Soft serve is having a moment. From the traditional cash-only roadside joints and mom and pop shops to the sleek artisan parlors, food trucks, and farmer's markets, the swirled delight can be found across the U.S. Get your cake cones ready, we're calling out some of the best places that do soft serve right.
Los Angeles, CA
Magpies Softserve whips up all of their soft serve ice cream and toppings from scratch. The two locations sell cold brew coffee floats and a rotation of inventive soft serve flavors — half of which are vegan — like sweetened cream, malted milk chocolate, black cherry, corn-almond, and orange creamsicle. Pair 'em with fixings like chocolate covered honeycomb, butterscotch rice krispies, and toasted maple coconut chips.
SALT & STRAW'S WIZ BANG BAR
Besides hand-dipped cones and novelties like "chocolate tacolates" (a riff on Choco Tacos), Salt & Straw's soft serve dessert bar, Wiz Bang Bar, offers "fresh spins on the childhood swirl." Flavors include roasted strawberry coconut and matcha blood orange. Sundaes include the "Brown Butter Blondie and Hot Fudge" while concretes like "Marionberry Habanero Cheesecake Bars" blend soft serve with spice.
Locals flock to Softies at the first sign of warm weather for "Cherry Cows," "Turtle Bliz-Its" (their version of a Dairy Queen Blizzard), gigantic dipped cones, and a slew of other soft serve variations. Order a treat in a larger "cow" or smaller "calf" size at the window, and grab a seat outside for great people-watching.
Grab a roadside cone at Dairy Joy before nightfall (and the season ends). Alongside the nostalgia and frozen treats, the family-owned, counter-serve joint also serves fried seafood snacks. But it's the tasty creamsicle or java berry soft serve quickly devoured while sitting on a log in the parking lot that makes summer in New England so sweet.
BIG GAY ICE CREAM
New York City, NY
Dazzle your senses with the rainbow of colors and creative flavors at one of three Big Gay Ice Cream shops in NYC. Offbeat soft serve options keep the lines running out the door regularly, but The Salty Pimp (a signature cone filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with dulce de leche and sea salt, then dipped in chocolate) is well worth the wait.
LEON'S OYSTER SHOP
Charleston stalwart Leon's Oyster Shop is that laid-back, super cool eatery everyone flocks to for fried chicken and fresh oysters, but it's even cooler for the simple-by-design dessert menu. Take your pick: soft serve or milkshake. This old school spot does simple soft serve really well: vanilla or chocolate in a classic cone, with or without rainbow sprinkles.
WHIP'N DIP ICE CREAM SHOPPE
You never know what the day will bring at Whip'n Dip Ice Cream Shoppe with assorted flavors prepared every morning in-house using local ingredients. You might find sweet flavors like Heath Bar Brownie or Bulldog Blitz. Even if you're watching your figure, the Lite Cream is surprisingly delicious/light/fluffy for being calorie/fat/cholesterol free.
DANNY'S FROZEN CUSTARD
Right next door to hometown grocer Danny's Fine Foods, with its famed counter service and meats, is Danny's Frozen Custard with its creamy, rich soft serve at a beyond reasonable price. The cash-only establishment has outdoor seating, but you can also take your peanut butter crunch up the street to nosh riverside at Veteran's Park.
DRIPS & SWIRLS
Los Angeles, CA
Koreatown spot Drips & Swirls features pour-over coffee and soft serve (or together as the nitro float). Rotating flavors celebrate L.A.'s diversity, alongside two standbys: charcoal crispy rice and Korean melon bar. Chef DJ Park's past renditions include matcha white chocolate, and fig with toasted brioche. Try a banana milk with a butter cookie crumble or Thai tea with crunchy granola.
CLIFF'S HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
Since 1975, Cliff's Homemade Ice Cream has been churning out seasonal and classic soft serve in flavors like black raspberry, graham cracker, and strawberry plus award-winning lemon raspberry shandy, sticky bun, and "Holy Cannoli" ice creams. With 11 soft serve and 60 hand-dipped ice creams, this nostalgic North Jersey drive-in is the perfect spot for fulfilling those childhood dreams of taste testing cone after cone.
