The 40 American Ice Cream Shops You Need to Try Right Now
Few things are better than an ice cream cone on a hot day.
It’s quite possible that we are living in the golden age of ice cream innovation, one where old-school creameries are churning out vanilla bean masterpieces honed over generations while creameries are tossing the term “chef” into the mix to challenge the very notion of what ice cream is. It’s a win-win for everyone, especially when temps outside begin to spike.
These ice cream shops represent everything that is well and good: new-wave artisan shops challenging the very notion of what should be placed on a cone (or stick, or between cookies), old-school parlors learning new tricks, new-school parlor trying to remind you of old-school ones, plant-based creameries, and much more. Booze and asparagus are both represented along with rocky road and salted caramel. Grab a napkin. It’s going to be a glorious mess.
This is not one for the indecisive—Amy’s has a whopping list of more than 350 permanent and seasonal flavors. Start with a best-seller, the Mexican Vanilla (a blend of Madagascar vanilla bean and Mexican orchid with a unique wedding cake-like finish). Butter Beer (butter-based ice cream mixed with butterscotch and cream soda) is one for Potter fans to geek out over. Or turn it up with a boozy creation: the Mojito is made with rum, sweet cream, lime, and fresh mint. With 13 locations in town, we advise calling ahead to check that your fave is in stock.
Princeton, New Jersey
The historic, idyllic college town takes its ice cream very seriously. And valedictorian of the scene is The Bent Spoon, which has garnered a loyal cult following based on a whopping 550 flavors, which rotate in and out of the little shop 24 at a time. This is a place where seasonality is king, and while you can always get a top-notch traditional flavor or a modified classic (think Habanero Chocolate), the place is also doing the kind of flavor experimentation normally reserved for the chemistry lab. Think Sun Gold tomato sorbet made with the Garden State's treasured fruit, or Blueberry Mascarpone, or chocolate with ramps, or pumpkin with shiitake mushrooms. None of those things sound like they belong together. But they’re almost always fantastic—especially when paired with one of the Spoon’s legendary cookies.
San Francisco, California
This scoop shop on 18th Street always has a line of people out the door eager to satisfy their craving for housemade, small-batch, organic ice cream. Even when it’s 55 degrees and the piercing onshore wind makes it feel like it’s 35 degrees. Well-worth it, of course, for the salted caramel (the most popular flavor because who doesn’t love some salty with their sweet?) and whichever seasonal flavors strike your fancy. (In the summer, the balsamic strawberry made with organic strawberries roasted with balsamic vinegar is worth a try.) There are also dairy-free options, as well as soft serve. If you’re headed home after you enjoy your cone, grab a pint to enjoy later. And if waiting in lines isn’t your thing, you can order ahead for pre-packed pints, popsicles, bars, sandwiches, and ice cream cakes. Or have a pint delivered with your next grocery order from Bi-Rite Market.
Trained by gelato masters in Italy, Carlo “Botolo” Gattini’s masterful touch brings deeply rooted traditions to every small batch of decadent bliss. Each ingredient must be perfect to make it into one of his creations, whether that means procuring items from local Texas farms or flying something in from across the world. You won’t find any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives here (which is why his pistachio isn’t neon green, for instance). Top choices include berries and lavender, mascarpone and figs, and white coffee (now that’s some wizardry). Consider taking home a cake, as they’re among the most gorgeous anywhere in the world.
David and Laura Alima opened their dream ice cream shop The Charmery in 2013 and have since grown it to include a factory and event space, as well as more locations in the suburbs. Flavors here are incredibly creative, socially conscious, and rotate often. Some mainstays include the locally inspired the fudgey Maryland Mud and salty-sweet Old Bay Caramel, and one-offs have been an ice cream to celebrate Pride, the savory Baked Ricotta Orange, and Fear Factory flavors every Halloween (Picked Onion Sorbet, anyone?) Needless to say, the Alimas churn humor and whimsy into everything they do.
