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A colorful array of soft serve from Wax Paper.
A colorful array of soft serve ice cream from Wax Paper.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Dips, swirls, cones and more: Here’s your summer guide to soft serve in L.A.

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Soft serve is ice cream magic, so lush and airy it cannot be scooped and must be churned to order until it barely holds its shape. It’s not destined for tubs sitting in freezers but for enjoying immediately, as soon as it’s swirled straight from a machine into your cone — the frozen delight that affirms living for the now.

In Los Angeles, soft serve thrives on both nostalgia and novelty: classic chocolate dips; swirls of flavors in pomegranate, pineapple, guava, ube and more; ice cream cones with cereal rims; Asian griddled pastries lined with custard or Nutella and then filled with the soft stuff. It’s hard to find a cooler, more affordable summertime snack when triple-digit heat strikes.

Cool off this season with our ongoing guide to the best frozen treats in Los Angeles.

The origin story of soft serve begins on the East Coast: Carvel, Taylor Co. and Dairy Queen all lay claim to inventing soft serve machines in the late 1920s and early ’30s. But it has its L.A. roots too. After World War II, entrepreneur George Foster bought rights to open Dairy Queen stores in California, but because of restrictions on use of the word “dairy” he instead launched Fosters Freeze. The first location opened on La Brea Avenue in Inglewood in 1946 and still serves sundaes, parfaits, shakes, Twisters and cones made with what it calls California soft serve.

What distinguishes soft serve is primarily the percentage of “overrun” in the final product — that’s ice cream parlance for the amount of air. You want enough air so that it’s light, smooth and creamy. The less air in ice cream, the more dense it is (frozen custard has relatively low overrun), but too much air and the flavor is compromised. Soft serve mixtures also have less butterfat than ice cream so that it’s lighter, and stabilizers prevent it from melting within seconds. It’s churned at relatively higher temperatures, which is also why it’s not firm — a pillowier fantasy version of ice cream.

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Here’s where all our soft serve dreams are coming true lately. — Betty Hallock

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A swirled vegan chocolate and vanilla soft serve cone with blue sprinkles from Besties in East Hollywood
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Besties Vegan Paradise

East Hollywood Vegan Foods $
Who says a classic cone has to involve the cow? At community-minded Besties Vegan Paradise, the East Hollywood corner store is set up like a plant-based 7-Eleven, complete with road-trip snacks, ice cream pints, rolling hot dogs up at the register, and even a cheese case with a counter for grab-and-go sandwiches. The most refreshing detail of all, though, is the labor-of-love soft serve, with a custom, house-made oat-milk base that took the Besties team months of trial and error to perfect. The result is a light, almost fluffy texture available in chocolate and vanilla one week, and at least one alternating special flavor the next, in options such as pandan, Vietnamese coffee, cherry or chai. They can be enjoyed in cups and cones or as part of an organic soda float, a brownie sundae, or the concoction known as “bong water,” made with chocolate milk and cold brew.

Besties accepts EBT and price matches its products to bigger retailers even if it comes at a loss, and co-founder Matt Fontana says that its soft serve program is simply an extension of its mission of inclusivity and consideration. “Regardless of how that person’s day has been — whether they’ve been sitting in L.A. traffic, standing on a picket line [or] protesting for Black lives — it’s an amazing experience when you hand somebody soft serve and see their eyes light up,” he said. “We feel like soft serve is the shortest route to the inner child in all of us.”
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The chocolate-dipped cone of soft serve ice cream at Bob's Freeze in East L.A.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

Bob's Freeze

East Los Angeles Ice cream $
Classic chocolate-dipped cones are pure joy. They aren’t exactly easy to find; surprisingly few ice cream spots serve them (McDonald’s discontinued its dipped cones several years ago, RIP). But Bob’s in East L.A. does dips (also see: Heavy-Handed and Fosters Freeze). Generations of families have frequented this ice cream-to-go stand near Atlantic Boulevard for decades. Located adjacent to a marisqueria, with which it shares outdoor seating, Bob’s makes all of its shakes, parfaits, banana splits and slush floats with soft serve. Most items are priced $5 or less. The move here remains the chocolate-dipped cone, available in small or large — the latter with a swirl so high it defies gravity (especially when it gets turned upside down into the vat of chocolate coating).
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A swirl of chocolate and pineapple soft serve at Bumsan Organic Milk Bar in Koreatown.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

