Nowadays, you can find an artisanal-something-or-other ice cream shop on practically every corner in LA. In a city where it’s almost always ice cream weather, we’re positively crawling with liquid nitrogen innovators committed to serving the smoothest scoops, Mexican-style paleta masters who’ve introduced us to flavors like soursop and burnt milk, and gelato and ice cream makers who have dreamt up hundreds of mind-blowing, melt-in-your-mouth combos. While the multitude of options is great for everyone, narrowing down the contenders is no easy task -- especially when you’re neck-deep in craving mode. That’s why we’ve done the legwork of sifting through LA’s 31,000 flavors; read on for 23 of the best places to grab a decadent scoop (or a sundae, or a popsicle, or a... y’all get the picture).
Multiple Locations Family-owned scoop shop that utilizes its own Central Coast dairy McConnell’s isn’t just an ice cream shop with cool flavors like Eureka lemon and marionberries -- it’s an actual dairy located in downtown Santa Barbara, and it’s been around since 1949 (although they just finished construction on a new, built-from-the-ground-up dairy). Instead of slapping its brand on an outside manufacturer’s ice cream, McConnell’s makes everything from scratch, using grass-grazed Central Coast milk and cream, and working exclusively with local farms. The family behind McConnell’s, now in its third generation of ownership, is obsessed with creating perfectly balanced scoops; the higher percentage of milkfat and lower percentage of overrun (the amount of air pushed into the ice cream as it’s made) results in a magnificently creamy product. This June, McConnell’s celebrates its 70th anniversary with the launch of three new flavors, including a creamy honey ice cream studded with house-made sweet and salty cornbread cookies.
Culver City & Pasadena Customized ice cream sandwiches featuring boundary-pushing flavors Co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller were inspired by architecture when they first started baking cookies, making ice cream, and combining the two into creative “cool houses” (hence the name Coolhaus). That influence is still prevalent today (ice cream sandwiches have clever, architecturally inspired names like Cara-Mia Lehrer or Mies Vanilla Rohe), but now Coolhaus is more well-known for its sweet-meets-savory flavors in pre-packaged forms -- like a pint of milkshake and fries, or the Louise Ba-Kahn sandwich with brown butter candied bacon -- found in the freezer section of your local Whole Foods or Safeway. For the true Coolhaus experience, however, a store visit’s a must: the Culver City location allows you to create a bespoke sandwich by choosing your desired cookie, ice cream, and toppings like an array of chocolate dips and sprinkles.
Multiple Locations Homegrown, farm-to-table ice creamery driven by seasonality Part of the Rustic Canyon restaurant group -- which includes Santa Monica stalwarts like Cassia, Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe, and Milo & Olive -- Sweet Rose Creamery follows in the tradition of its sister eateries and utilizes the nearby Santa Monica Farmers Market for seasonal ingredients. That’s what gives each flavor a distinct freshness, from year-round offerings (like fresh mint made with organic peppermint leaves) to seasonal options (like peaches and cream starring hand-picked produce). You’ll also find more decadent-sounding creations on the menu, including sprinkle-embellished ice cream cakes ready to be eaten on the spot, and the Campfire Sundae with torched marshmallows.
El Segundo Super-smooth scoops made in 90 seconds by a patented liquid nitrogen machine Ice cream made using liquid nitrogen is nothing new, but Bay Area-based Smitten has got the technique down to an exact science. Founder Robyn Sue Fisher even invented the shop’s proprietary Brrr™ machine, which produces your churned-to-order scoop at the perfect -321 degrees Fahrenheit. Since ice crystals grow over time and smaller crystals yield a smoother texture, the faster you can freeze your ice cream, the creamier it will be. Smitten’s cold temperature is designed to speed up the freezing process (it takes about 90 seconds to make one scoop), and also produces a ridiculously smooth consistency.
Multiple Locations Korean-owned shop with a menu based on honey and soft-serve Honeymee’s menu features several iterations of a winning combination: sweet honey and milky soft-serve. There’s the namesake version served with a gooey honeycomb chip, a matcha affogato with the addition of a matcha drizzle, a yuzu affogato with fruity pulp and cornflakes, and a Ghirardelli chocolate option with French sea salt. Plus, while soft-serve tends to be lower in milk fat with a thinner texture, Honeymee’s boasts a luscious, rich mouthfeel that makes you feel as if you’re indulging in regular ice cream.
