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The 12 Best California Ice Cream Brands

The 12 Best California Ice Cream Brands

California’s ice-cream game beats the out-of-state competition. Head to these top California creameries to taste the difference for yourself


6 min read

April 18, 2024

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 shops beat 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.

Cool down with a collection of colorful, tantalizing ice-cream flavors from Afters Ice Cream. We can't get enough.

1. Afters Ice Cream

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 is where you need to go for ice cream in Los Angeles.

2. Humphry Slocombe 

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.

Savor the most refreshing ice cream laced with Eureka lemon and marionberry preserves at McConnell's.

3. McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams 

Location: Santa Barbara

Chances are if you live in California, you’ve probably heard of its most famous ice cream place: 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.

4. Arcata Scoop

Location: Arcata

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 high-quality creations that keep people coming back again and again to this ice cream place.

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 shop 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.

Grab a sugar cone filled with seasonally inspired flavors from the famous Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco.

5. Bi-Rite Creamery 

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 at the best ice cream spot in San Francisco. 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, this awesome ice cream place also nails the art of nostalgia by serving up classically craveable creations in unexpected ways.  

6. Coolhaus  

Location: Los Angeles 

Coolhaus is a women-founded and led 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. 

7. Leatherby’s – Family Creamery

Location: Sacramento

Back when Leatherby’s first opened, crowds of Californians flocked to the ice cream spot for enormous sundaes, great food, and a fabulous family atmosphere. Fast forward 38 years, and nothing has changed! Leatherby’s still makes the best ice cream in Sacramento and has become a quintessential part of every trip to the capital.

Order a variation of their classic banana splits or try the special creations. Any sweet treat you order at this ice cream place in Sacramento is bound to blow your mind.

Travel the world through your taste buds at Wanderlust Creamery. The Tarzana-based creamery specializes in global flavors that inspire.

8. Wanderlust Creamery 

Location: Tarzana

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 ice cream place 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. 

9. The Penny Ice Creamery

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 at this ice cream place 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.

Mutual Friend Ice Cream is a family-owned company that opened in October 2018. Try their delicious ice cream next time you visit San Diego.

10. Mutual Friend Ice Cream

Location: San Diego

Mutual Friend Ice Cream is a family-owned ice cream shop making delicious, small-batch, craft ice cream. They create flavors that are somehow unique and nostalgic at the same time. Their menu often rotates and updates with new flavors, but some of the current offerings we’re eyeing are chocolate-covered strawberries, guava sorbet, and cold brew sorbet. 

What’s more? Not only is this the best ice cream in San Diego, but most flavors are gluten-free and vegan!

11. Fentons Creamery 

Location: Oakland

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 places. The Oakland shop was founded in 1894 and is known across the world for its sundaes. 

All 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.

12. Halo Top 

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 cream places, 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.  

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