I scream, you scream, and living in sunny SoCal, we all scream, in perpetuity, for ice cream. All that volume is not for naught either, LA has responded to our cries, offering a wide variety of shops serving up some of the finest frozen treats fit for any family.
Does your kiddo crave breakfast cereal all hours of the day? Grape-Nuts, Fruity Pebbles and Cinnamon Toast Crunch are blended into creamy concoctions at two establishments on this list. Have you seen rolled ice cream that could pass for a bouquet of flowers? The chilled dessert from Thailand is available in our city. In search of the perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream? We found it and the secret might be cane sugar. Velvety smooth Italian gelato your thing? This DTLA spot will have you and the kids saying grazie.
Vanilla is the cheese pizza of ice creams. It’s a blank canvas that with the proper additions can be turned into art. At least, that’s what our family thought until we tried the vanilla bean at Van Leeuwen. Cajoled by a scooper to try the typically beige flavor, we were impressed by their incredibly nuanced and flavorful take on vanilla. Using choice ingredients that include cane sugar, it is the best scoop of vanilla we’ve ever tasted, as are their chocolate and strawberry options. With flavor combinations becoming wilder than a three-year old’s imagination at many boutique creameries, sometimes a familiar ice cream crafted to perfection is everything you need.
Locations: Silver Lake, Platform Culver City, Franklin Village, The Arts District, The Point in El Segundo & via a food truck on Abbott Kinney most weekends
Taking the kiddos to Scoops is a mini-adventure. With the exception of one consistent flavor, they change out their ice cream selection daily, creating a delightful sense of discovery with every visit. Tai Kim, the founder, chemist and Willy Wonka of all things frozen, pulls from a recipe library that is seemingly endless, churning out micro-batches of inventive flavors such as lychee-strawberry, horchata-burnt sugar, blueberry lavender tea, coconut peanut butter pretzel or chocolate-Guinness (made with the actual beer!). No two visits will ever see the same exact flavors, which includes vegan, dairy-free options made of oat milk.
Each “one scoop" at Scoops actually comes with two. Our rec is to go with their daily fixture, Brown Bread—vanilla swirled with caramel and Grape-Nuts cereal—for one scoop and exploring a new flavor for the other. Don’t be afraid to be bold, either. The creamy, not too heavy of a base, deftly mixed in with whatever wild flavors strikes Kim’s fancy that day never-ever disappoints, helping Scoops edge out the other incredible establishments on this list as our family’s top ice cream shop.
LA Locations: Highland Park, Chinatown & Torrance
I once spent a week in Milan for work and ate gelato every single day. On really rough days, twice a day. When I returned to LA, I experienced withdrawals and went on a hunt to find gelato comparable to what I consumed in embarrassing amounts in Italy. After many false leads, I found Gelateria Uli. Their stracciatella scratched an itch I otherwise thought would require a 13-hour flight. Better yet, if you’re at their original Spring Street Arcade location in DTLA, if you squint a bit, the atrium court with its hanging lights could almost pass for Europe. Almost. But then again, who would want to go across the pond when you can have local-inspired flavors like horchata or vegan California pistachio.
LA Locations: Mid-City & DTLA
This Little Tokyo outpost whips up intensely flavorful soft serve ice cream in a form factor optimized for photography -- strikingly colored frozen cream artfully swirled in a cup or cone makes for the perfect prop. If you’re going for a B&W monotone mood, the charcoal pineapple and vanilla swirl on a charcoal cone is the look. If pink and baby blue are your colors, or if breakfast cereals are a thing for your small ones, the Pegasus combines their Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Fruity Pebble for a combo that pops. If you feel like flexing for our newly stacked Lakers team -- welcome home, Russell Westbrook -- the Ube and Mango combo will have you repping purple and gold in a handheld, edible form.
