If you float the idea of an ice cream vacation by your kids, the answer will be yes. Actually, if you suggest this idea to almost anyone, the answer will likely be a resounding, “When do we leave?”
Fortunately, there are plenty of incredible ice cream destinations in the U.S. where you can satisfy your sweet tooth and enjoy a little something extra, like touring a dairy or designing your own ice cream flavor. From museums to festivals to farms, these are the places no ice-cream-loving traveler should miss.
The Ice Cream Capital
Le Mars, Iowa
A city that feels confident enough to call itself the Ice Cream Capital of the World should have a good scoop or two—or a few million. In fact, Le Mars, Iowa, churns out more than 150 million gallons of ice cream every year, more than anywhere else in the world. The town is home to Wells Enterprises, best known for the Blue Bunny ice cream brand, founded back in 1935.
There’s plenty of ice cream fun here. Go on a scavenger hunt for six-foot-tall cone sculptures—55 are dotted around the town. The Wells Visitor Center & Ice Cream Parlor has a photo booth, a movie theater, a game with giant freezer robots, a quiz that answers the question we’ve all pondered — what ice cream flavor am I? — and a virtual soda fountain where you can design a sundae. It’s all free and they’re open year-round. Be sure to try the huckleberry ice cream in the parlor, where they sell flavors you can’t find in store. Ice Cream Days, held the week before Father’s Day each year, features art, ice cream socials, samples, and more. wellsenterprisesinc.com
The Interactive Attraction: Turkey Hill Experience
At this interactive attraction in Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, you’ll learn all about how ice cream is made and how the Turkey Hill Dairy got started. Kids can design their own virtual ice cream flavor (complete with packaging and a fancy commercial), milk a mechanical cow, and play in a mini creamery. Along the way, enjoy unlimited Turkey Hill ice cream samples, plus tea and lemonade to wash it down.
Budding chefs will want to upgrade their ticket with the Turkey Hill Taste Lab. This is where you create a pint of your very own one-of-a-kind ice cream flavor. Start with vanilla ice cream and swirl in as many sauces and mix-ins as you want: nuts, fruit, candy, cake pieces, butterscotch, marshmallow — there’s no limit to your culinary creativity. turkeyhillexperience.com
The All-Ages Playground: Ye Olde Mill at Velvet Ice Cream
If you’re lucky enough to be among the over 100,000 visitors who travel to Ye Olde Mill each year, you’re in for a treat. The century-old brand Velvet Ice Cream has its headquarters in a 19th-century mill; a museum there features a new augmented reality experience where you scan QR codes to travel through ice cream history. The mill’s 20 acres of land are filled with playgrounds, catch-and-release fishing ponds, lawn games, and live music on the weekends.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, step inside their homey ice cream parlor. It offers over 65 flavors plus light fare like salads and sandwiches—eating a little real food before digging into the Cookie Duo Blast isn’t a bad idea. Every Memorial Day weekend, Velvet hosts the Sertoma Ice Cream Festival, three days of games, music, magic shows, and a parade, along with plenty of ice cream. Check the calendar for other events throughout the season May to October.
The Family Farm: Mountain Fresh Creamery
What’s the difference between a dairy and a creamery? Take this farm tour and you’ll wonder no more. Family-owned Glo-Crest Dairy, located about an hour from downtown Atlanta, produces milk and ice cream that is sold across north Georgia. From March to December, the farm offers a two-hour guided experience where families can meet the cows, learn how they’re milked, see the adorable calves, and even get to try milking a model (i.e, not real) cow. At the creamery, Mountain Fresh, you can look behind the scenes and learn about pasteurization, non-homogenization, flavoring, and more. A sample of some of their milks is included, and you’ll get a discount on their fresh, hyper-local ice cream, featuring Georgia ingredients like pecans, peaches, and strawberries. mountainfreshcreamery.com
The Sweet Ride: Ice Cream Train
Train rides are fun and nostalgic, and adding ice cream makes them even better. That’s essentially the idea behind Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad’s Ice Cream Train. On select summer weekends, you can take a family-friendly, 40-minute trip along Maine’s coast as pop tunes play overhead and you enjoy a complimentary ice cream treat with a choice of flavors. You’ll ride in a historic closed or open wooden coach — opt for open if the weather’s nice — as you pass the downtown skyline, parks, marinas, lighthouses, and four 19th-century forts. There’s a quick stop at the end to enjoy the scenery, but the highlight is watching the sunset over beautiful Casco Bay. mainenarrowgauge.org
The Instagram Adventure: Museum of Ice Cream
New York, New York
Museum of Ice Cream is billed as an interactive ice-cream-themed playground, and that’s pretty spot on. While there are museums in Austin, Chicago, and abroad, New York is the flagship. There you can ride down a three-story slide, snap selfies on the animal cookie carousel, and roll around in a pool filled with sprinkles. “But can I eat ice cream?” you might wonder. Yes. Yes, you can. As much as you want from five different stations. Fun flavors include Queen Bee (honey with honeycomb and toffee) and booza ice cream, a chewy and stretchy Mediterranean treat. There are boozy milkshakes and vegan and dairy-free options, too. museumoficecream.com
The Time Traveler: Zaharakos
If you’re looking for the world’s largest display of 19th-century soda fountains open to the public, you’ll find it in Indiana. One of the best-preserved original ice cream parlors in the Midwest, Zaharakos dates to 1900. The vintage dining room is all mahogany, mirrors, tin ceiling, and stained glass, while the food is straight comfort fare, summed up best by their GOM Cheese Brr-grr, sort of a sloppy joe and grilled cheese hybrid. Pair it with ice cream made on-site and swirled with soda from one of their twin soda fountains, originally used at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. It’s like having dinner back in time. Save a half hour or so to explore the museum, home to s antique syrup dispensers, country store collectibles, and music machines. Besides giving the kids a quarter to play the mechanical banjo orchestra or the Seeburg Style L Coin piano, it’s free to visit. zaharakos.com
When one scoop (or four) isn’t enough, the all-you-can-eat extravaganza of an ice cream festival is here for you. There are several across the country. Here are just a few:
Taste of Summer: This all-you-can-eat ice cream festival presented by Blue Bell is a summer tradition in Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa. Sample your way through over 20 flavors and enjoy the food trucks, vendors, and family activities. Tickets start at a bargain $5.
Scooped!: Seattle’s ice cream fest runs two days for 16 total hours and is the newest event on this list. It debuted in August 2022 with over 75 flavors, including vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options. Tickets start at $25.
Miss Mary’s Ice Cream Crankin’: Just north of Atlanta, this two-hour charity event happens every August, and it’s one of the best deals going. A family four-pack is $20 and gets you unlimited homemade ice cream. Plus, there’s face painting, a bounce house, and an ice cream eating competition.
SunSpent Festival: Portland entered the all-you-can-ice-cream festivities in 2019. For $15 (discounts for kids), you can try a variety of flavors and forms, such as popsicles, frozen brownie bites, ice cream sandwiches, and bon bons. Also on tap: live music, costumed characters, science shows, and more. Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl: This fundraiser for cancer care and research has been going strong since 1983, typically held in June. Along with nonstop ice cream, there’s live entertainment and games for the whole family.