Carl's is an old fashioned, curbside ice cream stand that's closed in the winter and slammed in the summer. Even if the line is wrapped around the block, you'll be slurping down a pineapple shake pretty fast. The 1940s era institution's quality soft serve comes in familiar flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Enjoy them as cones, cups, sundaes, milkshakes, and malts.
Trove brings BBQ, beer, handmade noodles, and parfaits into one space. Cook meat on tabletop grills, hit the beer-forward bar, order fresh noodle dishes, and snag tasty soft serve parfaits layered in mason jars. There's Korean-influenced frozen custard treats like You Had Me at Jello (blood orange sorbet, mango jello, and coconut marshmallow) and The Fudging Best (gochujang chocolate ice cream, fudge, and condensed milk swirl).
Whether you're going for a salted caramel milkshake, cookie dough sundae, banana split in a cup, or the perfect cake batter-dipped cone, you're in for an incredible experience at Dreamette. The cash-only ice cream stand has been churning out all kinds of cold treat combos since 1948, and, yes, it's really the stuff dreams are made of.
BELTS' SOFT SERVE
Stevens Point, WI
Homemade toppings, 20 rotating specialty flavors, and generous cones keep soft serve lovers loyal to Belts' Soft Serve. Over 30 varieties of cones, flurries, malts, smoothies, sundaes, and other treats are blended with house-prepared ingredients — brownies, cookie dough, and peanut butter cups — and seasonals like fresh strawberries and raspberries. Peanut butter flurries and Belt Buster Brownie Sundaes are infinitely better with homemade peanut butter cups!
NANCY'S ITALIAN ICE
Anyone who's been to Nancy's Italian Ice will tell you to try the "Fancy Nancy," an Italian ice/soft serve combo on your first visit. You'll pick a sweet and fruity Italian ice flavor, which is then be paired with vanilla soft serve for a combination of textures and flavors that ends up tasting like an out-of-this-world float.
Hot fudge cake sundaes, root beer floats, Oreo Freezees, 3-tier parfaits layered with strawberries and pineapple, and good, old-fashioned soft serve — vanilla, chocolate, twist, or dipped in chocolate — have been keeping people in the Tastee Freez lines since 1950.
Nami is an unexpected soft serve destination. Besides delicious baked goods and Sunday brunch, the vegan cafe serves sweet tooth-satisfying "tSoynamis," house-made organic soy and coconut soft serve — vanilla or chocolate — with vegan goodies mixed in. You're not gonna turn down a Rocky Road tsoynami with walnuts, chocolate chips, organic chocolate syrup, toasted marshmallow syrup, and ricemellow fluff or PB 'n' J with organic peanut butter, strawberries, and vanilla wafers, are you?
RIZUTO'S ICE CREAM AND SWEET SHOP
Colorado Springs, CO
Generous portions of high-quality soft serve, gelato, and regular ice cream at amazing price points are a big draw for the unassuming, family-owned Rizuto's Ice Cream and Sweet Shop. Just don't be surprised if you walk into the parlor to find people eating butterscotch-dipped soft serve cones the size of their heads.
Little Rock, AR
The David's Burgers restaurants, designed in the spirit of the butcher shops of the 1950s and 60s, sling juicy, house-made burgers and addictive, fresh-cut fries made from real potatoes. That's obviously enough to tempt those with a hankering for a delicious meal to the retro, counter-serve chain, but your meal's crowning glory comes in the form of chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve for dessert.
SWEET ROSE CREAMERY
Los Angeles, CA
Small-batch shop Sweet Rose Creamery whips up their ever-changing soft serve offerings using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the local farmers market. Typically, you'll find a couple scratch-made artisan options on tap like pure and creamy milk gelato and juicy peach sorbet (a great vegan go-to). Get your peaches n' cream fix by swirling the two time-honored flavors together.