Multiple Locations Small-batch creamery churning flavors as quirky-cool as its native Portland This Portland-based, small-batch ice cream shop now has even more locations in LA (five!) than in its Oregonian hometown. That’s a testament to how much Angelenos go crazy for its tasty scoops and innovative concoctions, often made in partnership with local vendors (Salt & Straw’s famous coffee flavor features chocolate from LA-based Compartes). In addition to shilling “classic” flavors which are anything but -- like black olive brittle combined with goat cheese, or a spectacular take on cookie dough that’s made with massive, salty, malty chunks -- they have a monthly flavor series that’s resulted in some cult favorites, like March’s Pots of Gold & Rainbows. Each year, the Salt & Straw kitchen sorts hundreds of boxes of Lucky Charms® by hand, infusing the grainy cereal pieces into sweet cream and stirring in marshmallow charms into the finished product for a flavor that tastes exactly like the bottom of your breakfast cereal bowl (only far better).
Multiple Locations Protein-packed, low-calorie treats revolutionizing the ice cream industry We’re not counting calories or anything, but an entire pint of Halo Top can clock in anywhere from 280 to 360 calories. An. Entire. Pint. That’s because this company uses organic Stevia as a sweetener and pumps its ice creams full of protein. Despite cutting back on traditional sugar and fat, their ice creams are delectable -- lighter and airier than traditional, full-fat counterparts -- and don’t have an artificial, saccharine taste. While you can pick up pints at a grocery store (flavors trend to lean classic, like cookie dough, red velvet, and chocolate), the scoop shops offer soft-serve flavors, tasty toppings, and eggy puffle cones -- a soft, bubbly vessel first popularized in Hong Kong.
Little Tokyo & Pasadena Refreshing soft-serve made with authentic Japanese ingredients This little cafe only has a few soft-serve flavors -- matcha, black sesame, and hojicha -- but they do all three exceptionally well. Their matcha uses organic, ceremonial-grade, Japanese green tea that gives it a rich yet subtle flavor that tastes legit, while the hojicha has a earthy, roasted quality for a bolder appeal. If you can’t decide, opt for a swirl!
Los Feliz Ice cream and entertainment come together in this neighborhood shop As a theater school-trained actor turned ice cream wizard, Supercool’s founder Ben Fernebok has a flair for the dramatic. His retro, circus-themed shop -- which opened last summer adjacent to Los Feliz’s historic Vista Theatre -- hires a company of performers to put on an interactive show as they’re making your frozen desserts (think liquid nitrogen-charged vapor, mixed with a bit of magic). The rotating menu of 15 daily flavors includes toasted coconut mango and strawberry graham cracker, which you don’t even necessarily need to trek to Los Feliz to try; you can book Ben’s team to cater artisanal ice cream, frozen cocktails, and dragon’s breath treats (frozen corn puffs that cause you to breath smoke out of your nostrils), and perform at your next event.
Westwood Dense, Persian-style treats worth venturing into Bruin territory for Some people say Persian ice cream (known for its stretchy consistency) isn’t for them because some flavors -- such as lavender, white rose, and jasmine -- are reminiscent of perfume. Don’t listen to these naysayers. Located in Westwood’s Little Tehran, Saffron & Rose often has a line of eager customers snaking out the door, waiting for its dense, gooey ice creams (and yes, flavors that often sound like fragrance notes but taste incredible). If you’re into sweet-tasting scoops, they’ve got you covered with milky cookies and cream or a luscious caramel crunch, while those with a preference for fruity flavors should order the light, delightfully refreshing cucumber or watermelon.
Hollywood OG Middle Eastern ice cream institution that’s a hit with tourists and locals Long-standing Mashti Malone’s is a direct rival of Westwood’s Saffron & Rose, but we’d be remiss not to mention both on this list. Like its competitor, Mashti makes scrumptious Persian ice cream in flavors like rosewater, lavender, and orange blossom -- all colored and flavored naturally using herbs and spices from Lebanon, India, and other countries -- and, if you so desire, topped with sour cherry syrup or lemon juice. Ask for a “Mashti” instead of a cone, and you’ll get a fat scoop sandwiched between two crisp, paper-thin wafers and rolled in crunchy pistachios. Order the “Malone” to get your ice cream served on a zoolbeyah -- an Iranian take on the carnival funnel cake that’s deep-fried and deliciously sweet.
