We recently completed an epic road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco and found some of the best California desserts along the way!
It should be noted, for the record, that I am really into health and good nutrition, but I also strongly believe there’s a place for the odd treat now and again. For the purposes of research, and sharing the best California desserts with my readers, I felt it my duty to seek out a few!
I’ll start our journey in Los Angeles, home of the fit and healthy people, but also home to some of the most tempting doughnuts (or donuts, if you’re American) and sweet treats in the world!
There are many California Donuts concessions across Los Angeles and some are open 24 hours a day! Their cakes and sweet treats are awesome and come in many different shapes and flavours.
We tried the unicorn, chocolate and glazed ones and they were delicious! Definitely check them out if you’re a donut fan, or even if you’re not as they offer other sweet treats too. There will likely be a long queue, but that’s not a bad thing as it took us about 15 minutes to choose what we wanted. We needed that queuing time to make a decision!
Here are some of their tempting Easter bunny treats!
How cute are these Oreo pandas?
Here is the website for the kiosk we used.
You can get some pretty awesome ice cream cookie sandwiches in LA and they don’t get any better than the ones they offer at Diddy Riese. It’s well worth a special visit and the staff are super helpful and very patient when you struggle to choose from so many amazing flavours and options.
If you visit the Getty Centre (which I’d highly recommend) then this is only a 10 minute drive away on your way back into town or to the beach. There is a car park very close for $9 or on-street parking if you can find a space. The parking fee is worthwhile as the cookies are so cheap! Just $2.50 for an ice cream sandwich which is two cookies of your choice with a generous dollop of Dreyers premium ice cream in the middle. Definitely one of the best California desserts of the trip and pure heaven…
They offer other sweet treats too, from brownies to rainbow snow desserts. Expect a queue, and there aren’t many seats inside but there’s a bench outside if you’re lucky. We visited mid afternoon and managed to get seated inside as we’d missed the morning rush. To feed the whole family of four, including drinks, cost only $12 which is insanely cheap!
Their website can be found here and they offer a shipping option too!
Springfield Donuts at Universal Studios
We spent a day at the Universal Studios theme park and really enjoyed it, particularly Springfield, home to the Simpsons. Springfield is a recreation of various iconic places in the TV show including Moe’s bar and a Krusty Burger joint. The donuts they sell at Lard Lad’s World Famous Donut shop are enormous and my two sons were immediately begging to try one!
They don’t even look that big in the photos, but are the size of a small pizza!
Here is a donut with a phone to compare sizes, and that’s an adult man’s hand holding the phone! We shared one between three of us which was perfect. The boys declared it the best California dessert of the whole two week trip! I still prefer a California Donut myself (the Unicorn being my favourite).
We headed on a road trip up the coast, starting in Santa Barbara. You can park on the pier for free where there is a tiny sweet shop which sells lovely chocolates, pick ‘n’ mix, and Taffy. While this may not be strictly one of the best California desserts, it’s certainly a sweet treat and would be a great gift to take home.
I asked the server about the Taffy as I didn’t know what it was. It turns out to be a soft chewy sweet and they have many flavours. She let me try one and I was hooked!
I bought a massive bag of assorted flavours and they were delicious and very moreish.
The fruity flavours were gorgeous but I also loved the peanut butter flavour. It’s well worth a stop on a road trip or if you’re in the area. The pier has some sweet shops and plenty of food and drink options as well as public rest rooms. When we travelled further on our trip we found Taffy makers everywhere including in Morro Bay and Pacific Grove so it seems to be a Californian delicacy.
Next stop on the road trip was Solvang, which is a Danish colony established in the early 1900s and has a great choice of bakeries amongst the windmills and other Scandinavian-style shops and eateries.
There are so many bakeries to choose from and the pastries all look delicious.
These are really cute Easter cakes!
If you don’t fancy a cake then there are plenty of ice cream parlours too! My son was keen to try one so he had 2 scoops in a tub with sprinkles on top.