TRICKLING SPRINGS CREAMERY
Trickling Springs Creamery in D.C.'s historic Union Market has built a loyal following through small batch, artisan products made with simple ingredients from grass-fed cows. The result is the purest, creamiest soft serve you'll find, available in silky smooth chocolate, vanilla, and swirl.
New Castle, DE
Let's get one thing straight: you're coming to Dairy Palace for the sundaes. Sure, you could order a simple cone, milkshake, float, or candied freeze — they're all great here too — but it's impossible to pass up all the sundae options. Try a strawberry shortcake sundae, apple pie sundae, or extra chocolatey "Chocolate Fluff Overload Sundae" with smooth hot fudge and sweet marshmallow.
DAIRY STAR ICE CREAM
Chicagoland's Dairy Star Ice Cream has fat free, no sugar added, and non-dairy soft serve varieties on tap. One of the veteran ice cream shop's specials is a "Flavor Burst Cone," creamy vanilla soft serve with up to three flavor gels swirled into the ice cream. There are 13 dip flavors to choose from, so you can try a number of combinations with each visit.
MRS. CURL ICE CREAM
Mrs. Curl's hand-spun milkshakes, banana splits, "razzles" (like Dairy Queen Blizzards), and "flavor burst" soft serve specialties have brought loyal customers to the window and creekside seating area every summer for over 55 years. The Greenwood fixture will likely be dishing up peanut butter and butterscotch flavor burst soft serve cones — topped with a beloved chocolate Teddy Graham — for more generations to come.
DIPS & SIPS
Would you like fudge in the bottom of your cone? The family-owned Dips & Sips shop adds a little special something to the typical soft serve treat. You'll find "explosions," soft serve with any topping — like brownies, caramel, or peanuts — blended together. Choose from butterscotch, English toffee, cheesecake, and more.
The friendly vegetarian food and ice cream shop Piper's Cafe has a welcoming outdoor patio and crazy array of soft serve flavor options. You'll find 63 soft serve flavors, including Amaretto, German chocolate, red velvet cake, black raspberry, and rainbow Skittles, and they'll even let you mix up to three flavors to create your ideal treat at no extra charge.
RED'S DAIRY FREEZE
South Portland, ME
Ice cream staple Red's Dairy Freeze has been whipping up some of Maine's finest soft serve and frozen yogurt since 1952. The popular spot for summertime treats serves soft serve flavors like sour watermelon, salted caramel, and peanut butter with chocolate sprinkles, "nor'easters" (their version of DQ Blizzards), and a magical off-menu item: the Boston Shake, a hot fudge sundae on top of a milkshake.
DETROIT WATER ICE FACTORY
Bestselling author and journalist Mitch Albom started Detroit Water Ice Factory to create jobs and fund charitable works in Detroit — all profits benefit charities of S.A.Y. Detroit. You can feel good about ordering a water ice with the "Motown Twist," a delicious combo of soft serve layered with water ice, like Honolulu blue raspberry water ice with vanilla soft serve. They say "there's no calories in doing good."
RACHEL'S GINGER BEER
Seattle, WA/Portland, OR
Chalkboard menus at Rachel's Ginger Beer display the essentials: homemade ginger beer and cocktails, soft serve floats (including boozy ones), fries, and sauces. Aside from Moscow mules at happy hour and ginger beer growlers to go, ginger beer floats are one of RGB's main attractions. With a rotating soft serve menu, find new favorites like pink guava, caramelized pineapple, and blood orange floats with vanilla soft serve.
CUP & CONE
White Bear Lake, MN
Small town favorite Cup & Cone serves a rotating roster of super smooth soft serve, including lactose-free premium flavors, like classic vanilla and chocolate as well as birthday cake and salted caramel. Get a Dole Whip strawberry swirl or "sunset splash," a fruity, bubbly, and light concoction of the Flavor of the Day and Sprite run through the swirl machine.
