No matter where you are in the world, seeking out the best ice cream in the area should always be top priority. The experience of walking in, eagerly reading the names of the flavors from left to right and, best of all, sampling as many offerings as possible without abusing the opportunity is truly supernal. And whether you’re visiting Orange County or simply visiting, you need an arsenal of the best ice cream shops up your sleeve when the right moment strikes. These ice cream shops in Orange County are the places that we love to go to when we celebrate or crave, when we’ve had a bad day, or when we need to cool off after a scorching heatwave.
This guide has been lovingly compiled over the years based on numerous visits and the desire to keep going back. Featured are purveyors with high standards towards consistency and flavor, as well as commitment to upholding the perfect cooling temperature, so that tourists and locals alike can enjoy those textured, dense scoops. Enjoy!
10. Han’s Homemade Ice Cream
Hans’ Homemade was our very first discovery when we moved to Orange County. I remember the first time I walked into the Santa Ana location, it was as if I was transported back to my childhood when old school ice cream parlors, like Gelato Classico and Swenson’s, were the standards. Their newest location at the Anaheim Packing District has a more modern decor and hipster vibe, but the ice cream still remains the same – handmade, creamy and generously packed with flavor made possible with no-nonsense ingredients. How can you resist ingeniously monikered flavors like Banana Nut Chocolate Chunk, Orange Chocolate Chip, or Nutella Krunch? Gimmicks in the ice cream industry come and go, but attention to detail and the use of the best ingredients combined with time-tested processes will never stop being a winning formula that keeps my kids (and me) coming back for more after all these years. My favorite scoops: Coffee Oreo | Coconut Pineapple. Santa Ana: (3640 S Bristol Street, Santa Ana, CA // 714.979.8815)
9. Mr. Matcha
There are so many elements I love about Mr. Matcha in Orange County. A tea house with an impressive menu of hot and cold teas, lattes, and the one and only Ceremonial Matcha Drink, their soft serve is what keeps me coming back for more. The essence of their only two offerings, green tea and black sesame, are closest to the flavors I literally swooned over in Japan, so it was no surprise when I found out that their matcha is premium grade and shipped directly from Kyoto. Additionally, their black (charcoal) waffle cone is worth a trip of its own, and when paired with a generous swirl of the green tea and sesame combo, it’s an unexpected contrast in colors, flavors and textures that combine beautifully and leaves you wondering how it is that you’ve never tried that before. My favorite order: Matcha ice cream on a charcoal cone.
Honeymee is the second of two gems I love that specializes in soft serve ice cream, a grand departure from the heavy, dense consistency I often obsess over. Sometimes you just want something light, something that’ll to satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard. Honeymee does just that. They offer just one kind of soft serve they call “true milk” and a menu of flavors to layer and add on. Their signature item, The Sweetie, is generously drizzle with all-natural honey, and you can top it off with a chunk of raw, sweet honeycomb if you don’t mind the waxy after taste that lingers on your tongue. The sweetness of the honey perfectly compliments the creamy, milky ice cream swirl underneath and it’s the combo of the two that makes Honeymee so irresistible. My favorite versions: Strawberry Milkshake, Honey Affogato.
7. Sprinkles Ice Cream
Creamistry is the largest franchise brand on this list but it doesn’t meant that their quality suffers from it. You literally can’t go wrong with the freshness and firm texture produced by liquid nitrogen churned ice cream, but I also love that they use premium liquid bases, including organic milk, and has a non-dairy option for those who want something lighter. Their portions are very generous and they have over 60 toppings and flavors with the options to mix them in or sprinkle on top. My go-to: Milk Coffee ice cream with mini marshmallows and chopped almonds, mixed in.
5. Chunk ‘n Chip
If you’ve ever visited 4th Street Market in Downtown Santa Ana, you know what a great place it is to grab a bite to eat and support local food artisans and craft vendors. Chunk ‘n Chip is a family owned shop that specializes in small batches of ice cream made with simple, fresh, ingredients locally sourced whenever possible. What I love about this shop is twofold: 1) the creative, out-of-the-box flavors they’ve crafted to perfection, made with a creaminess so well textured, you eat it with a fork. With names like “horchata with dark chocolate mole bark (peppitas & guajillo flakes) & espresso fudge swirl,” “guava with goat cheese,” and “rose milk with raspberry & jalapeno swirl and rose petals,” you can’t help but taste test each and every one in the case; 2) ice cream sandwiches made with their unbelievably delicious homemade cookies they’ve coined and tagged as “Craft Ice Cream Sammiches: oven-warmed, ooey gooey cookies served with honest-to-good ice cream.” My favorite order: warm Espresso cookie with a scoop of Coffee & Coconut with Marbled Fudge & Toasted Coconut Flakes.
O, Popbar, let me count the ways! I fall in love with this brilliant concept every time we go to the Anaheim Packing District and I can’t help myself from ordering one no matter how full I am. My bar of choice is the PopGelato, which is a perfectly chilled gelato barsicle on a stick that holds up so well, I gobble it up before there’s any chance of melty gelato dripping down. My flavor of choice is always pistachio, and I love to drizzle dark chocolate on either side before it’s dredged generously in a bed of chopped pistachios. With over 40 flavors of either gelato, sorbetto or yogurt bars, and 15 choices of dippings and toppings, it’s hard not to wait in the long lines to create your own, especially when you have a front seat to watch your dream popbar come to life. Favorite bar: Pistachio bar with drizzled dark chocolate and chopped pistachio.
3. A là Minute
With four locations around Southern California, I consider myself extremely lucky that I am located near their Old Town Orange shop. Stepping into À la Minute for me, is like stepping into ice cream heaven. Made with 100% organic Straus Family Creamery milk and made-upon-order with liquid nitrogen, the result is a creamier, denser, richer scoop of ice cream that highlights the freshness of each unique ingredient that is thoughtfully and artistically combined together. My favorite flavors: Strawberry Balsamic, Espresso Chip.
2. Rollin’ Creamery
The story of Rollin’ Creamery is quite a charming one and when I met one of the owners, Josh, at the shop soon after it opened, I knew what he and his wife created was a recipe for success. After a fateful visit to Thailand where they learned of rolled ice cream, they came home with the goal of bringing this unique concept Stateside. As a cup of cream is poured onto a frozen circular metallic slab, you’re mesmerized as the flavors and toppings are incorporated and chopped, then flattened into a thin, rectangular sheet, and finally rolled methodically and evenly into tight coils of ice cream cigars before each is placed delicately into the cup, six rolls deep. My favorite order: Café Sua Da.