A list of the best ice cream spots in SF is all well and good, but when you’re 15 minutes away from all of those, a list of the best ice cream spot in TWENTY-ONE DIFFERENT NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE CITY is way, way, WAY better. So here's that.
Eureka! Café (address and info)
We’ll likely update this to Ice Cream Bar when it opens its second location in the fall, but for now the winner is Eureka! Cafe. No, its ice cream isn’t made in-house, but it *is* from either Straus Family Creamery or Tara’s Organic. All in all, a good place to stop if you’re in the Castro and need to satisfy your ice cream craving immediately.
The Ice Cream Bar (address and info)
Walking into The Ice Cream Bar is like walking into the 1930s, but the soda fountain/lunch counter gimmick would mean nothing if the house-made ice cream weren’t also damn good. In addition to a scoop of ice cream, there are sundaes, floats, malts, and milkshakes. You, however, are going to order one of its remedies. Because they’re fountain sodas that are spiked. With booze. Our favorite is The Dublin Honey (Guinness stout, caramelized honey ice cream, Valrhona chocolate syrup, and a float of Graham’s 10 year tawny port), or if we’re in the mood for something a little lighter, The Sunday Morning (seasonal fruit sorbet, Mumm Napa Brut Prestige sparkling wine), which frankly, we don’t think should just be reserved for Sundays.
Smitten Ice Cream (address and info)
If there’s even a little bit of science geek in you, then you’ll love watching your serving of Smitten’s ice cream made to order using liquid nitrogen. And if there’s even a little bit of ice cream aficionado in you, then you’ll love every bite of the smooth, dense, delicious results. You can’t go wrong with any of the flavors, but the TCHO 60.5% Chocolate is one of the most popular for a reason.
Three Twins Ice Cream (address and info)
Sure, you can get a pint of this organic ice cream at most SF corner stores, but it always tastes better when someone scoops it for you. Get the Lemon Cookie. And get it in a sugar cone. And then get lickin’.
Cold Stone Creamery (address and info)
Yes, it’s a national chain, but what did you expect from a neighborhood that also boasts a Hard Rock Café and Applebee's? Plus, its ice cream is made fresh every day and they use that famous granite slab to chop and fold in things like gummi bears and brownies... Mostly though, as Ezra F. said on Yelp, “They give you enough ice cream as to make you regret your entire life and all of the choices that led you to this point.” Which sounds like a ringing endorsement if we’ve ever heard one.
Bi-Rite Creamery (address and info)
What is there to say about Bi-Rite Creamery other than if THAT many people are willing to wait THAT long in a seemingly never-ending line for a scoop of ice cream, it must be damn good. And it is. Especially the Salted Caramel. Ohhh, the Salted Caramel. Once you have Bi-Rite’s, no other Salted Caramel will ever taste as good. Still, if you’re there in the spring and it has Balsamic Strawberry, it’s worth foregoing the Salted Caramel just that once. Why is its ice cream so tasty and famous and coveted? Probably because it’s made by hand, in small batches, using local ingredients. And also ‘cause any time you wait an hour for a scoop of ice cream, it’s going to taste like the best thing you’ve ever eaten, EVER. That’s just the way ice cream works.
Ghirardelli (address and info)
Yes, you have to go to a Giants game to get ice cream from this particular location, but who doesn’t want to go to a Giants game? Especially when there’s a hot fudge sundae involved, which, yes, is what you’re ordering because it’s the best hot fudge sundae in town.
Lower Pac Heights
Smitten Ice Cream (address and info)
Yup, Smitten makes the list twice (see Hayes Valley) ‘cause they were smart enough to open a location right next to Pizza Delfina on the corner of California and Fillmore. Pizza and ice cream? Sounds like the perfect date to us.
Humphry Slocombe (address and info)
Thank goodness Humphry Slocombe opened a second location in the Ferry Building, otherwise it wouldn’t have made this list. (We love it; there’s just another ice cream that edged it out in the Mission.) This ice cream is definitely for more adventurous palate (Prosciutto, anyone?), but even the pickiest eater will flip for its most beloved flavor, Secret Breakfast (made with bourbon and corn flakes), which just happens to be exactly what we wish breakfast tasted like every single day.
Over the Moon (address and info)
This creamery has house-made ice cream and it has fresh-baked cookies inspired by old family recipes from Grandma Millie, a broad who clearly knew what she was doing. So, you know what to do. (“Create your own” ice cream sandwich, in case that wasn’t obvious.) Honey Lavender is one of the most popular flavors. We like it smooshed between two oatmeal raisin cookies and also in our mouths.
Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous (address and info)
Yes, this ice cream shop has a definite hipster vibe (see: both apothecary and Mason jars), but the ice cream, made by two former pastry chefs, is sweet, rich, and most important: delicious. The constantly changing flavors are a little crazy (in a good way), and we can’t get enough of its signature flavor, Ballpark (Anchor Steam, roasted peanuts, and chocolate-covered pretzels).
Mitchell’s Ice Cream (address and info)
Right on the border of Bernal Heights and the Mission, Mitchell’s has been an SF favorite since it opened in 1953. There are 40 flavors at all times, all of which are made fresh daily. Mitchell’s was the first to bring mango ice cream to the Bay Area (in the early ‘60s) and it’s worth a try as it’s still one of its best sellers. The Grasshopper Pie (peppermint ice cream with chocolate chips, Oreos, and fudge swirls) is also a favorite. And yes, you’re going to have to wait in line (this is San Francisco), but don’t fret: your number will be called pretty quickly.
Lush Gelato (address and info)
Lush Gelato is special in that it makes its own base on site. (Yeah, hate to break it to you, but most places that say they make their ice cream or gelato in-house still buy a premade organic base to which they then add ingredients.) Also pretty cool is that you can watch the gelato being made through a window behind the counter. The flavors are constantly rotating, but include things like Earl Grey, Popcorn Truffle, and, wait for it... Bob’s Glazed Donut.
DeLise Dessert Café (address and info)
It’s true, the ice cream at DeLise can feel a little precious, but this quaint little spot (which is really right on the outskirts of North Beach and walking distance from Fisherman’s Wharf) is worth it for anyone who loves unusual flavors, like White Chocolate Lemongrass and Goat Cheese & Fig. It also has a bunch of vegan sorbets (Coconut Pandan is our favorite) that are so yummy, you won’t even feel bitter about enjoying something that’s vegan. (Warning: the scoops are small, so go for a double at least.)
ShakeDown (address and info)
ShakeDown is killing it on two fronts: its small-batch, artisanal ice cream is the perfect blend of sweet and creamy, AND its fresh, house-made buckwheat waffle cones are some of the best we’ve ever tasted. When they say small batch, they mean it, so flavors can change up to three times a day. Some of the more interesting ones include Fig Goat Cheese, Cinnamon Toast Brunch, and Cream Cheese, but by far its best seller is Jacker Crack (popcorn-infused ice cream with swirls of dulce de leche and crushed peanut brittle.) So. Good.
Joe’s Ice Cream (address and info)
Joe’s has been making homemade ice cream in SF since 1959 and despite the fact that the Richmond is often drenched in fog, there’s still a line out the door on Saturday nights. Try the Irish Coffee or Wasabi.
Toy Boat Dessert Café (address and info)
Toy Boat’s been delighting children and adults in San Francisco for 32 years thanks to the toys covering the walls, butterscotch, the electric horse from the 1950s, and, okay fine, the super-generous samples. There are plenty of crave-worthy flavors to choose from, but after you’ve tried a whole bunch of them, opt for the banana split ‘ cause seriously, when’s the last time you had one of those?
Polly Ann Ice Cream (address and info)
Another shop that’s been open since the 1950s, Polly Ann has a rotating selection of 500 flavors, 50 of which are offered at a time. There are plenty of classics to choose from (the chocolate chip is always good), but Star Wars (mint ice cream with marshmallows and a blue tint) is its best seller (there are a lot of kids in the Outer Sunset). Can’t decide? No problem. You can always spin the wheel and leave it up to fate. You may even win yourself a free cone!
Holy Gelato! (address and info)
This neighborhood favorite has 18 regular gelatos, 12 vegan gelatos, and even the cones are vegan. Definitely try the Goat Cheese gelato if for some reason you’re not ordering the Irish Morning (coffee, fudge, cookies, and WHISKEY). Or hell, get ‘em both.
Swensen’s (address and info)
Swensen’s opened up in San Francisco in 1948 and was a childhood staple for many kids who grew up here. Traditional flavors, healthy servings, and reasonable prices make this gem worth the walk up Russian Hill (and yes, you have to walk because you’ll never find parking). Stick with the classics, like chocolate or peanut butter.
Shaws San Francisco (address and info)
Shaws is the candy store childhood dreams are made of. Bins of hard candy, rows of chocolates and truffles, racks of homemade fudge, cotton candy... oh, and generous scoops of Mitchell’s ice cream in the back.
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Daisy Barringer is a freelance writer from San Francisco. When she was little, she’d ordered the Bubblegum Ice Cream at Swensen’s, carefully suck all of the ice cream off of the pieces of bubble gum, and save those for last. Tell her how disgusting she is on Twitter @daisy.