San Francisco is home to a wide variety of bakeries and ice cream shops, and it’s so hilly that you easily walk off the calories when you tour the city. One place which I’d read about and couldn’t wait to visit was Holmes Bakehouse. We walked all the way from Union Square and arrived in the early afternoon but they had unfortunately sold out of their famous ‘cruffins’ (a cross between a croissant and a muffin). So instead we tried their cookes, and the butter toffee ones were delicious and enormous!
You can’t go there without taking a photo of their iconic sign either and posting it on Instagram…
The next stop was unplanned but an amazing hidden gem. We had an unexpectedly rainy day so went to visit Urban Putt in the Mission District. Unfortunately, the rest of San Francisco had the same idea and it was absolutely heaving. So we took refuge around the corner at an amazing ice cream parlour called La Copa Loca.
Not only did they have an incredible array of ice cream flavours which are made on-site, they also served pancakes (crepes) and other sweet treats including homemade ice creams on a stick and my favourite, some ice cream cookie sandwiches!
Because the sandwiches are ready-made and stored in the freezer, they are more frozen than the ‘made to measure’ variety which can sometimes melt a bit too quickly. This is good in a way as they are less messy to eat. They are also dipped in white chocolate and cookie crumbs!
As a family we tried the crepes, ice cream and sandwiches and all got top marks! It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area and there is seating inside.
Such an amazingly wide menu of sweet treats, definitely a contender for the best California desserts!
If you visit the Golden Gate Bridge (and who doesn’t when they’re in San Francisco?) then you may end up in Sausalito which is a small town next to the north side of the bridge. It’s a lovely place with a nice harbour and beautiful views. We had got up early to see the bridge so were in need of a drink and a rest after a long hike, so we found Lapperts ice cream parlour along the main road in Sausalito. There is parking nearby, close to the ferry station, and there are a couple of Lapperts outlets in the town. They have an incredible selection of ice cream flavours and a variety of cookies, so you can make up a sundae or (as you’re guessing by now, my favourite) a bespoke ice cream cookie sandwich!
I chose a praline ice cream with chocolate chip cookies and it was delicious!
The rest of the family chose regular ice cream and we sat and enjoyed them in the early morning sun. There isn’t much seating but we managed to get a table inside. If the weather is good then there are plenty of scenic places on the waterfront nearby to sit and take in the views.
They had some tempting ice cream waffle cones too!
At the end of our road trip we flew back to LA and stayed in Santa Monica. I’d been wanting to try the Cheesecake Factory since going to Vegas in 2004 and this was finally my chance! What surprised me is the great menu for lunches and dinners they have, but be sure to leave space for a dessert!
I chose the skinny burger from the light menu so I wasn’t too full, and then visited the cheesecake fridge to choose my pudding. It was so difficult as they all looked so tasty!
In the end I was swayed by my son who’d never had cheesecake before so was attracted to a cake-style one. It was enormous! Even the two of us couldn’t eat it all, but it was amazing.
One of the best California desserts is healthy!
And just to prove that I wasn’t completely sugar-focused, I also tried some low sugar ice cream that you can only get in the US. This is Low Cow which is delicious, and comes in many different flavours including birthday cake! It’s very low in calories compared to standard ice cream but you’d never know, and it’s gluten free too. The best California desserts can be healthy after all!
And so concludes my round-up of the best California desserts. My personal favourite was a Diddy Riese ice cream sandwich – the cookies are delicious and the Dreyers Rocky Road is incredible! It really is a place where you can be super healthy, with plenty of smoothie and salad bars, or super unhealthy with massive portions of most food and the most amazing puddings. I should say that I managed to actually stay the same weight while we were away which I think is down to the miles we walked whilst visiting lots of exciting places.
If you’re planning a trip then do check out one or two of these places if you want to sample the best California desserts!
If you want to venture further in the US, to the east coast, then check out my New York hidden gems for some ideas.
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