With summer around the corner — and likely a very hot one at that — you'd better map out your ice cream game plan as early as possible. Because while year-round sunshine make Los Angeles suitable for frozen treats any time of the year, it's those sweltering dog days that make a scoop of something creamy and cold shift from a want to a need. Good thing a gourmet ice cream explosion has take root over the past few years, providing us with an array of acclaimed chains from out of town, as well as homegrown heroes who turn California's seasonal bounty into delectable creations. Here's where to get your ice cream fix this summer:
Walking into Milk is like stepping into a condensed version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. There's a stand-up fridge to the left with goodies such as butterscotch drumsticks, watermelon and red velvet macaroon ice cream sandwiches and frozen strawberry shortcakes. Piled high on the counter to the right are cookies, brownies and cakes. The menu board hanging overhead lists shakes, malts, floats and the classics, which include a warm, ooey-gooey chocolate sundae and the blondie with vanilla ice cream, butterscotch and pecan praline. Make-your-own ice cream sandwiches are made with about 10 cookie types to choose from, as well as ice cream flavors such as jasmine, nutella, blueberry crumble pie and the most popular pick, banana dulce de leche. —Jessica Koslow
7290 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 939-6455; and 1639 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 913-9911, themilkshop.com.
True to its name, everything is cool about Coolhaus: the handwritten names on the ice cream case; the young, stylish servers; its roaming food trucks; and flavors with names like Cuban cigar and Peking duck. The shop is petite, and fewer than 10 people in line equals a crowd. But the ice cream sandwich, with two chunky, chewy homemade cookies on each end, is worth standing in line for. It's massive, with ice cream bulging out the sides, and makes a perfect treat for two. Popular Coolhaus picks are balsamic fig and mascarpone and salted caramel. —JK
8588 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310)424-5559; and 59 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 486-2700, eatcoolhaus.com.
8. Mother Moo Creamery
Sandwiched in a corner mini-mall, Mother Moo Creamery has the feel of a small country store circa Sierra Madre's old town days. Owner Karen Klemens is the award-winning jam maker behind Mothercluck, and she also learned a few cool tricks in Penn State's Ice Cream Short Course. The ice creams served daily are in small batches due to limited space. But there's no shortage of exciting ice cream choices, from cornflakes (gluten-free) and black pepper to orange blossom cardamom and the beer-flavored "last call." Check out the new South Pasadena location as well, which features slices of homemade pies (we suggest going á la mode). —JK
17 Kersting Court, Sierra Madre; (626) 355-9650; and 1006 Mission St., South Pasadena, (626) 441-0744; mothermoo.com.
Tai Kim, the owner of the original Scoops location on Heliotrope Drive near Melrose Avenue, expanded his innovative ice cream empire with independently owned branches in Palms, Chinatown and Highland Park. Each Scoops locations serves up a rotating list of regular and nondairy flavors, boasting creative combinations using multiple ingredients, every day except Sunday. That means up to 50 flavors a week. There's usually only one constant on the menu, the customer favorite "brown bread": caramel ice cream with candied Grape-Nuts. —JK
712 N. Heliotrope Drive, East Hollywood; (323) 906-2649; 3400 Overland Ave., Palms; (323) 405-7055; 5105 York Blvd., Eagle Rock; and 727 N. Broadway, ,Chinatown, (323) 739-8675.
6. Carmela Ice Cream and Sorbet
The Third Street location of Carmela, just west of the Grove, is tucked snugly into a row of stores on a bustling traffic-heavy street. It's easy to pass by if you aren't looking for it. But the scores of kids who race through the doors with their parents close behind know exactly where to find Carmela. The 6-month-old shop carries goodies such as cones, toffee and cookies, made in its creamery and original shop in Pasadena. The sorbet flavors, from cucumber to blueberry thyme, follow the seasons. Popular picks include salted caramel, made with homemade caramel, and mint with cacao nib. The secret to the in-demand mint flavor: fresh mint leaves steeped in the milk. For Valley dwellers, there's also a newer location in Woodland Hills. —JK
7920 W. Third St., Mid-City; (323) 944-0232; 2495 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 797-1405; and 5301 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; (818) 914-5401; carmelaicecream.com.
5. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
This charming, Ohio-based ice cream company opened in Los Feliz last year to long lines, which have pretty much remained ever since. Flavors rotate regularly, but you can expect upgraded-yet-nostalgic combinations such as roasted strawberry buttermilk, cherries jubilee made with Luxardo cherries, pralines and cream, and two varieties of chocolate — "darkest" and "milkiest." If you're feeling extra indulgent, spring for one of the artfully composed sundaes, such as the tin roof: vanilla bean ice cream
smothered in extra-bitter hot fudge and roasted Virginia peanuts. —Garrett Snyder
1954 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz; (323) 928-2668, jenis.com.
4. Bulgarini Gelato
Owner Leo Bulgarini is a gelato connoisseur. He studied gelato-making in Italy and imports his almonds from Sicily and chocolate from France. At Bulgarini's Altadena location, foreign films such as Matrimonio all'italiana are sometimes screened for the public during the summer. The ice cream case stands just inside the front door, greeting customers with colorful gelato and sorbets. Bulgarini offers three kinds of chocolate — salted, regular and orange flavor — and customer favorites are the standard chocolate chip, almond and vanilla. Oh, and there's house-made pasta, too, if you need a little something savory before dessert. —JK
749 E. Altadena Drive, Altadena; (626) 791-6174, bulgarinigelato.com.
3. Sweet Rose Creamery
Sweet Rose Creamery carries at least 15 flavors daily, which are inspired by what's in season, such as a nectarine sorbet during summer. The two most requested flavors are salted caramel and fresh mint with homemade chocolate chips. Peering out at customers from a tall case by the door are Guittard chocolate-dipped bananas, classic and seasonal bon bons and Valrhona fudge pops. Also on the menu are brownie bites, sundaes, shakes, floats and one of the best banana splits in L.A., featuring one scoop each of old-fashioned vanilla and chocolate (substitutions allowed), a ripe banana, homemade hot fudge and whipped cream topped with toasted almonds and a strawberry. —JK
Various locations, sweetrosecreamery.com.
2. Salt & Straw
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Salt & Straw brings a little more flair to the local ice cream scene. With flavors like tomato water and Ojai olive oil sherbet, and avocado and strawberry sherbet, this is definitely not your grandmother’s ice creamery. For noncommittal types, there's a flight of flavors, which includes four choices for 10 bucks. Other sweetly sensational options from the drink side of things: a lavender bitters and spruce cola float and a barrel-aged maple syrup and walnut shake. Everything for the Los Angeles shops is made from scratch at Salt & Straw’s kitchen in Boyle Heights. —Angela Matano
240 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 446-0485, saltandstraw.com.
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1. McConnell's Ice Cream
Based in Santa Barbara since 1949, this company — with a stall in Grand Central Market — uses milk and cream from its own grass-grazed cows. The flavors are a mix of old and new, and the ice cream itself is extremely creamy and rich without being too sweet. The McConnell’s version of the now ubiquitous (but still worthwhile) salty caramel is a salted caramel chip with enough depth of flavor to approach the intensity of coffee. The chopped-up, bittersweet Guittard chocolate balances out the sweetness, making for a decidedly sophisticated flavor. The Earl Grey tea float is another unusual and delicious choice. —AM
Grand Central Market, 317 S. Broadway, downtown, (213) 346-9722; and 12075 Ventura Place, Studio City, (818) 308-7789, mcconnells.com.