The Ice Cream Capital Of The World Is A Hidden Gem In Le Mars, Iowa

There are many places around the world that are known for their ice cream. Italy has its flavorful gelato, while in India, rich, decadent kulfi is the cold confection of choice. As a global melting pot, the United States is home to frozen treats of all kinds, but the country's own custard-style ice cream — those creamy, solid scoops with eggs in the formula — reigns supreme. In fact, this delicious treat is the driving force behind the "Ice Cream Capital of the World," which is found in the small town of Le Mars, Iowa.

Le Mars is located in the northwest corner of Iowa. The town houses just over 10,000 people, and its slogan is "Where Life is Sweet" – fitting, since it's home to Wells Enterprises, Inc., the company that produces more ice cream than any other on the planet. The ice cream behemoth makes over 200 million gallons of ice cream every year, including the famous Blue Bunny brand.

At Wells Enterprises, ice cream is stored in a freezer that stands 12 stories high. The manufacturing plant receives a tanker truck of milk every hour of every day to keep up with production. You'll find reminders of Le Mars' claim to ice cream fame scattered across the town, including signs, colorful statues, and even a visitors' center where guests can take an interactive tour and, of course, sample upwards of 40 flavors of ice cream. It's a dream destination for anyone who's a kid at heart.

A tiny town rooted in ice cream

The Wells name and its connection to the town of Le Mars began in 1913. That year, Fred H. Wells, Jr. began his own milk delivery business. He paid dairy farmer Ray Bowers $250 (the equivalent of just under $8,000 in 2024 currency) for a horse, a wagon, a supply of milk from his 15 cows, and a guaranteed delivery route. By 1927, Fred and his brother Harry had turned the milk business into an ice cream company, naming it the Wells Ice Cream Company of Sioux City . Although the ice cream was produced in Le Mars, the company had branched out to nearby towns and began distributing in Sioux City, hence the name.

Just a year later, the Wells brothers sold the company to Fairmont Creamery, but founded a new company of their own in 1935. The Wells brothers began the Blue Bunny ice cream company, a brand that can still be found in tons of stores nationwide. As the company grew, the Wells continued to produce their frozen goods in Le Mars, and by 1994, the town was dubbed the "Ice Cream Capital of the World." 

Along with Blue Bunny, Wells Enterprises, Inc. produces the iconic red, white, and blue Bomb Pops; trendy low-calorie frozen treat brand Halo Top; and Blue Ribbon Classics ice creams, plus several other products. By 2011, Wells Enterprises had moved into its huge production facility in Le Mars, where it remains today.

More food capitals of the world

While you can find Wells ice cream products nationwide, a visit to Le Mars offers so much more. The Wells Visitor Center and Ice Cream Parlor is part production facility, part museum, and part interactive activity center, and sees throngs of tourists every year. As grand as it is, it retains its small-town feel, and closes on major holidays (save the 4th of July) as well as the day that Le Mars holds its high school graduation. In celebration of its reputation as the "Ice Cream Capital of the World," Le Mars hosts its fair share of ice cream activities during the summer, and boasts 50 ice cream-themed sculptures throughout the town.

Le Mars is just one of several culinary gems peppered across the United States. Milwaukee, Wisconsin proudly claims to be the "beer capital of the world" due to its rich history of breweries; Reading, Pennsylvania is the "pretzel capital of the world" and has been producing the salty twisted snacks since the 1700s; and another Pennsylvania town, Hanover, is known as the "potato chip capital of the world." Put these towns together with Le Mars, and you've got one delicious party, all within one country!