10 Best Ice Cream Shops in Orange County

Contributors:
Lisa Hu Chen

When I was 15 years old, I got my first job at the local ice cream shop: Gelato Classico. Working there really helped shape my appreciation for handcrafted, high-quality ice cream. I learned that the unique texture of each a great gelato bite – and I literally mean that you gotta bite it – is made possible because less air is infused during the churning process, resulting in a denser, creamier scoop.  And, I quickly learned that keeping the front doors closed meant the difference between bites of dense deliciousness and a dripping mess of melty mush.

Thanks to that childhood training, no matter where I travel in the world, my first priority is to seek out the best ice cream purveyors in the area. I love 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. More important than discovering gems in faraway lands though, is having a good rotation of choices back home – familiar shops in Orange County 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 heat wave.

Now that we’re entering the dog days of summer, where kids are heading back to school and the SoCal summer heat seeps into Fall with no forgiveness, ice cream requests still reign supreme in our house. So, here I present my favorite ice cream makers in Orange County. This list has been lovingly compiled over the years based on numerous visits and the desire to keep going back. I’m impressed by each one and their high standards towards consistency and flavor, but even more impressed with their commitment to upholding the perfect cooling temperature, so that I get to enjoy those textured, dense scoops – the ones I can really sink my teeth into.

SEE ALSO: 8 BEST BREAKFAST & BRUNCH RESTAURANTS IN ORANGE COUNTY

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 Hans’ Homemade Ice Cream Anaheim: (440 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim Packing House, Anaheim, CA // 714.520.0445 ) 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 Mr. Matcha (12926 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA // 714.489.5573)

8. Honeymee

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 Honeymee (5414 Walnut Ave, Ste C, Irvine, CA // 949.536.5453)

7. Sprinkles Ice Cream

As a longtime fan of Sprinkles Cupcakes, I was beyond excited when I found out that in 2012, they launched Sprinkles Ice Cream and the local Newport Beach location in Orange County was opening one next door to their cupcake shop. Their flavors rotate throughout the week but their hitmakers are available daily: Red Velvet, Rocky Road, Salty Caramel, and the ever-popular Captain Crunch, to name a few. The Sprinkles Sandwich is a fun twist on the traditional cookie sandwich (which they also offer) where you can choose two cupcake tops to pair with your favorite scoop. My favorite order: Sprinkles Sandwich with coffee ice cream, and chocolate and vanilla cupcake tops. Sprinkles Ice Cream (952 Avocado Ave, Newport Beach, CA // 949.718.9400)

6. Creamistry

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. Creamistry (3972 Barranca Pkwy, Ste D, Irvine, CA // 949.777.6627)

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 Chunk ‘n Chip (201 E 4th Street, Ste 107, Santa Ana, CA // 714.450.6800)

4. Popbar

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. Popbar (440 South Anaheim Boulevard, Anaheim, CA // 714.215.4679)

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 A la Minute (117 N. Glassell Street Orange, CA // 714.363.3470)

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. Rollin’ Creamery (17908 1/2 Magnolia Street, Fountain Valley, CA // 714.203.7021)

1. Vitaly Caffé

Owners Maurizio and Barbara Cocchi have brought a part of Italy to Costa Mesa and as a result, Vitaly is one of the best things to happen to OC. Located in The Camp, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention and distracted by all the pretty corners. But once you walk into Vitaly, the sights and scents are impossible to resist. Just past the espresso counter, your eyes will widen once they catch sight of tub after beautiful tub of lovingly crafted gelatos that are not only kept at perfect temperature, but spun as if architecturally inspired by Michelangelo himself. Kids will love it as well because they offer tiny sample-like cones, called a Gelato Flight, with which you can order sets of mini-tastes to try a little of a lot of flavors. Since Vitaly Caffé also serves terrific pasta dishes, you can’t help but feel like you could spend an entire day eating all your meals and gelatos in between at this absolute treasure. My favorite scoop: Pistachio | Fresh Mascarpone Strawberry with Balsamic Vinaigrette Vitaly Caffé (2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA // 714.662.550)

So whether you’re an out-of-town visitor or an Orange County resident who has not had the good fortune of sampling all these locations, I hope you’ll try them all and fall in love with them the way my family and I have.  And when you do, I hope you’ll let me know if you agree.

SEE ALSO: BEST ICE CREAM SHOPS IN LOS ANGELES

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  1. Love your article! I’ve only been to Creamistry. Can’t wait to try the rest. Now I know where to bring relative and friends who are visiting. Thanks Lisa 😊