RO-BEAR'S SNO-BALLS & SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM
New Orleans, LA
Flavorful "snowballs" (aka "sno-balls" and not to be confused with snow cones) are as much a New Orleans staple as po-boys, gumbo, and beignets. The light and fluffy shaved ice and syrups are prepared in-house at Ro-Bear's Sno-Balls & Soft Serve Ice Cream, including 60-plus flavors that can be "stuffed" with soft serve in the middle. Order the best-selling chocolate "stuffed" with vanilla soft serve, topped with a special condensed milk.
FROSTBITE ICE CREAM
The newest Frostbite Ice Cream in North Asheville redefines the term "ice cream bar." Think beer floats made with local brews like Catawba Brewing Co.'s Peanut Butter Jelly Time, kid-at-heart cocktails like Jack and Coke slushies, dessert nachos with waffle cone "chips" slathered in soft serve and sprinkles, and over a dozen scratch-made, real-cream soft serve like fudge ripple and dreamsicle flavored with local ingredients, plus fixings like crushed pineapple and honey.
Zesto Shoppe's dipped and rolled cones and "super shakes" will hit the spot. Vanilla, chocolate, and vanilla-chocolate twist soft serve can be dipped in chocolate, cherry, or butterscotch before the cone is rolled in peanuts, sprinkles, or a crunch coat. Butterfinger, black raspberry, mint chip, and other "super shake" options come thick and loaded with a mind-blowing amount of candy.
Generous servings and the weekly rotation of fresh flavors make the seasonal King Kone shop a great stop for soft serve. They have the usual suspects like vanilla and chocolate as well as rotating specialty soft serve flavors like mint, coconut, maple pumpkin, and black raspberry. Doggie cones, vanilla ice cream in a cup topped with two milk bones, make for tasty treats for canine companions too.
Boulder City, NV
Funky local joint Chilly Jilly'z has a self-serve Dole Whip soft serve and frozen yogurt bar along with shaved ice treats. Flavors rotate throughout the year, but you'll typically find Tahitian vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peanut butter, and cheesecake on tap. After a long hike, there's nothing more refreshing than a pineapple-orange Dole Whip float whipped cream and a cherry on top in the airy, colorful space.
PUTZ'S CREAMY WHIP
Putz's Creamy Whip has some of the creamiest vanilla ice cream in Cincinnati hands down. President Nixon even moved the proposed I-74 expressway 50 feet south to avoid Putz's back door. As a result, a 64-year-old Electro-Freeze soft serve machine named Bessie has churned out delicious vanilla ice cream uninterrupted to customers. You'll also find strawberry, pineapple and lime sherbet, and the iconic blueberry-based "blue ice cream," and experimental toppings like candied cicadas.
LIKE NO UDDER
As you'd expect from the name Like No Udder, ice cream from the all-vegan, dairy-free shop and ice cream truck is exceptional. Soy-based soft serve comes in vanilla, chocolate, and twist. Soft serve pistachio shakes, floats with locally-made soda, and "unicorn" blends of soft serve and mix-ins are also on the docket.
Murrells Inlet, SC
Mom and pop joint Twisters does classic vanilla, chocolate, and twist right, and there are plenty of ways to consume 'em: in a cone and dipped, shake, malt, float and "tornado" blend formats, and all kinds of specialty sundaes. Order the "Cheesecake Sundae Supreme" for soft serve covered in cheesecake bites and other toppings.
JERRY'S SNO CONES
Memphis staple Jerry's Sno Cones is known for the "wedding cake supreme," one of the menu's many inventive sno-cones layered with vanilla soft serve ice cream. Ice cream and finely shaved ice might sound odd for newcomers, but nothing beats the taste of cake and ice cream in a cup on a hot day. Whatever your sno-cone order, just be sure to upgrade to supreme!
AUNTIE RAE'S DESSERT ISLAND
Salt Lake City, UT
Salt Lake City's "escape to sweet indulgence" can be found at Auntie Rae's Dessert Island, where scrumptious baked goods and soft serve delights are made fresh. You could opt for Dole Whip pineapple or vanilla in a regular cone, but we'd suggest the cookie sundae with two cookies baked fresh in a ramekin, covered with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge or caramel, and sprinkled with caramel bites.
