The Best Ice Cream in San Francisco
Summer means ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream. Sometimes we get some ice cream, too. Such is life in a pandemic, when a goal as quotidian as grabbing a mid-afternoon cone requires a mask, hand sanitizer, and courage. The good news is that San Francisco has a lot of ice cream shops that are worth the effort -- and many of them are also happy to deliver a pint or two to your door. So get out there, enjoy a scoop or two, and try not to feel too bereft over the loss of taster spoons.
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. The line may be socially distanced these days, but flavors like honey lavender and salted caramel never disappoint. If you’re hoping to skip the wait, Bi-Rite is doing online pre-orders for all its non-scoop offerings: pre-packed ice cream cups, popsicles, bars, and ice cream cakes. Or have a pint delivered with your next grocery order from Bi-Rite Market.
Pre-order for pick-up via Square or get pints delivered via Instacart. In-person hours: 1-8pm daily.
Mission and Embarcadero
Thanks to its growing presence at local grocers, it’s pretty easy to pick up a pint of ice cream from this Mission-based brand. But if you’re trying to space out time between store trips, there’s always the option of getting Slocombe delivered to your door. The pre-packed pints include signatures like Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee, peanut butter fudge ripple, and the signature Secret Breakfast (bourbon ice cream with cornflakes). But if you want the weirder stuff -- say, mango mojito or vegan PB&J -- you’ll have to visit one of their scoop shops.
Order for delivery via Caviar and DoorDash, or send pints to non-Bay Area friends through Goldbelly. In-person hours (Mission): Monday - Thursday, 3:30 - 10:30 pm; Friday - Sunday, 1-10:30pm. In-person hours (Ferry Building): Monday - Friday, noon - 7pm; Saturday - Sunday, 11am - 7pm.
Way too much has changed in just the past four months. But time stands still at this Sunset classic, where you can still have staff spin the big wheel and pick your flavor for you. (If you prefer to retain freedom of choice, we like the jasmine tea, lychee, and “Bumpy Freeway,” aka rocky road.) For those who prefer to get in and out quickly, the staff has been hand-packing plenty of pints to ensure the Sunset’s ice-cream cravings are sated.
In-person hours: Monday-Thursday, 12:30-6pm; Friday-Sunday, noon-8:30pm.
It’s gonna be a while before you can grab a stool and settle in for a malt, milkshake, sundae, or float at this ‘30s-inspired soda fountain. But Ice Cream Bar (and its spinoff, Castro Fountain) will help you get through the latest Great Depression with a heaping cone of its signature roasted pineapple or strawberry ice creams. You can also snag a to-go root beer float, or a slice of peach-raspberry pie to enjoy at home.
In-person hours vary, but are usually 3 - 8pm, Wednesday-Saturday, and noon - 8pm on Sunday. Check their Facebook page before you head over.
Mitchell’s has been delighting San Franciscans with rich, creamy, hand-crafted ice cream for over 65 years. There are 40 flavors in total, all with a 16% butterfat base (yeah, when we said “rich and creamy,” we meant it), including Filipino-inspired buko, ube-macapuno, jackfruit, and avocado. To keep the constant crowds at bay, the menu is currently limited to pre-packed cups, pints and half-gallons -- which can also be ordered for delivery, with a box of cones or jar of hot fudge.
Order delivery via Postmates. In-person hours: 11am - 11pm daily.
There’s nothing fancy or precious about the sparse, light-filled space that houses Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous -- they save it all for the artisanal ice cream, which is made by a husband-and-wife team with professional pastry-chef backgrounds. The Miscellaneous' deep-Dogpatch location and limited hours (they close at 6pm sharp) mean their ice cream can be hard to snag, but now that urban hikes are everyone’s main form of entertainment, it’s worth hoofing it across town for a cone of buttermilk lemon, ginger cookie, or the berry-and-booze-infused sloe gin.
In-person hours: Wednesday - Sunday, 11:30am - 6pm.
A hidden gem in Portola, Churn turns out an impressive array of seasonal ice creams, with many ingredients sourced from the owner’s backyard garden. The current lineup includes horchata, blueberry swirl, and Andytown coffee, with matcha stracciatella or berry frosé for the vegans. You can even do a little grocery shopping when you grab your pint: They’ve got Straus milk, Midwife & the Baker bread, and even toilet paper, all available for delivery or pick-up.
Order for delivery or pickup via Square. In-person hours: Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 9am-3pm; Friday - Saturday, 9am - 5pm.
Hayes Valley, Pacific Heights
Salt & Straw may have originated in Portland, Oregon, but the deliciousness of its inventive seasonal flavors transcends state lines. You can always count on the classics, like sea salt with caramel ribbons and Sightglass coffee cashew praline. But half the fun is visiting to see what new, wild concoctions they’ve come up with this month -- for July, try goat cheese, habañero and marionberry, or rainbow-sprinkled blackberry birthday cake.
Order for delivery or pickup via ChowNow: Pacific Heights and Hayes Valley. In-person hours: 12-10pm daily (Pacific Heights), 3-10pm daily (Hayes Valley).
Lower Pacific Heights
The brainchild of another husband-and-wife team, this unassuming shop turns out some serious small-batch gelato. Sicilian pistachio, stracciatella, and chocolate-hazelnut are among the standbys, while rotating flavors like rose petal or vegan dark chocolate add a little seasonal flair. Need to know what’s on the menu today? Operators are standing by at (415) 400-4076 to fill you in, so you’re ready to go when you pick up your cone, cup or pint. Or if you’re willing to stick to the standards, they’re on all the major delivery apps.
Order for delivery via Postmates, Uber Eats, DoorDash or Grubhub. In-person hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 1-9pm.
Hayes Valley, Lower Pacific Heights, Mission
We’re always wary of a gimmick, but when a gimmick works, we’re happy to give it credit. And in the case of Smitten, we’re giving it extra credit. The made-to-order-while-you-watch ice cream, flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen, is so smooth that it’s hard to comprehend. (If you’ve ever turned your nose up at “plain” vanilla, Smitten’s version may change your whole attitude.) Sadly, those made-to-order cups cones are offline for the time being, with pre-ordered pints in their place. But even without the ice-cream theater, they’re just as delicious (and a whole lot safer).
Order for pick-up via Revel and DoorDash: Hayes Valley, Mission, Pacific Heights. Order for delivery via DoorDash: Hayes Valley, Mission, Pacific Heights. In-person hours (all locations): Monday - Friday, 2-10pm, Saturday, 1-10pm, Sunday, 1-9pm.
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