Downtown & Beverly Grove Silky-soft gelatos and sorbets with flavor profiles inspired by LA’s diversity When owner Uli Nasibova traded in her finance career for frozen treats in 2014, no one could stop raving about her speculoos flavor, infused with crushed, caramelized bits of the beloved Belgian spice cookies. Now that it’s been five years since she opened her first location in downtown’s Spring Arcade -- often credited with helping usher in the area’s renaissance -- we’ve discovered that the rest of her rotating, made-on-site flavors are just as delicious. Profiles like ube, black sesame, and poblano are inspired by the city’s diverse communities; persimmon with almonds, pear rose, and olive oil represent the region’s seasonal produce; and stracciatella and pistachio pay homage to classic Italian gelatos.
San Fernando Phenomenally good, tropical flavors from six generations of ice cream makers This unassuming shop turns out a massive variety of melt-in-your-mouth tropical ice cream, served in standard cones or Instagram-friendly coconut bowls. Go for the exotic profiles like lucuma, a Peruvian superfruit with a maple-like taste; sugar corn, which owner Marthin Ken (whose father-in-law operated the original Helados Pops) perfected based on an old family recipe; or almond avocado, an extraordinarily unique flavor combo you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Multiple Locations Wildly creative flavors that take you on a trip around the world What started off as a small shop in Tarzana quickly turned into a household name (to ice cream lovers at least) after partners Adrienne Borlongan and Jon-Patrick Lopez opened a booth at Smorgasburg LA, as well as locations in Atwater Village and Venice. If you couldn’t guess, the flavors here are inspired by travel; Thailand’s famous dessert is channeled into a rice milk with coconut cream and swirls of mango, China gets an ice cream made from the beloved Chinese white rabbit milk candies, and the Philippines are embodied by an ube malted crunch influenced by Adrienne’s Filipino-American upbringing. Far-flung destinations aren’t the only thing Borlongan draws inspiration from; earlier this year, she dreamt up a Game of Cones series featuring Dothrocky Road and Winter Is Here (an oatmeal flavor spiked with 10-year Islay scotch).
Venice Unconventional ingredients churned into novelty flavors For its first foray in Los Angeles, Humphry Slocombe (which boasts four Bay Area locations) chose a spot on Abbot Kinney -- which suits the San Francisco-based scoop shop’s slightly wacky and trendsetting vibe. Their mission is to make ice cream less vanilla, and although they make a truly excellent and rich French vanilla if that’s what you’re after, their specialties are a bit more eccentric. Practically, that means things like a best-selling Secret Breakfast flavor comprised of bourbon and cornflakes (if your mouth just watered, they’re in the middle of a year-long boozy flavor series that celebrates classic cocktails); a seasonal red bean and Dr. Pepper combo from a few years back; and foie gras. No matter what flavors they’re working on at the moment, the team always uses locally sourced fruits, veggies, spices, and booze.
Multiple Locations Old-school shop that helped kick-start LA’s artisanal ice cream movement One of the first modern artisanal ice creameries to open up shop in LA back in 2005, Scoops set the bar with their cult-favorite flavor -- an innovative, Grape Nuts-based brown bread -- that’s now the only one they offer daily. Everything else rotates: one day it’s sweet potato burnt sugar, the next it’s salty Oreo or Hong Kong milk tea. Instead of a heavy, intense base, they use a lighter, less fatty base that allows you to taste the nuances in each outstanding flavor.
Multiple Locations Elevated popsicles reinvented to capture your childhood nostalgia Nothing screams summer more than a cold popsicle. Made with all-natural ingredients and without artificial colors and ingredients, Popbar’s quick, portable desserts are a sublime take on the icy pops you probably enjoyed in elementary school. Their gelato popsicles use less air to create a dense, richer, Italian-style gelato packed with flavor -- whether it’s banana or gianduia -- while their sorbet pops are concocted with 100% real fruit. Plus, you can customize your takeaway treat with over 14 dippings and toppings, everything from crushed nuts to caramel corn.