The family-owned and operated Dairy Creme in Vermont's capital is a local hotspot during the summer months. The seasonal stand still uses mass-production creemee machines built in the 1950s to churn out the smoothest, richest creemees around. There are a bazillion flavors to choose from, but a chocolate- or vanilla-maple twist with butterscotch dip will score some local flavor points.
26TH STREET SUGAR SHACK
26th Street Sugar Shack's funnel cake sundae with vanilla soft serve, hot fudge, chopped peanuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top might be your dentist's nightmare, but the sugar high is worth it. You'll likely also be tempted by the shop's sweet soft serve parfaits in flavors like strawberry shortcake, brownie s'mores, and caramel banana.
Toscanini's is a hit with its quirky, creamy scoops and homemade toppings, but the shop's dense and silky soft serve is just as delicious. Treat yourself to some traditional vanilla or chocolate (or both) or go wild and expand your soft serve horizons. The list is ever-changing, but previous flavors include black raspberry and goat cheese brownie.
At Kurver Kreme, one of the oldest ice cream stands in the region, vanilla and chocolate are always on the menu, along with a flavor of the week. But the sweetest treat is the iconic Kurver Slider, made with your favorite soft serve — like chocolate, vanilla, or orange sherbet — sandwiched between a fresh Schuyler Bakery glazed donut and then rolled in sprinkles.
TWIRL AND DIP
San Francisco, CA
Twirl and Dip dishes up organic soft serve ice cream in the form of dark-chocolate dipped cones, honeycomb candy-studded sundaes, handmade fresh fruit ice lollies, and more from their truck in Golden Gate Park and ice cream parlor in Potrero Hill. The classic vanilla bean and dark chocolate twirl cone with dark chocolate dip (sea salt optional, but recommended) can be jazzed up with homemade sauces and toppings like butterscotch and toasted almonds.
KLINE'S DAIRY BAR
Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro, PA
Kline's Dairy Bar has four locations — and each one makes their own fresh ice cream every morning. Solid old fashioned ice cream-making techniques have kept them in business since 1943. A regular rotation of unique flavors including red raspberry and blueberry cheesecake swirl keep customers coming back for more.
Honolulu-based Banán turns locally-grown bananas and other island ingredients into dairy-free soft serve. Fresh fruits and veggies are mixed with the banana base to create creamy flavors like liliko'i (passion fruit) and chocolate with Macnella (a chocolate macadamia nut spread). Order them in cups or "papaya boats" loaded with toppings like puffed quinoa, shaved coconut, pineapple, and local dark chocolate.
COW TIPPING CREAMERY
Austin and Dallas, TX
Texas hotspot Cow Tipping Creamery serves up some of the coolest creamy goods in the state. Their unique twist on soft serve, deemed "Stackers," are sundae-like desserts with exotic, housemade toppings and baked goods folded right into luscious soft serve layers — so the last spoonful is just as good as the first. Choose from rotating soft serve flavors and stacker combos like the "Southern Charm" with runny caramel sauce and honey-dusted pecans or go wild and build your own unbelievably delicious treat.
ARMADILLO'S ICE CREAM SHOPPE
Rapid City, SD
Locally-owned Armadillo's Ice Cream Shoppe has a delicious array of ice cream, sherbet, and slush flavors. Daily rotations span from black cherry and apricot to strawberry butter and raspberry cheesecake to cinnamon and maple. Another splurge-worthy endeavor, the Armadillo specialty sundae, packs chocolate ice cream, peanut butter dip, hot fudge, and chopped nuts in a dipped waffle bowl.
SWEET DAZE DESSERT BAR
Almost any sweet tooth can satisfy a craving at this shop, which offers designer donuts and cake slices in addition to artisan soft serve made in small batches daily. Flavors rotate (recent picks included black velvet, fruity pebbles, and vegan mango), but whatever you get, consider a glazed donut cone or brownie cone if a cup doesn't cut it.