July is National Ice Cream month. I couldn’t think of a better time to debut my top picks for ice cream in Santa Cruz. During a day of pure indulgence, I visited my three favorite ice creameries in town: Mission Hill Creamery, The Penny Ice Creamery and Marianne’s Ice Cream. Each have their own unique specialties that set them apart but they all have something in common- they make amazing ice cream from scratch.
Let’s take a look at why these three made my list for the best ice cream in Santa Cruz and what makes each of them so delicious.
The Best Ice Cream In Santa Cruz
Mission Hill Creamery
Mission Hill Creamery opened their doors in 2010 at a nearby location and later moved to their current home in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, on Pacific Ave.
The day I stopped in I was lucky enough to join in on their 9th birthday celebration and catch up with the owner, Dave.
Dave personally makes their ice cream from scratch in the back of the shop 3-4 days a week. This ensures that their ice cream is always fresh. It was apparent to me from the start of our conversation how much he cares about the ingredients they use, the farmers they work with and the quality of ice cream they are churning out for their customers.
What Makes Mission Hill Creamery A Top Pick For Ice Cream In Santa Cruz?
Unique, Organic, Quality Ingredients and Incredible Creaminess
Their organic dairy is sourced from Strauss Farms, which according to Dave is “The best in the world!”
As a result of the amazing produce literally at their back door, many of their flavors boast a unique seasonal flare. I tasted so many incredible flavors that day but my favorites were, nectarine, sweet basil, candy cap mushroom (a local variety) and melon.
Some of these flavors I had to taste out of pure curiosity- I mean mushroom ice cream? The food lover in me HAD to give that one a try. To my pleasant surprise, it was nothing short of spectacular. It had a slight savory start and sweet, nutty finish that was irresistible.
I wanted a scoop of every flavor they handed me but in the end I chose candy cap mushroom and melon served in a a homemade waffle cone and topped with a roasted marshmallow (which they expertly torched right before my eyes). If I only had one word to use, it would be heavenly.
Along with ice cream, Mission Hill also serves a number of house made baked goods and delicious coffee. Dave shared with me that their house specialty is the affogato. This is an Italian coffee-based desert with a scoop of ice cream, topped with a freshly pulled shot of espresso.
In my opinion, their real specialty is the incredibly creamy texture of their ice cream. To top it off, the unique variety of flavors they serve, quality ingredients and the outstanding and friendly service shown by Dave and his employees make them a standout in my book.
The Penny Ice Creamery
The Penny Ice Creamery also began making delicious ice cream in Santa Cruz in 2010. The artisan ice cream shop was created by chef Kendra Baker and business partner Zachary Davis . It brought their passion for food and sweet treats together in one place.
Their ice cream is made from scratch in small batches at their downtown location. If you go at just the right time, you can observe them through a large glass window. This is an unusual thing to be able to witness, not every shop offers a view behind the scenes. The day of my visit they were busy churning away. Through the glass I saw each step, and when the strawberry ice cream came together in all of its pink glory, it made me excited to have a taste.
Penny (as the locals refer to them) has two popular locations: One in Downtown Santa Cruz on Cedar Street and the other on 41st Ave. in Pleasure Point. You can also find them weekly at the Downtown Farmers’ Market and daily at their sister business, The Picnic Basket.
What Makes The Penny Ice Creamery A Top Pick For Ice Cream In Santa Cruz?
Local, Sustainably Grown, Humanely Farmed Ingredients
The Penny Ice Creamery prides themselves on using local, quality ingredients as much as possible. Much like Mission Hill, they work with local farmers to get the freshest ingredients around and creatively implement them into their ever changing menu.
Penny is best known for combining ingredients not normally seen in ice cream, like blackberry and sweet corn. The homemade waffle cones and marshmallow fluff topping also have a big draw at Penny. These irresistible scents waft through the air.
Their menu goes far beyond ice cream scoops though. They offer various toppings, ice cream sandwiches, fruit pops and floats.
The day of my visit I tasted a lot of flavors. My favorites were raspberry rose sorbet, strawberry, blackberry buttermilk and milk chocolate covered pretzel. I settled on a scoop of milk chocolate covered pretzel in a homemade waffle cone. It was salty, sweet and delectable.
What makes Penny a standout in my book? Their creative, local flavor combos, use of quality ingredients and fun atmosphere.
Marianne’s Ice Cream
Last stop on the Santa Cruz Ice Cream tour is Marianne’s Ice Cream. Marianne’s has been a Santa Cruz staple since 1947, so of course I had to include them. I have so many happy memories of visiting Marianne’s as a kid and I know a lot of other people do to.
We used to be rewarded on special occasions with trips to Marianne’s. Back then my brother and I would always choose the same colorful flavor- blue bubble gum ice cream. To us, it was like having two deserts in one. Ice cream plus an array of rainbow colored bubble gum that we could enjoy long after the ice cream was gone.
Over the years, Marianne’s has changed hands only three times. The current owners, Kelly and Charlie were chosen to take over the Marianne’s tradition back in 2012 by Sam Lieberman. Sam operated the shop for over 50 years. During that time he could be seen behind the counter and behind the scenes where he created over 250 recipes!
“I love it when folks who came with their grandparents back in the 1940’sand 50’s bring their grand-kids and great grand-kids today. That’s six generations represented. We’re awfully lucky spending each day sharing in the Marianne’s love. Nothing better than that!”
Their red barn building, red and white striped awnings and multi- colored signs are easily recognizable to many. The original Ocean Street location sits along the gateway to one of the areas most popular attractions- The Boardwalk and Main Beach, which makes it an easy stop off for visitors and locals alike. In more recent years, they opened their doors at locations on Statepark Dr. in Aptos and Stockton Ave. in the Capitola Village.
You can also find Marianne’s Ice Cream at a number of popular locations in town like Marini’s Candies and Farrell’s Donuts.
What Makes Marianne’s A Top Pick For Ice Cream In Santa Cruz?
Generations of Memories and So Many Options
Aside from pure nostalgia, the thing that sets Marianne’s Ice Cream apart is the vast number of flavors and specialty items they offer. They are currently offering 105 flavors.
Specialty items include various flavors of ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, chocolate dipped cheesecake, frozen bananas, nutty bananas, grasshopper pie, mud pie and turtle pie.
The day of my visit I tried so many flavors (I ate A LOT of ice cream that day). I started off with a taste of one of their most popular flavors, 1020. The 1020 is caramel ice cream with chocolate swirl and bits of chocolate sandwich cookies. I now know why its sweet, crunchy, chocolaty flavor is loved by so many. Next, I moved on to watermelon sorbet. It was light, delicious and refreshing. After indulging in a scoop of each, I spotted someone carrying a banana split in one hand and an ice cream sundae in the other. They looked so good that I had to go back for more. After all, it was a day of pure indulgence for me. I ordered an old fashioned banana split with lavender and chocolate, topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry. The lavender was great on its own but pairing it with the chocolate really enhanced the sweet earthy flavor.
What makes Marianne’s a standout in my book? The variety of flavors and the happy memories that it brings back every time I visit.
What Is Your Top Pick for Best Ice Cream In Santa Cruz?
Now that you have heard mine, I would love to hear yours. What is your favorite flavor and how do you like it served?
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