St. Louis, Missouri
Clementine's is in the rare position of nailing both nostalgia and novelty, born out of founder Tamara Keefe’s childhood tradition of churning homemade ice cream to fulfill a sweet tooth her family couldn’t afford to buy from their local parlor. Her 25 years of experience in the cooking world show in her attention to detail in flavors like decadent Tommy’s Toffee Butter Brickle, but she's also managed to create a line of “naughty” ice creams that pack a boozy punch, including the super popular Maple Bourbon or the Manhattan (complete with maraschino cherries). But incorporating liquor into ice cream seems like nothing when you consider how inventive flavors like asparagus and quinoa bring frozen desserts into a whole new delicious territory
Clumpies was opened by the son of a third-generation candy maker, who turned the family’s sweet tooth to the freezer section. Now more than two decades into that glorious pivot, Clumpies still works in small batches across three locations and a truck, keeping things simple with rich and creamy flavors, like chocolate chocolate chunk and butter pecan. And then not-so-simple with tongue-tingling, Pop Rock-infused Tutti Frutti ice cream.
It sounds like the name of an ’80s buddy cop duo—Crank’s the level-headed one, Boom’s the wildcard with nothing to lose! But this “ice cream lounge” brings a different kind of unorthodox practice to the force. While flavors like Blueberry Lime Cheesecake and Dark Chocolate Truffle are great alone, they’re even better covered in local strawberries and house-made marshmallows. And lest you think the lounge part is just cutespeak, C&B makes good on its Bourbon Country roots with a roster of boozy floats and scoop-topped cocktails. A prosecco float? Dammit, Crank & Boom, you’re loose cannons...but you get the job done.
NOLA’s undisputed go-to for dairy-related indulgences sets a somewhat old-timey tone with the vintage neon bakery sign adorning the exterior and the parlor pink adorning the inside. But it’s certainly not shy about innovation (think flavors like Goat Cheese & Mission Fig and Lavender Honey). For something seriously, albeit subtly, different, try the signature Creole Cream Cheese, which employs a slightly sweet farmhouse cheese to achieve a level of creaminess that might almost seem a little too indulgent, until you remember what city you’re in again.
Before moving next door for a much-deserved facelift, Elliston Place Soda Shop reigned as the oldest Nashville restaurant still serving in its original location. While the place is a little shinier now, and the kitchen is much larger and modernized, the soda shop still maintains all the charm that has made it a Music City favorite since 1939. Each milkshake is made using local ice cream and spun by hand in a mixer until ultimately creamy and delicious. In addition to those outrageous shakes, Elliston Place also serves a legit meat-and-three menu of Southern classics, including a cheeseburger so good that a young singer/songwriter named Jimmy Buffet lived off of them when he was first trying to make it big in town during the early 1970s.
Yes, you can get into the whole locally sourced from Texas farms thing. And yes, the packaging is all compostable down to the spoons made of cornstarch. But your stomach and taste buds won’t know that. All they’ll know is that you’re eating a flavor called Waterloo Strawberry Buttermilk made with strawberry jam, buttermilk ice cream, and Waterloo Texas gin—and you never want to stop. Unless you get the Milk Chocolate Stout. Or one of the incredible seasonal flavors, like Easter-themed malted milk ice cream with Cadbury Egg pieces inside.
Three generations of the Ferris family are involved in one capacity or another in the vitally important work of delivering flavors like the S’mores-Style Campfire and PB-Banana Elvis’ Dream to an increasingly ice cream hungry local following. And for any Connecticut residents clamoring about the omission of Oxford’s Rich Farm, there’s nothing wrong with the ice cream, but its franchise opening in SoCal means you’re now sharing them with the West Coast, which just isn’t the same.
