overrun, making them one of the creamiest on the market, with responsible ingredients like cage-free eggs, fair-trade chocolate, and hormone-free milk. They offer alcohol-tinged awesomeness (Maker’s Manhattan, coconut negroni and whiskey Lucky Charms) and boundary-pushing pints (Churro, Fast Food and Jewish deli).
Uli Nasibova started making craft gelatos and sorbets out of a Spring Arcade Building kitchen in downtown’s historic core five years ago. The original location, as well as a newer mid-city one on Third Street, offers a wide range of flavors from the standard (sea salt caramel, stracciatella, Speculoos cookies) to the seasonal (beet tarragon, poblano, stone fruit and yogurt lavender). If you come up with a flavor they haven’t thought of and they take your suggestion, you’ll be rewarded with a free pint.
Started in 2007 and headquartered in Pasadena since 2011, Carmela is most famous for their salted caramel but we promise you’ll be equally satisfied with other unique flavors like strawberry buttermilk, lavender honey, pear champagne and rosemary with toasted pine nuts. The case usually contains several fresh sorbets (mmmmm, plum!) as well. Learn trade secrets from founders Jessica Mortarotti and Zachary Cox at classes held at the creamery. Also available at several farmer’s markets and a Third Street store.
Between the sassy neon signs, photo booth, sidewalk selfie spots, silly flavor names, cutesy logo and trademark black cones naturally colored with trendy activated charcoal, Little Damage, a small-batch soft serve purveyor in downtown, is always ready for its Instagram close-up. The cones are hand rolled, the toppings plentiful and the soft serve made daily using only products from organic dairy farmers. At least one vegan option is always in the rotation.
Tucked inside "Top Chef" winner Brooke Williamson’s four-in-one Playa Provisions concept, which includes a backroom whiskey bar and a fast-casual counter, Small Batch sells exactly what the name implies — artisanal ice cream made with fresh natural ingredients in limited amounts. Score other frozen delicacies like mint Oreo ice cream pie and white chocolate Thai tea pops. Best sellers include coffee & milk, sweet corn, spicy mango chamoy and lemon with homemade strawberry pop rocks. Work off the calories with a post-indulgence walk on the Playa Del Ray beach.
Joke’s on you if you skip this San Francisco brand named after characters in a '70s British comedy series, which made Food Network’s “Top 5 Ice Creams in America” list. Since the Venice scoop shop opened in 2018, Angelenos have lapped up standbys like Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), cool collaborations with folks like the stars of "Queer Eye," Glenlivet Whisky or chef Roy Choi and even the kooky experiments like peanut butter curry and white miso apple.
Part of the Rustic Canyon restaurant family and one of a few truly native ice cream proprietors, this organic creamery with four storefronts, including the nostalgic-feeling Brentwood Country Mart original, scours the legendary and nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market for raw materials like peppermint leaves, winter kiwis, springtime rhubarb and kumquats. As they have bakers on the payroll, the chocolate chips and cookies that are hand-folded into flavors like brown butter lemon wafer are all made fresh. There’s always dairy-free options and often a fro-yo or two available.
This company began life in Brooklyn, first as a food truck and then as a handful of brick-and-mortars around the five boroughs. It set up shop on the West Coast a few years ago, bringing signatures like honeycomb, chocolate fudge brownie and Sicilian pistachio with it. The Arts District, Silver Lake, Franklin Village and Culver City outposts always stock several vegan options concocted with cashew milk made in their Greenpoint factory. Both types can be turned into sundaes, root beer floats, milkshakes, affogatos and ice cream sammies.
Scott Bennett makes some of the freshest ice cream in town. As did his uncle and his grandfather before him. Probably because the family business has been a staple of the Original Farmers Market since 1963. Whenever they need ingredients, they can make a beeline toward the ripest bounty at neighboring stalls or grab artisan candy or chocolate from fellow vendors. And if you still don’t trust us, peer through the window past all the blue ribbons and headshots of celebrity fans to watch the magic happen.
Steps from the Pacific Ocean, this Italian import in Malibu Village dishes out authentic, rich and smooth gelato without aromas, emulsifiers or coloring agents. While the ideas are cooked up at a lab outside Turin, the actual product is made in each branch to maintain quality control and utilize the highest-quality local produce and dairy. They also make sorbet-on-a-stick popsicles and granitas.
Three words: blood orange sorbet. Those words alone are reason enough to visit the Beverly Boulevard boutique (or its Silver Lake sister). Of course, there are plenty of other flavors if you don’t have a taste for tart, like tres leches, red velvet or carrot cake. Then there’s the ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches with macaron ends, sundaes and a full bakery.
The two dozen store-strong SoCal chain’s driving philosophy — ice cream is cheaper than therapy — is easy to get behind. Especially when they’re serving Cookie Monster, acai berry sorbet, peanut butter s’mores or jasmine milk tea. Particularly bad days call for the well-stocked toppings bar or a famous Milky Bun, a sandwich made with two scoops, toppings and a glazed no-hole donut.
Salt & Straw
The dessert scene got a little sweeter (and more savory to boot) when Portland’s brain freeze bandits rode into town, opened five locations in quick succession and stole the spotlight with their high-quality ingredients, creamy consistency and continued ice cream innovation. Some ideas are gimmies like foraged berry slab pie, but they love to think far outside of the box and blend avocado and Oaxacan chocolate fudge or black olive brittle with goat cheese.
While the original Persian parlor has old-school fare like French vanilla and rainbow sherbet to match its no-frills Hollywood strip mall space, its true calling is rose water-infused ice creams. Get one with saffron, ginger or sour cherry syrup for a really exotic experience.
All four LA emporiums of this Ohio-based relailerare clean bright white boxes filled with smiley servers and freezers full of refreshing flavors made with whole ingredients and dairy from grass-pastured cows like frosé, sweet cream biscuits and peach jam or Fluffernutter pie. But Larchmont’s pastel back patio gives it a leg up. Don’t forget to add salty caramel sauce or extra bitter hot fudge.
Wacky desserts are synonymous with Koreatown. Perhaps the cutest option is the cotton candy ice cream burrito in which a millennial pink “tortilla” envelops vanilla mounds. The restaurant/bar also makes a mean milkshake with nostalgic cereals (18 to choose from) or a shot of sake.
This Alhambra institution just turned 100 and is still going strong. The old-fashioned soda fountain does brisk business in cones and cups but the sugar rush can also be delivered to your gullet in the form of cakes, floats, sammies, pies or sundaes. Enduring the commute is rewarded with three scoops for a reasonable $5.45.
Chemistry meets confection at this Beverly Hills culinary experiment featuring more than 60 flavors, mix-ins and toppers. Albeit a little gimmicky, the liquid nitrogen method of flash freezing means your snack is made to order, not sitting in the bowels of cold storage gathering frost.