Take a Bite Out of Life: Where to Get California's Best Donuts

Take a Bite Out of Life: Where to Get California's Best Donuts

By Rachael Medina June 05, 2020

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.

National Donut Day comes around twice a year (yes, twice), but that’s not nearly enough time to celebrate the incredible culinary creation that is the donut. Raised donuts; baked donuts; and fried, sprinkled, and chocolate-glazed donuts all have a way of turning around even the worst of days, adding a touch of magic to the mundane. Though they’re not the most nutritious delicacies around, they’ve got the star power and sugary goodness we need to lift our spirits.

For those who don’t already know, the two National Donut Days occur on the first Friday of June and on November 5 every year. To help all you donut connoisseurs celebrate this national food day properly, we’ve found some of the most amazing donut shops in California that are sure to satisfy your cravings. So put on your comfy pants, buckle your seatbelt, and get ready for a foodie road trip across California (or maybe just across town) to savor the best donuts in the state. 

Must-Try Donuts in the Golden State


Though we typically try to avoid sounding like Veruca Salt from
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, it's hard not to burst out in a chorus of “I Want It Now” when walking into California’s drool-worthy donut shops. Here are a few of our absolute favorites.

Donut Friend's inventive creations are so delectable you'd never guess they were vegan. Photo courtesy of Donut Friend.

Donut Friend

Location: Los Angeles

Every gourmet donut at the aptly named Donut Friend is made with entirely vegan ingredients, but given the shop’s vibrant flavors and rock ‘n’ roll theme, you’d never know it. Try out the Polar Berry Club—a raised donut topped with sweet lemon glaze, fresh mint, and fresh mixed berries—and the Compassion Fruit (half of the proceeds are donated to charity). Don’t miss out on the Youth Brulée, either, featuring Bavarian cream and brȗléed sugar.

With a mix of sweet and savory offerings, Sidecar Doughnuts can satiate any craving. Photo courtesy of @letmeeatcake and Sidecar Doughnuts.

Sidecar Doughnuts

Location: Santa Monica

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, bam! Sidecar Doughnuts enters the scene with basil eggs Benedict—stuffed into a donut. What sorcery is needed in order to stuff a poached egg, ham, and house-made basil hollandaise into a Malasada-style donut? We may never know, but it is undoubtedly worth the experience (and a picture or two). For dessert, opt for one of the rotating monthly flavors such as the cookies and cream donut or the equally impressive strawberry-filled and buttermilk-glazed donut to enjoy the comforts of familiar flavors. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try the chocolate budino: a raised chocolate bullseye with caramel glaze, chocolate budino, whipped crème fraîche, and a cookie crumble.

Organic donuts and comforting lattes are a perfect pairing, especially at Dynamo Donut & Coffee. Photo courtesy of Dynamo Donut.

Dynamo Donut & Coffee

Location: San Francisco

Creating donuts from scratch in S.F.’s Mission District since 2008, Dynamo Donut & Coffee knows what makes taste buds happy. But don’t take our word for it; allow the caramel de sel, chocolate star anise, maple bacon apple, and seasonal blueberry lavender donuts to speak for themselves. If these high-class flavor profiles weren’t enough to entice you, the donuts are crafted from local, organic, seasonal ingredients wherever possible—resulting in fresh, drool-worthy treats that give customers a taste of the city’s culture.

Pepples Donut Farm's cosmos-inspired treats will transport you to sweet galaxies far, far away. Photo courtesy of Pepples Donut Farm.

Pepples Donut Farm

Location: Oakland

This Bay Area icon has been serving up organic, vegan donuts on San Pablo Avenue since 2010. Choose from classics such as lemon poppyseed, orange creamsicle, coconut whiteout, and chocolate cookie. Or, spring for something a bit more adventurous like the lavender Earl Grey, sweet curry, or Philz Coffee donut. While these treats may sound like guilty pleasures, you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating ’em; sustainability lies at the core of Pepples Donut Farm, which features locally sourced ingredients and an entirely plant-based menu. Dip in during the week for the griddled mac ‘n’ cheeze, or come by for weekend brunch to try the vegan chik’n and waffles or the buffalo cauliflower accompanied by house-made ranch. 

The Donut Man impeccably combines California's fresh produce with fluffy dough, resulting in dreamy donuts. Photo courtesy of The Donut Man.

The Donut Man

Location: Glendora

If stopping by The Donut Man every time you find yourself in Glendora isn’t on your to-do list yet, it ought to be. Located on historic Route 66, this joint is famous for its massive, strawberry-filled donuts, but you’ll find many other newsworthy delights at all hours of the day, year-round. (Make sure to schedule a special trip during the late summer months to nab a seasonal donut stuffed with fresh peaches.) But beware: The artisanal creations are likely to leave you daydreaming of donuts the rest of the year. 