Like so many things in Portland—including hugely popular multi-city powerhouse Salt & Straw—Fifty Licks started as a food truck, but quickly gained enough popularity to open its cozy brick & mortar shop in the city's bustling Clinton neighborhood. Now there’s a second location in the never-hotter Kerns neighborhood, drawing deserving lines for flavors ranging from a simple-yet-incredible Tahitian Vanilla and more complex fare like a Thai Rice scoop loaded with jasmine rice pudding, a mango flavor infused with spicy ancho chiles, a pink scoop with local strawberries, and an adults-only butterscotch infused with actual Scotch.
Ice cream may never actually be a health food, but you can easily pretend it is at Frankie & Jo’s. The entirely plant-based scoop shop also uses buzzy wellness-world ingredients like chaga mushroom powder, turmeric, activated charcoal, and ashwagandha. But the result is less Goop and more great. The texture is so creamy—thanks to bases made with cashew and coconut milks—that you don’t miss the dairy. The flavors are clever, too. The Chocolate Tahini Supercookie is studded with dark chocolate and cookie dough made from almond flour while Frankie’s Brown Sugar Vanilla features vanilla bean and vanilla extract, as well as nutritional yeast to round out the flavor. And if you can’t make it into the shop, Frankie & Jo’s will ship you their plant-powered pints if you join their monthly club.
The Franklin Ice Cream Bar is the latest vintage ice cream shop to open in the Franklin Fountain family. Specializing in hand-dipped chocolate roasted at nearby Shane Confectionery and sprinkled with a ton of while toppings, the shop also features ice cream, frozen custard, vegan options, and take-home pints. This bespoke parlor does serious things with ice cream, churning its own concoctions that include a stunner of a Honeycomb ice cream, a Cookies and Cream that ditches Oreos for Hydrox (the original sandwich cookie), and a nod to local favorite teaberry gum. They’re all but screaming to be tossed in a sundae or split and covered in homemade hot fudge or piled on the iconic Mt. Vesuvius sundae, which rises high from a base of brownies.
San Diego, California
At Gelati & Peccati, you’ll have to walk past an eye-popping array of Roman-style pizza, sold a taglio, “by the cut,” to reach the bins of gelati in the back, but isn’t eating dessert first one of the pleasures of adulthood? Nearly 20 different rotating signature and seasonal flavors, including vegan and sorbet options, are bursting with roasted pistachios, sweet cherry, and chocolate, or earthy Makers Mark 46. Don’t worry if you’re too full for pizza afterwards; you can always take a few slices home for a late night snack.
The Thai shaved ice from I Am A Frozen Dessert Cafe is seriously easy on the eyes. These beastly bowls are as big as a Nerf football, and come with a variety of eye-popping looks from pretty pink strawberry to the soft orange glow of the Thai tea. Husband and wife team of Ann Niramol Riensin and Ike Nuttakit Piyapant own a restaurant around the corner, and created this spin off to showcase the southeast Asian version of shaved ice, which is made from low-fat frozen milk. They then get a fat dollop of rich whipped topping. The coconut (called I Am Love) is highly recommended, even if its white hue isn’t quite as visually extravagant as the others.
With three locations and shelf space in local grocery stores (plus an online shop, where you can get pints shipped nationwide), Ice Cream Jubilee has become a staple since it opened its first DC outpost in 2014. The shop stocks unique flavors like Banana Bourbon Caramel, MarionBerry, and Honey Lemon Lavender, but adds in seasonal offerings and specials for local occasions. For example, coinciding with this year’s Presidential Inauguration, Ice Cream Jubilee launched special flavors to honor the president and vice president, including Biden’s favorite flavor, Vanilla Chocolate Chip, available through the end of July.
Of course the heart of dairy country would be churning luscious ice cream. Self-proclaimed as the “Best Ice Cream in the Middle of Nowhere,” Kelley Country has been a 200-acre family farmstead for more than a century-and-a-half, but the ice cream side of the biz came only shy of a decade ago and quickly gained accolades from media like a little show called Good Morning America, which called it the best ice cream in the country in 2013. Likely the secret to this success: The Kelley clan lets their cows live out a happy pasture life to produce the highest-quality milk for the highest-quality ice cream possible.