Multiple Locations Certified B Corp chain that ditches synthetic flavors, dyes, stabilizers, and emulsifiers Founded by Jeni Britton Bauer in 2002, Jeni’s is less about crazy, out-of-the-box flavors and more about interesting pairings -- often inspired by her childhood memories -- that ice cream consumers find unequivocally delicious. This chain of scoop shops, which first opened in Ohio, whips up stuff like brambleberry crisp (which is peppered with oat streusel chunks based on a family recipe) and gooey butter cake (a riff on the the moist yellow cake Jeni’s mom would bake for special occasions). Most of all, however, they’re known for ice cream with unparalleled texture -- thanks to a buttercream-like body, it’s got a smooth-yet-slightly dense and chewy consistency.
Little Tokyo Famous mochi ice cream makers churn out unique in-store flavors Chances are you’ve seen Mikawaya’s recognizable boxes of mochi ice cream -- in straightforward flavors like green tea, vanilla, and strawberry -- at your local Trader Joe’s or Japanese grocery store, as the brand helped introduce this treat to Americans. That said, this confectionary shop tucked away in Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza is where you can try Mikawaya’s slightly more unusual flavors, such as dulce de leche, s’mores, plum wine, and salted caramel. They taste even fresher and more flavorful on-site, with paper-thin layers of powdery, chewy dough enclosed over balls of just-soft-enough ice cream.
Playa Del Rey & Mar Vista Kid-friendly artisanal ice cream venue designed to delight grown-ups too Co-owned and operated by Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson and her husband Nick Roberts -- the duo behind the four-in-one Playa Provisions -- Small Batch offers a rotating menu of seasonal, farmers market-driven flavors, including coffee and milk, fresh sweet corn, and lemon with homemade strawberry pop rocks. But the treats don’t stop there; there are milkshakes, floats, sandwiches, popsicles, ice cream pies and cakes, and the ultimate kid-pleaser: a unicorn sundae that’s comprised of 10 scoops, eight toppings, and three sauces, all blanketed in whipped cream and colorful sprinkles atop a fresh-baked, chocolate-dipped waffle cone.
Silver Lake & Tarzana Chef-driven soft-serve dreamt up by two culinary professionals Owners Warren and Rose Schwartz are both professional chefs who wanted to create an elevated take on Dairy Queen. Magpies is their brainchild -- featuring a made-from-scratch ice cream base, and flavors that remind you of the classics but are infinitely more sophisticated and upscale, like malted milk chocolate and sweetened cream. Also on offer? Flavors that evoke the Schwartz’s own childhoods, including pandan, concord grape jelly, and corn almond, as well as made-in-house toppings like chocolate-covered honeycomb, almond brittle, and butterscotch rice krispies. If you’re lucky, you’ll get there in time to snag a fried ice cream pie: layers of fudge, ice cream, candy honeycomb, whipped cream, and deep-fried corn flakes that meld soft, crunchy, and cold textures all in one heavenly bite.
Multiple Locations Wildly popular ice cream truck turned brick-and-mortar empire Over the past decade, Van Leeuwen has come a long way -- from its humble beginnings operating out of a yellow, refurbished ice cream truck, to its now-ubiquitous pints in fancy grocery stores and expanding brick-and-mortar locations (17 in total!). Even 11 years after the company kicked off, Van Leeuwen still makes all its ice cream from scratch in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, using only a handful of ingredients, including fresh milk and cream, cane sugar, and egg yolks. They’ve also become well-known for decadent vegan scoops -- made with cashew milk, organic coconut milk, pure cocoa butter, and carob bean -- starring flavors like toasted coconut blondie or peanut butter chocolate chip.
Multiple Locations Mexican paleta shop specializing in palate-thrilling popsicles Founded by the late Oaxacan native Priciliano Mateo, beloved Mateo’s has made the creamy, fruity, Mexican-style popsicles called paletas for years, and its brightly colored passionfruit, guava, tamarind, and soursop treats match the vibrant interiors of its shops. If you’re not familiar with paletas, the wonderful flavors featured here might be unique to your palate, such as smoked milk with cactus fruit, mamey (a berry many describe as a cross between a pumpkin, peach, and sweet potato), and black sapote (often called chocolate pudding fruit) -- although you’re just as likely to find strawberry and banana split on offer, too.
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Tiffany Tse is a writer for Thrillist and has been researching for this article her entire ice-cream-eating life. Follow her adventures around town at @twinksy.