Birdies bakes donuts every hour, so you can enjoy a freshly made treat no matter what time you visit. Photo courtesy of Birdies.

Birdies

Location: Los Angeles

Birdies puts a new twist on American classics. Chef-owner Jason Harley set out to provide fast yet fresh foods—including artisanal donuts made every hour—in a casual dining environment. Opt for the unusual lemon thyme pistachio for a mixture of sweet and savory, go all out with the candied bacon maple, or stick to the triple dark chocolate to cure your sweet tooth. While you’re there, you might as well pick up a spicy fried-chicken sandwich, complete with ghost-pepper mayo, Tillamook pepper jack cheese, cured pickles, and coleslaw. Get some extra house-made ranch and a side of the potato salad for yourself, too, but don’t forget to grab an order of mini donuts to share with your loved ones.

Sweet Retreat Donuts satisfies taste buds with its artisanal donuts adorned with decadent toppings. Photo courtesy of Sweet Retreat Donuts.

Sweet Retreat Donuts

Location: Long Beach

Established in 2015, Sweet Retreat crafts high-quality donuts by using the best ingredients around. The shop’s gourmet offerings are spruced up at surprisingly reasonable prices, too. (I mean, you can get a giant peanut butter and jelly donut topped with chocolate sauce, peanut butter, and crushed Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for merely $3.75? Yes, please!) Grab an old standby—such as a chocolate donut with sprinkles—for just $1, or go a little crazier with the blueberry donut adorned with lemon icing, the vegan vanilla-coconut creation, or the made-to-order strawberries-and-whipped-cream masterpiece.

With countless crave-worthy donuts, Mr. Holmes Bakehouse will have anyone jumping for joy. Photo courtesy of @ehggphoto.

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse

Locations: Los Angeles and San Francisco

Mr. Holmes Bakehouse is a must-try when you find yourself in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. With plenty of baked goods to go around (and an iconic “I got baked in San Francisco” sign), this spot has become popular over the years and expanded into Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood—and it’s easy to see why. The donut menu changes daily but may feature such tantalizing flavors as blackberry jam, hibiscus, and coconut lime. 

Now, it’s easier than ever to enjoy the baked goods you love wherever you are, thanks to Mr. Holmes Bakehouse’s brioche and bagel kit. Order online and have the ingredients and recipe card sent to your door so you can make baked donuts from the comfort of your own home.

When it comes to bringing beach vibes to the donut scene, nobody does it better than Surfside Donuts. Photo courtesy of Surfside Donuts.

Surfside Donuts

Location: Pismo Beach

Combining the best of the beach-town, donut, and coffee worlds, Surfside Donuts brings a relaxed environment, creative flavors, and Stumptown coffee to Pismo Beach. Even the traditional favorites have a twist; the chocolate donut, for instance, has been upgraded to the chocolate malted milkshake. Other unique offerings include Mexican hot chocolate, Twix, and caramel latte donuts—they’re all must-try concoctions.

Primo's Donuts serves up an assortment of classics with a tasty twist. Photo courtesy of Primo's Donuts.

Primo’s Donuts

Location: Los Angeles

The family-owned Primo’s Donuts has been a Los Angeles institution since 1956, withstanding the test of time thanks to its inventive flavors and willingness to adapt to the ever-changing preferences of its customers. Pick up a dozen vegan varieties—including cherry, vanilla, and blueberry—or try longtime staples such as the cinnamon apple donut, orange cake donut with sprinkles, and maple-bacon-crunch bar.

From s'mores and churros to M&M's and Fruity Pebbles, there's no shortage of flavors at Randy's Donuts. Photo courtesy of Randy's Donuts.

Randy’s Donuts

Location: Inglewood

It’s hard to drive around Los Angeles and not see the iconic building with a giant donut perched on the roof. While Randy’s Donuts might not seem like the fanciest shop on our list, there’s something to be said for the reliable standbys that have been hand-making donuts in the Golden State for the last 60-plus years. 

Randy’s is one of the most recognized donut spots in the country, thanks to its appearances in countless TV shows, music videos, and movies—including Iron Man 2—making it a great addition to your Southern California movie scouting road trip. While you’re there, opt for the decadent s’mores or lemon jelly–filled donuts, and make sure to order a vanilla cruller on the side (just for good measure). 

Which California donut shop is your favorite? Let us know where you plan on celebrating National Donut Day in the comments below.

WRITTEN BY
Rachael Medina

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…

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