Bumsan Organic Milk Bar

Koreatown Ice cream $
Air is the key to great soft serve, and Bumsan’s might be the most airy, light and smooth. The Koreatown creamery is backed by Korea’s largest organic dairy producer, Bumsan Farm Co., so the signature flavor here is, naturally, “True Milk.” But at one of the few soft serve shops in the city with multiple machines, it’s worth exploring other flavors too, at least a few of which are always available as swirls: Chocolate and pineapple was uniquely delicious together. In fact, this was pretty much everything to love above soft serve, its cool creaminess hitting all the pleasure receptors in a flavor combination that was interesting without tipping into pure novelty (bonus points for different caps on the soft serve nozzles for various swirly effects). Other flavors lately include pink guava, taro milk tea and matcha. In general, they aren’t overly sweet. Cone options include sprinkle-rimmed or cereal cones edged with Rice Krispies or Fruity Pebbles. There’s a dessert called a Croffle (croissant x waffle) that is flaky but dense, served with or without ice cream. With soft serve this good, I go Croffle-less.
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Chocolate and vanilla soft serve twirl in a cone at a food truck.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

CVT truck

Sherman Oaks Ice cream $
Joe Nicchi launched his CVT truck to re-create the East Coast soft serve he missed from his childhood. His vanilla and chocolate twirl cone may be an homage to the East Coast, but it’s made with California dairy, and to me, it’s emblematic of summertime in Los Angeles. Often parked in Sherman Oaks, the brown and white truck is a respite from the sunbaked streets of the San Fernando Valley. The options are minimal: chocolate, vanilla or twirl in a cup or a cone. I never order mine with sprinkles, but if you must, they’re available. I like the soft serve in its purest form: cold, creamy, milky and dreamy. And I always get a twirl. It’s more fun that way. Check the Instagram page for the day’s location.
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Hibiscus mango and black sesame vanilla swirl on a cone from Wax Paper.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Close Encounters by Wax Paper

Elysian Valley Dessert
With bright colors, toppings, hard-shell dips and an out-of-this-world name, some of L.A.’s best soft serve can be found within one of the city’s most popular sandwich shops. Wax Paper owners Peter and Lauren Lemos launched Close Encounters in 2019, and every so often, they sell more soft serve than sandwiches. At the Frogtown walk-up spot they use California’s own Straus Family Creamery dairy on one side of their soft serve machine, then rotate through vegan bases for the other — including oat, tapioca and coconut, plus Dole for select fruit flavors. You might find hot honey drizzled over vanilla in a chocolate-and-nut-dipped cone, strawberry syrup on pistachio in a cup printed with the squiggly, ’90s-iconic jazz design, or nostalgic toppings like chocolate rocks, nonpareils or rainbow sprinkles for your dulce de leche and pineapple swirl. Note: The soft serve machine at Wax Paper’s Chinatown location (2902 Knox Ave.) broke this summer and the team plans to launch farmers-market-inspired slushies in that location instead. Soft serve is still being swirled at the Frogtown location.
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A hand holds a waffle cone of honeycomb-topped Creamy Boys New Zealand-style whipped soft serve in front of the stand's sign.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Creamy Boys

Mar Vista Ice Cream Shop $
New Zealand’s signature ice cream is a delight. Whipped with real fruit and put through a machine that results in an airy, twirly, swirly treat with a texture more akin to soft serve, it’s refreshing, relatively healthy and not overtly sweet. At Creamy Boys, business partners Duncan Parsons and Joe Wedd bring a taste of their hometown pride to L.A. via a pint-size, roving pink-and-white trailer. The berries and other seasonal fruits are often purchased from local farmers, especially given the Boys’ Sunday residency at the Mar Vista Farmers Market, where they’re surrounded by fresh peaches, mangoes, watermelons, bananas and other options that have all made their way through the whirring machines. But the fruity cups and cones aren’t the only highlight here: The Hokey Pokey, a classic New Zealand flavor, blends crunchy honeycomb candy into the ice cream, then tops it with another crumble. It’s rich and textured and made all the more decadent by opting for the Creamy Boys’ nondairy tapioca ice cream as the base. This summer, you can also find the Creamy Boys at Smorgasburg L.A.’s Ice Cream Alley at the Row DTLA every Sunday through Labor Day weekend.
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A cone of soft serve ice cream held up outside the original Fosters Freeze in Inglewood.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

