The 12 Best Ice Cream Shops in San Francisco
Summer means ice cream.
There’s a lot less screaming into the ether these days, but there’s one thing we’re still screaming for this summer and that’s ice cream. Does it matter that our summer is not actually summer at all? Nope. Because all of these SF ice cream shops scoop such creative flavors and concoctions that everything tastes just as good on a foggy bone-chilling night as it would on a sunny afternoon (whatever that is). Pop in and see for yourself (and maybe even ask for a taste or two since that is a thing we can do again).
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.
How to order: Order ahead or get it delivered here. Otherwise, walk-ins are welcome.
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 want to get your scoops in a house-made waffle cone or if you want one of the stranger flavors, you’ll have to visit one of the locations in SF, Oakland, or Berkeley. Humphry Slocombe is probably best known for its Secret Breakfast flavor (bourbon ice cream with cornflakes), but all of the flavors have a creative flair. (No, seriously, where else are you going to get Mountain Dew Margarita ice cream?)
How to order: All locations welcome walk-ins. You can also order pints, sundae kits, and single-serve cups for pickup or delivery here.
A lot has changed recently in San Francisco, but time stands still at this 66-year-old Sunset classic, where you can still have staff spin the big wheel to pick your flavor for you. If you prefer to retain freedom of choice--or just want to avoid landing on durian (an Asian fruit that has a potent stench)—we like the jasmine tea, lychee, and “Bumpy Freeway,” aka rocky road. Don’t fall too in love with any of the more obscure flavors because Polly Ann makes 500 flavors in total, “only” 50 of which are available at any one time.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. You can also get select pints and milkshakes for pickup or delivery via ChowNow.
Grab a stool and settle in for a malt, milkshake, sundae, or float at this ‘30s-inspired soda fountain where everything is made in-house. If the roasted pineapple is on the menu, that is your only choice. It comes and goes quickly, so you’ve gotta snag it when you can. Otherwise, go wild. (Even wilder, perhaps, if you order from the adults-only boozy drinks menu, which includes boozy milkshakes and floats,)
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. You can also order ahead (from a limited menu) for pickup here. There’s also a sister location, The Castro Fountain, in the Castro.
This family-owned business 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 avocado, cantaloupe, and Filipino-inspired ube-macapuno (summer-only). Mitchell’s also has pre-made and made-to-order ice cream cakes that are actually ice cream with a layer of cake and a coating of frosting, not the pretend ice cream cakes that are just ice cream.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome or order for takeout here. Get it delivered via DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Grubhub.
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 each month based on inspiration from chefs, farmers, food movements, social causes, and more.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. You can also order for pickup or delivery here.
Lower Pacific Heights
The brainchild of a husband-and-wife team, this unassuming shop turns out some serious small-batch gelato. Sicilian pistachio, stracciatella, and hazelnut are among the standbys, while rotating flavors like honey lavender or vegan Watson strawberry 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.
How to order: Orders yours in-person or for delivery via Postmates, Uber Eats, DoorDash or Grubhub.
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.) You can get yours in a cup, but why would you when you could also get it in a hand-rolled waffle cone made with a secret house recipe?
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. You can also order for delivery via DoorDash: Hayes Valley, Mission, Pacific Heights.
You can order a scoop of CREAM’s (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me) true-to-its-name luxuriously creamy ice cream to enjoy in a cup, but that’s not why you’re there. You’re there to build your own ice cream sandwich with a warm baked cookie base, a scoop of whatever flavor you want, and your choice of toppings. The build-your-own waffle cone tacos are also an acceptable option—three mini scoops of ice cream and all of the toppings your heart desires.
How to order: Order in-person or online for pickup or delivery.
When Toy Boat announced in 2020 that it was closing after nearly 40 years of delight, children with sweet treats, and walls covered with retro toys and movie posters, the owner of SF mini-chain Jane the Bakery saved the day. A year later, Toy Boat by Jane is open with a slightly pared-down toy collection (boo), but the same Double Cream and Mitchell’s—both SF ice cream institutions—on the menu in the form of scoops and sundaes (as well as homemade baked goods. The fact that now the sauces and toppings are all homemade pretty much makes up for the removal of some of the toys, as does the fact that kids can still take a ride on the famous mechanical horse for 50 cents.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. You can also order for delivery or pickup on DoorDash.
Hayes Valley, Divisadero Corridor, Marina, Mission
Souvla is a go-to takeout/delivery meal for many San Franciscans wanting something “healthy,” but also delicious, which is exactly what the rotisserie chicken salad with Greek yogurt sauce is. But one should never eat Souvla without also ordering the Greek frozen yogurt served in a classic New York-inspired cup. It is perfect on its own (though the addition of coarse salt makes it even better), but it also comes with topping options like baklava and sour cherry syrup. It’s also a relatively guilt-free treat. A six-ounce serving of the plain yogurt is “only” 224 calories and six grams of fat.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome. Order for pickup here. Delivery is available via Caviar and DoorDash.
This classic SF ice cream shop is never without a line of tourists out the door, drawn in by the wafting aroma of roasting cocoa beans and freshly baked waffle cones. Those of us who live here tend to overlook it, but even locals (especially locals!) deserve the gift that is Ghirardelli’s World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae (vanilla ice cream and handmade hot fudge topped with whipped cream, diced almonds, and a cherry) in a handmade waffle bowl dipped in chocolate. Don’t want to wait in the long line? Walk to the middle of Ghirardelli Square, where you’ll find an “on-the-go” offshoot where you won’t get to see the chocolate being made, but you will be eating your sundae much faster.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome.
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