WRITTEN BY Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…See full bio
As communities across the world and in California mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are shifting our content focus and not encouraging any travel or social activities during this time. We will, however, continue to shine a light on and celebrate the many beautiful aspects of our State with the intention of being a source of inspiration and joy during this difficult period. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Imagine the delectable tastes of gooey-centered s’mores, fluffy red velvet cake, and perfectly sweet lemon ricotta pancakes. Now picture them in ice cream form, and you’ll begin to understand why California’s ice cream game beats the out-of-state competition. But don’t take our word for it—sample ice cream from these top California creameries and taste the difference for yourself.
Location: Huntington Beach
Jasmine milk tea, french toast churro, and almond cookie might sound appetizing on their own, but turn them into ice cream, and you’re in for a real treat: Afters Ice Cream is chock–full of creativity and sprinkled with a surprising cool factor you just don’t find at most ice-cream shops.
Whether you’re in the market for an “Anti Diet Diet Club” T–shirt or a “Milky Bun” stuffed with gourmet ice cream, Afters Ice Cream is the place to be.
Location: San Francisco
When it comes to innovative, shockingly delectable ice cream, Humphry Slocombe reigns supreme. We’re talking about truly daring flavors—including prosciutto, McEvoy Ranch olive oil, honey thyme, corn, and ancho chile—that will completely change the way you look at ice cream.
With locations in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, Humphry Slocombe provides plenty of opportunities to sample all the adventurous ice cream you can handle.
Location: Santa Barbara
Chances are, if you live in California, you’ve probably heard of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams—or at least seen the iconic red-and-white pint cups. As a dairy and ice creamery, McConnell’s obsesses about the details and knows exactly what’s going into each batch of its gourmet desserts.
Try the chocolate-covered strawberry, sweet cream caramel brownie, Eureka lemon and marionberries, or toasted coconut almond chip ice cream to experience some of the best flavors in California.
Of all the ice cream I’ve tried in the Golden State—and considering I worked in an ice-cream shop for half a decade, I’ve tried a lot—Arcata Scoop blows every other creamery out of the water. The welcoming blue house beckons with its giant redwood ice-cream cone hanging outside and its quaint nursery-esque theme, but it’s the creamery’s high-quality creations that keep people coming back again and again.
Crafted in-house, Arcata Scoop’s organic ice cream is not only delicious, but also creative. Flavors range from honey vanilla lavender, avocado, and blackberry chip to blood orange sorbet, lemon poppyseed, and chocolate coconut. If innovative flavor compositions aren’t enough to convince you that this ice-cream parlor is doing things differently, the ingredients will. Sourced from small family farms, many of the artisanal ice creamery’s ingredients help support the local economy and taste fresher than anything you’ll find elsewhere.
Location: San Francisco
It’s easy to fall for Bi-Rite Creamery’s sumptuous selection of ice creams and soft-serves. With rotating flavors like cinnamon maple oat crunch, balsamic strawberry, and rich chocolate to choose from, you can satisfy any craving here. Plus, unique toppings such as flaky salt and olive oil perfectly complement the sweetness of the ice cream without overpowering the delicate nuances of their profiles.
Like Arcata Scoop, Bi-Rite Creamery sources many of its ingredients locally, pulling beloved favorites from nearby businesses into its creamy concoctions. So, don’t be surprised to find ice cream laced with Burlingame’s Guittard chocolate, Los Angeles’ Mr. Holmes Bakehouse brioche, and San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters. Beyond representing the flavors of California, Bi-Rite Creamery also nails the art of nostalgia by serving up classically craveable creations in unexpected ways.
Location: Los Angeles
Coolhaus is a women-founded and -led joint with some of the coolest ice cream in Los Angeles. Made with cage-free eggs, organic cane sugar, and real California milk, Coolhaus’ ice-cream sandwiches and pints are nothing less than dreamy. Try the “Milkshake and Fries,” “Take The Cannoli,” “Queens’ Coffee,” or dairy-free “Cookie Dough Lyfe”—and consider your life changed.
If you’ve been missing all of your favorite travel destinations, Wanderlust Creamery ought to be your next stop. Based on the concept of creating flavors from personal memories, the founders of this creamery serve up a story with every flavor.
Picture yourself traveling through Thailand as you savor a scoop of sticky rice and mango ice cream; imagine meandering the streets in the south of France as you take a bite of violet marshmallow; or visit the Pacific Northwest with every lick of smoky road ice cream.
Location: Santa Cruz
The Penny Ice Creamery is proud to be the only Santa Cruz shop producing ice cream from scratch. The deliciously creative flavors are made using local and organic ingredients, and with each item on the menu tasting better than the last, it’s nearly impossible to order just one scoop.
Try the bergamot sorbet or the Meyer lemon poppy seed, New York cheesecake, and bitter caramel topped with torched marshmallow fluff, and your world will be turned upside down.
Location: Los Angeles
MILK is home to some of the best ice cream in Los Angeles, thanks to its locally sourced ingredients and handcrafted masterpieces. Choose between the dozen-plus ice-cream sandwiches—including green tea rose swirl, grasshopper, and Thai tea—or opt for a banana butterscotch ice-cream bar if you’re feeling adventurous. For something more traditional (but no less tasty) pick up a pint of tres leches or coffee toffee ice cream. As a Los Angeles tradition, stopping by MILK is a must when you’re in town.
Given that Fentons Creamery was featured in Disney-Pixar’s film Up, it’s safe to say this local gem is one of California’s best ice-cream parlors. The Oakland shop was founded in 1894 and is known across the world for its sundaes.
All of Fentons' ice creams are handcrafted in 10-gallon batches using cream (from California cows) and high-quality ingredients. Aside from producing good ice cream, Fentons is also known for being a pioneer of ice-cream flavors, (debatably) inventing rocky road and toasted almond ice creams.
Pro tip: Order Fentons’ famous Black & Tan sundae for an indulgent dessert of toasted almond and vanilla ice creams layered with house-made caramel and chocolate fudge sauces and topped with whipped cream, toasted almonds, and a cherry. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Location: Los Angeles
Based in Los Angeles, Halo Top has quickly become a crowd favorite—first for its lower-calorie, protein-packed ice creams, and then for its collection of dairy-free and keto-approved desserts. Unlike many of our favorite ice creameries, Halo Top’s pints are available at grocery stores instead of stand-alone ice-cream shops, making them even more accessible.
Halo Top also boasts an extensive line of flavors. Pick up a pint of classically delicious mint chip, drool-worthy s’mores, festive birthday cake, and fan-favorite sea salt caramel to experience light ice cream in a whole new way.
Looking for the sweet taste of ice cream without the dairy? Check out California’s best vegan ice creams and let the good times roll.
What’s your favorite ice cream in California? Let us know in the comments below.