Completely independent of the same-named company on the mainland, Lappert's has been scooping outstanding, hand-packed ice cream since 1983, with oh-so-Hawaiian flavors like Kauai Pie, Kona Lava Java, and Banana Fudge. Spring for a Brownie Pa’Ina if you're feeling extra frisky—you can always counter housing a brownie topped with any two ice cream scoops and housemade hot fudge with an espresso…or an affogato, if you’re really going for it.
Three fabulous Lick locations currently scoop Austin’s most honest and delicious ice creams. We’re talking creamy goodness direct from family-owned and operated dairies, and uber fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and partners, so you can indulge (almost) guilt-free. Go for the gooey Texas Sheet Cake, spun with home-grown chocolate-pecan icing, or the velvety Horchata, a chilled nod to the sweet Mexican beverage. Vegans can expect to be satisfied with concoctions like the Peach Berry Swirl, a coconut-based dream of local Texan peaches and berries. Ice cream sandwiches and a diverse selection of toppings are also available. Wholesome never tasted so good.
Founded in 1921, the original Margie’s Candies comes with tales of visitors like the Beatles and Al Capone. This Bucktown staple has maintained the old-fashioned decor and vibes, as well as a knack for serving handmade confectionery candy, chocolate, and fudge. On the ice cream side, you can go for classic scoops or make room for any of the shop’s famous banana splits. Bring a group for “the world’s largest terrapin,” a gargantuan indulgence featuring 15 scoops of French Vanilla topped with a deluge of hot fudge, caramel, whipped cream, nuts, and banana before being crowned with a cookie.
Los Angeles, California
For the past 40 years, owner Mashti Malone has been whipping up 1,000 gallons of Persian ice cream a day in a ton of different flavors. Think Rosewater, Lavender, and Orange Blossom—all colored and flavored naturally using herbs and spices from around the world. Ask for a Mashti instead of a cone, and you’ll get a fat scoop sandwiched between two crisp, paper-thin wafers and rolled in crunchy pistachios. Order the Malone to get your ice cream served on a zoolbeyah—an Iranian take on a funnel cake that’s deep-fried and deliciously sweet.
The geniuses at the centrally located Minneapolis ice cream shop really blew our minds with Jam Buns. Basically, a warm donut is split in two like a hamburger bun and then stuffed with ice cream and toppings (think Thai Tea with caramelized Rice Krispies). The creativity doesn’t stop there, as the shop is always showcasing inventive flavors, which you can get in the form of shakes, malts, sundaes, or to-go pints. Current offerings include Cereal Killers with orange coriander milk and candied Fruity Pebbles, Uma with greek yogurt and a passion fruit-lychee swirl, and Ridin’ Duuurty with Oreo milk, Oreo chunks, and salted peanut butter.
Seldom do you get to eat something delicious while looking out the window at the animals that provided the ingredients, largely because there’s no quicker way to ruin a burger. But this little country creamery in gorgeous upper Michigan lets you gaze upon cows while getting down on your choice of 160 (!) amazing handmade ice creams ranging from a take on regional fave Superman called SuperMoo to cupcake and Chocolate Monster. Get your scoops in sandwich form, or buddy up on the Wholey Cow—10 scoops with every single topping—then plop down and say thanks to Bessie before you drift off into a blissful diabetic coma.
This Silver Spring, Maryland ice cream parlor recently expanded to a new Eastern Market location and serves 15 different flavors—from classics like chocolate, strawberry, and mint chocolate chip, to more specialty blends, like honey lavender, peppermint stick, and salted caramel with pralines. You can order by the pint or scoop, and it’s guaranteed that this ice cream is made by hand in small batches using only the highest quality ingredients.