Fosters Freeze

Inglewood Ice cream $
This place is a piece of Los Angeles soft serve history: The Inglewood location is where George Foster opened the first Fosters Freeze in 1946, and it’s still in operation. Soft serve put the “freeze” in Fosters Freeze, with its own mascot, a smiling ice cream cone named Little Foster. In 1951, back when the soft serve mix was made by Compton Dairy, there were 360 locations. They now number in the dozens, one of which, in Santa Cruz, is registered as a historic building. (The Atwater Village shop appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”) The menu in Inglewood includes many iterations of soft serve — banana splits or parfaits layered with Butterfingers or even a concoction of Red Bull and ice cream. The regular and dipped cones are among the swirliest out there, even if the soft serve isn’t the airiest. It just doesn’t get more classic than Fosters Freeze.
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Hands hold up two chocolate-dipped soft serve cones from Heavy Handed.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Heavy Handed

Santa Monica American $
Heavy Handed is a grand place for simple pleasures. It is where you come for an excellent double cheeseburger, a superb version of Animal-style fries and a chocolate-dipped soft serve cone that tastes like summer. The ice cream is expertly piped into a high, leaning tower. There’s chocolate, vanilla or a swirl, all made with Straus dairy. On its own, the soft serve tastes pure and milky. But I’m always tempted by the crack of the chocolate shell, and the way it slowly melts from the heat of my mouth.
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Plastic cups of brown sugar boba soft serve and yuzu affogato at Honeymee in Los Angeles.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

Honeymee

Koreatown Ice cream $
The first time I went to the Honeymee stand in Koreatown, even the bees wanted in on the soft serve. The signature Honeymee soft serve has hunks of honeycomb in it, and customers were dodging the bees trying to get at their cones. That’s some kind of testament to the appeal of honey and ice cream. That was years ago, and since then Honeymee has expanded to several locations and the menu has grown too. Two recent favorites include the brown sugar boba and the yuzu affogato, served parfait-style. They’re both the most interesting flavor-wise and fun texture-wise. The first is a swirl of the signature milky, not-too-sweet soft serve with molasses-y syrup and squishy fat boba pearls interspersed. The second is a layer of corn flakes on the bottom, topped with swirled milk soft serve and yuzu jam. Dig into it with your spoon till you reach the corn flakes and then scoop up some soft serve along with the jammy yuzu peel. It’s crunchy, creamy, cool, citrusy sunshine.
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Two rows of clear cylinders containing various cereals for toppings at Kith Treats
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Kith Treats

Beverly Hills Dessert $
The intersection of fashion and food connects all over Los Angeles, but few do it so sweetly as Kith. In addition to tees, swimwear, jackets, footwear and a range of lifestyle items and collabs, the fashion brand runs its own soft serve stand within its storefronts, and in L.A. we’ve got two of them. Whether in the tucked-away parking garage entrance just off the Sunset Strip or the newer, flashier flagship in Beverly Hills, find cereal-blended and -topped cups, cones and milkshakes, the rainbow of options on full display. The chocolate or vanilla soft serve — with vegan options — can involve any of roughly two dozen cereals, plus mix-ins like toffee, brownies, candy bars, waffle cone pieces and honey. Of course, the real allure of Kith Treats is the brand’s collab flavors concocted by the likes of basketball legend LeBron James, rapper-cum-food host Action Bronson, actor Karrueche Tran and designer Ronnie Fieg.
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A slice of Magpies soft serve pie: Vietnamese coffee with cookie crust, nuts, whipped cream and caramel
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Magpies Softserve