369 E 2nd St.
McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream
Founded in Santa Barbara in 1949, McConnell’s has been serving honest ice cream for over 70 years. Fillers, artificial flavors, colorings and other industrial food processes have given way to fresh, simple ingredients sourced from Central Coast farmers. In 1975, McConnell’s purchased their own dairy farm in Santa Barbara that now produces milk exclusively for their ice cream. Control of their supply chain and passion for quality comes through in every scoop of ice cream they serve. Vibrant seasonings tempered with a creamy, sweet base results in choices such as chocolate covered strawberries, Eureka lemon and marionberries, or peppermint stick that the whole family will enjoy.
LA Locations: DTLA, Studio City & Pacific Palisades
Mateo’s Ice Cream and Fruit Bars
For Angelinos, no visit to the park would be complete without the ringing bells of vendors selling paletas from their hand-pushed carts. The refreshing fruit popsicles are an affordable counteragent for kids heated from running around the playground. Mateo’s has elevated the humble paleta, tapping a wide range of tropical ingredients such as mango, hibiscus and guava with traditional flavors such as strawberry, lemon and watermelon in a spectrum of colors so vivid, it would make Crayola blush. For parents who are fans of Mexican candy or spice in general, try their mango or cucumber peppered with chile. The firey kick is a nice juxtaposition to the chilled pop.
Locations: Mid-City, Pico-Union, Sawtelle & Culver City
Has your little one ever asked what a fish eating its own body weight in ice cream would look like? Somisomi takes a freshly baked “ah-boong,” Korean for a fish-shaped pastry (that tastes nothing like a fish), lines the inside with an insulative filling (sweet red beans, custard, taro, Nutella), and loads it with soft serve ice cream pouring out of its doughy mouth. The warm, slightly crisped cone and creamy frosted stuffing are a delicious contrast, and the cartoonish packaging is sure to please the kids (and this adult).
LA Locations: Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Santa Monica, Sawtelle, Glendale, Long Beach, Torrance, & Santa Clara
Holy Roly Ice Cream
In hot and humid Thailand, for a few local baht, street vendors will pour a creamy liquid onto a chilled, thin metal pan and dice in fruits and ingredients of your choosing. As the mix starts to cool and congeal, the craftsmen spread the blend into a thin, spackle-like coating. The sheet rapidly freezes and is scraped and rolled like a rug, and neatly arranged in a cup resembling a bouquet of flowers. Holy Roly Ice Cream has brought that Thai tradition to our city, offering Western ingredients such as marshmallows, graham crackers, Oreos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
LA Locations: Koreatown, Melrose & Arcadia
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
I first heard about Jeni’s on another work trip to Columbus, Ohio, ten years or so ago. The locals raved about a neighborhood ice cream parlor that turned out fantastic scoops. They were right. The smooth creams with fun ingredients were fantastic. Fast forward a few years and the frozen dessert from the Buckeye State has won over the we-scream-for-ice-cream LA, garnering fans for its signature and limited edition flavors. Now with five locations in LA, it’s easy to see what’s so splendid about Jeni’s.
LA Locations: Los Feliz, Venice, Larchmont, Playa Vista & Calabasas
Salt & Straw
When Salt & Straw first landed in Los Angeles, the Portland export opened to much fanfare and for good reason. They craft scrumptious ice cream. It begins with dairy from grass-fed cows free of hormones and antibiotics. Their artisans add locally sourced ingredients, including seasonal fruits and herbs to produce flavors that rotate on a monthly basis. Wild-foraged berry slab pie and goat cheese marionberry habanero are a few mouth-watering examples that are a mouthful to say. If your young ones are daring, check them out during Halloween. Crickets, mealworms and pig’s blood have been some of the components used in past spooky seasons. If you fear forever ruining ice cream for your clan, there’s always chocolate gooey brownie or mint chocolate chip from their Classic Flavors list.
LA Locations: Larchmont, Abbot Kinney, Arts District & Studio City
featured photo: via Carter Jung