Opened in 2008 by a husband and wife who realized making ice cream was way more fun than pharmaceutical sales, Morelli’s has been an Atlanta sensation ever since, rotating a deep roster of flavors that ranges from childhood-channeling (PB&J Sandwich) to sophisticated (Strawberry Rosewater), to gloriously Southern (Krispy Kremier, whose components you should be able to deduce). Try the Salted Caramel, with a salty-sweet recipe guarded so closely, it’s known only by the owner and one other staff member.
With its flagship location on Houston Street (the LES storefront remains temporarily closed), the menu at this “new American ice cream parlor” offers up to 88 flavors, with some favorites being American Egg, Burnt Sage, Chocolate Oat, Green Tea Pistachio, and Salt & Pepper Pine Nut. In addition to cold treats, Morgenstern’s also launched a special burger program earlier this summer with a lineup of specialty burgers that founder Nick Morgenstern spent two years developing. And on Friday and Saturday nights, drop by the shop for classic sundaes at the Sundae Bar.
Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains is the cutest ice cream shop and bakery combo that has ever existed. Even the name is charming. Mother Moo Creamery specializes in small batch ice cream with unique flavors, locally sourced ingredients, and a seasonal rotating menu. Fan favorite flavors include the surprisingly complex Salty Chocolate, indulgent Triple Milk, nostalgic Organic Cornflakes, and fragrant Orange Blossom and Cardamom. The ice creams are smooth, rich, and dense—an ultra-creamy consistency that makes for a memorable scoop. If lactose isn’t your friend, Mother Moo also makes refreshing sorbets using ingredients that are in season. An added bonus is that there is cow memorabilia everywhere, and you can also purchase delicious homemade pies, brownies, cookies, and jam here, too.
This funky little shop on an island in Frenchman Bay is old school. Not just because it’s an adorable little storefront in a tiny town, but because everything here is done by hand the slow way, from the squeezing of the juices to dipping pretzels in chocolate. This is a place that churns things five gallons at a time, but the things they churn are absolutely remarkable—ranging from a fantastic Blueberry Sour Cream Crumble to Cinnamon Cardamom and a White Russian-inspired concoction called The Dude, which anyone would abide by. The place has since expanded to the mainland, with both Portland and DC getting outposts. But it’s on Desert Island that you can get it at its purest form, with a chaser of ocean air.
New York plenty of incredible ice cream shops, making it extra tough to crown OddFellows among our favorites. But we're suckers for Sam Mason, the former pastry chef of the city’s most lauded (and shuttered) gastronomic restaurant wd~50, using his chops to make perfect concoctions that lean savory, like Raspberry-Peppercorn Sorbet, Matcha Rocky Road, and the much chattered about Miso Cherry. The East Village location also specializes in DIY ice cream sandwiches, called Odd Pockets (essentially brioche sandwiches stuffed with cornbread ice cream, cornflake crunch, with a rich blueberry compote) and a variety of soft serve flavors like Raspberry Sherbet and Tangerine.
Here’s a Durham success story that in no way involves basketball. A married couple uproots from Philly so one of them can attend grad school at Duke, finds the homemade ice cream scene not quite up to snuff, takes matters into their own hands, and takes ice cream making from a hobby to a thriving business not even the most ardent Blue Devil adversary could root against. Seriously, the biggest Tar Heel fan ever could take one bite of Salted Butter Caramel, Summer Corn With NC Blueberry Jam, or Vietnamese Coffee and maybe think Coach K isn’t so bad after all. Fine, that’s a stretch, but there’s no way they’d hate on the ice cream.
Founded by pastry chef Dana Salls Cree and Bang Bang Pie and Biscuits’ Michael Ciapciak, Pretty Cool Ice Cream serves an array of frozen novelties, including ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, and ice pops (vegan ones, too!). The clever flavor combinations throughout the menu make this spot a standout, with fruit-flavored “truck pops” like Passion Fruit Hibiscus and custard bars like Peanut Butter Potato Chip, Coffee Pretzel Toffee, and Caramel Horchata Crunch. It’s a funky (handheld) take on the straight-up scoop shop, and between the operators’ backgrounds and its stellar selections, Pretty Cool won’t be melting away anytime soon.