Silver Lake Ice Cream Shop $
While L.A. is home to a range of spots for quality soft serve, only one local chain has cornered the market on both swirls and pies. In addition to serving multiple soft serve flavors using from-scratch bases (including vegan option corn almond), Magpies also serves stellar soft serve in pie form by the slice or whole. Each variety is layered and brimming with extra toppings such as the rich Vietnamese coffee soft serve pie, which involves fudge, Rice Krispies, caramel whipped cream, caramel sauce and a single chocolate-covered espresso bean, or the refreshing and plant-based chile mango option, which combines mango and limeade soft serve with pieces of mango, Tajin, chamoy mango sauce, whipped cream and coconut chips. The soft serve hardens in pie mode, providing a texture that’s akin to ice cream cake until it melts. For a creamy, soft, airy texture, opt for cones and cups of Magpies’ soft serve in classic flavors as well as specials like baklava, Thai tea, creamsicle, ube, churro, cookie butter, roasted strawberry, spiked apple cider and more. Since they founded the company in 2016, husband-and-wife team Rose and Warren Schwartz have expanded beyond their original Silver Lake shop to outposts in Tarzana and Highland Park.
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A hand holds a white cup of cereal milk soft serve quake from Christina Tosi's Milk Bar against a pink wall in L.A.
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Milk Bar

Fairfax Bakery and desserts $$
Of all the whimsical, rainbow-hued, sprinkle-accented creations that have been born of pastry chef Christina Tosi’s chain of Milk Bar sweets shops, few are as iconic as her cereal milk soft serve. Lightly salted and reminiscent of the flavorful, sweet dregs at the bottom of your cereal bowl, the corn-scented frozen treat feels nostalgic and new and is still just as refreshing and delightful more than 15 years in. The process begins with steeping oven-toasted cornflakes in milk, then straining and using the infused milk as the base for the soft serve. The flavor is so popular it’s now also sold as hard-pack ice cream, but the original soft serve pulled straight from the machine is still the move. Look for seasonal flavors — currently a toasted marshmallow soft serve at the Melrose shop — and then opt for swirls, toppings, sundaes, build-your-own-pint concoctions, milkshakes, or the “quakes,” wherein the soft serve gets freshly spun in the milkshake machine and studded with treats like gooey butter cake, pretzels or brownies for a thick and textural take on the classic.
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Matcha soft serve with a fish-shaped waffle at SomiSomi in Little Tokyo.
(Betty Hallock / Los Angeles Times)

SomiSomi

Downtown L.A. Ice cream $
SomiSomi’s rapid franchise expansion and the texture of its soft serve are both intense. The chain founded by Matt and Woori Kim in 2016 in Koreatown now has more than 30 locations in California, Arizona, Texas and beyond. Its soft serve is thick and rich. Would it be accurate to call it the gelato of soft serve? Probably yes. But really, the draw is its bungeo-ppang, the griddled fish-shaped pastry that is the Korean version of Japanese taiyaki (which was an adaptation of a waffle). Griddled right in front of you, they’re crispy and light and here filled with soft serve, in which case it’s called ah-boong. Pick your soft serve flavor (matcha must be one of its most popular flavors because it isn’t as too-sweet as some of the others) and ask for an ah-boong: The bungeo-ppang — whose interior is lined with your choice of custard or taro or red bean paste — is filled with soft serve, like a cone. Or, an upside-down ah-boong: The ice cream’s in a cup and the pastry is inserted on top, with the mouth swallowing the soft serve. Almost everybody’s ordering the upside-down version. Where the custard-y soft serve meets the gaping mouth of this pastry carp is mesmerizing, as if the fish were devouring it, and I wonder how best to eat it. The first move is probably to snap off the tail of the fish and dunk it into the soft serve; the pastry and ice cream are best eaten together. You’re going to have to figure it out from there.
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A slice of mushroom and ricotta pizza behind vanilla soft serve topped with chocolate syrup and sprinkles at Speak Cheezy
(Stephanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

Speak Cheezy

Long Beach Italian Restaurant $
Jason Winters has been in the pizza game for more than a decade, and while his foray into soft serve is much more recent, it’s just as delicious. In spring, the chef-owner and his wife, Merly Winters, launched a soft serve program at their Long Beach pizzeria, Speak Cheezy, that builds on a Straus Family Creamery dairy base with special flavors like black sesame and cookies and cream, and toppings like olive oil with sea salt or chocolate syrup with chocolate sprinkles. The other side of the machine is devoted to Italian ices, where options have included Sicilian almond, buttermilk lemon, Harry’s Berries, tangelo and chocolate. When the frozen-treat and pizza cravings hit, find Speak Cheezy soft serve pulled fresh from the machine and swirled all creamy and airy into a no-frills plastic cup.
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