Owned and operated by Rabia Kamara, ice cream parlor Ruby Scoops recently moved from Washington DC to Richmond. Her shop opened late last year in the North Side neighborhood, and you’ll find flavors like mango sorbet, cookie butter, and dulce de leche.
Unless America somehow breeds a cow that dispenses ice cream from her udders, the ice cream does not get any fresher than it is at Sassy Cow. That’s a result of a dairy farm located a half-mile north of the creamery, owned by the same family. And in the summer, you can get ice cream two to three days after the cow’s been milked. That delicious ice cream comes in 30 flavors, including 10-15 new flavors each season. Don’t pass up on the Caramel Overload, which takes the uber-popular Salted Caramel ice cream with pecans, and adds caramel pretzels, whipped cream, and cherries to the mix.
New York, New York
As longtime Harlem residents, the husband-and-wife team behind Sugar Hill Creamery opened their popular shop in 2017 to be a place for the neighborhood to enjoy artisanal ice cream made from scratch. In addition to offering an array of flavors like the Chairperson of the Board (blueberry cheesecake), Nunu’s Peach Cobbler (peach with cobbler crumbles), and First Day Out (corn jalapeño with hibiscus blackberry), they also regularly host community-based programs meant to empower the Black experience. A second storefront in Hamilton Heights opened last year and products are also available for nationwide shipping.
The Scottsdale favorite—known for using recycled materials—has expanded to Phoenix, Tempe, and various Whole Foods throughout the state. But the funky, inventive creamery has remained committed to its high-quality, impeccably crafted offerings, among them a Belgian Chocolate masterpiece that would stand out in Brussels just as much as it does in the desert and a horchata number that you might be tempted to let melt and drink in a cup. And though we’re usually partial to pure ice cream, we recommend you mix it up and opt for one of the Brown Cows, which use delicious Madagascar Vanilla ice cream and Mexican Coke.
Before Shake Shack came along and made the whole “concrete” thing popular nationwide, there was Ted Drewes. The family has been selling frozen custard for more than 80 years, and—even more strange but nonetheless awesome—“Christmas trees for over 50 years.” So even if you’re just there to purchase a tree under which you will put wrapped boxes of Micro Machines, you might as well get one of these amazing concretes, especially the Twisted Caramel, since the crumbled pretzels add just the right saltiness and crunch.
Tosci’s is pushing through its fourth decade of supplying the smart (ahem, smaht) kids of Cambridge with their daily intake of dairy fat. Their burnt caramel is the stuff of dessert legend. Try delectable flavors like The Vienna Finger Cookie, Peanut Butter Fluff, Goat Cheese Brownie, and Belgian Chocolate. Not far from the Kendall T Stop, this is a great spot to take a break—whether you’re studying, commuting, or sightseeing.
The Mitchell family established a farmstead here in 1796, and for some 160-plus years, it operated mostly as a dairy farm until the herd was sold in 1961 as the farm shifted its focus to other livestock and produce. Luckily, some wise family members maintained that dairy fat is incredible, got back to milking cows, and the creamery was born in 1998. Now they’re packing in an entire apple pie for Cinnamon Apple Pie ice cream, and dumping gummy worms and Oreo bits into chocolate ice cream to make the kid-friendly Dirt that adults should in no way feel shy about ordering.
Editors: James Chrisman, Kelly Dobkin, Danielle Dorsey, Meredith Heil, Jess Mayhugh, Liz Provencher, and Tae YoonWriters: Mary Beth Abate, Kevin Alexander, Daisy Baringer, Chris Chamberlain, Tim Ebner, Jillian Hammell, Steven Lindsey, Matt Lynch, Marielle Mondon, Nicole Schnitzler, Kat Thompson, Tiffany Tse, and James Wong