From the best chocolate shops to the top candy stores, San Francisco is a veritable dessert mecca. Still, it's tried-and-true ice cream that has our hearts. The hometown of Bi-Rite, Humphry Slocombe and Smitten, we take our ice cream—and ingredients therein—seriously. Whether you crave candy-loaded concoctions, exotic seasonal swirls (fennel-pollen-blackberry, anyone?) or Italian gelato, there’s a scoop shop for every taste.
RECOMMENDED: The best dessert in San Francisco
Best ice cream in San Francisco
This San Francisco institution is known for its high-quality, local produce—and the same ingredients get folded into its house-made ice cream. Every flavor is made fresh daily in small batches. (Best-selling flavors like ricanelas and salted caramel often sell out.) Even the toppings and mix-ins, like marshmallows, peanut brittle, and brownies, are made in the Mission shop. The ice cream incorporates organic milk eggs, and cream from Straus Family Creamery, hand churned into inventive flavors like honey lavender, roasted banana, blueberry buttermilk, and cream cheese carrot cake. In addition to cow’s milk treats, the shop offers velvety buffalo-milk soft serve from Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma.
Humphry Slocombe owners Jake Godby and Sean Vahey named their quirky ice cream shop after characters in a ‘70s-era sitcom. Nearly a decade after opening in 2008, lines still wrap around the block for the pair’s signature concoction: Secret Breakfast, bourbon ice cream with crispy bits of cornflakes mixed in. The duo is known for funky, addictive flavors like Elvis the Fat Years (roasted banana ice cream with bacon peanut brittle) and Beer Goggles (flavored with Fort Point’s Smoked Manzanita beer).
Walking into Ice Cream Bar is entering a time warp, from the retro glassware to the paper-hat-clad teens behind the counter. The 1930s-style soda fountain takes its inspiration (and some of its equipment) from old-school Midwestern lunch counters. Everything from the ice cream to the sandwich bread is made in-house using organic ingredients. Pastry chef Lori Rich whips up small-batch flavors like butterscotch, caramel popcorn, banana puddin’, and morello cherry, plus vegan-friendly sorbets like passion fruit and honeydew jasmine. Adult customers can tuck into boozy fountain drinks like the Cracked Cola (Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino, Cole St. cola syrup, angostura bitters, acid phosphate, and morello cherry) and the Dublin Honey (Guinness, caramelized honey ice cream, Valrhona chocolate syrup, and Graham’s 10 year tawny port).
Brothers Larry and Jack Mitchell opened this standby ice cream shop in 1953. Today, the store is still run by Larry and two of his children, Brian and Linda. Though the clientele (and prices) have changed over the years, the recipe remains the same: ice cream made fresh daily with a 16 percent butterfat base. The shop that started out with 19 flavors now offers over 40, including avocado, black walnut, butterscotch marble, and horchata. But the best-seller since the 1960s has been the mango ice cream. (Trust us.) In warmer months, try the Instagram-worthy Halo Halo, a Filipino dessert layered with mongo beans and sweet beans, buko, langka, pineapple, palm fruit, evaporated milk, shaved ice, and ice cream.
Husband-wife owners Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio—better known as Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous—have impressive culinary backgrounds, having formerly worked for Wolfgang Puck at Spago before striking out on their own. They put their developed palates to work at their Dogpatch ice cream shop, serving rotating flavors like sloe gin (berries, gin, and lemon zest), chicory coffee, and maple black pepper. The accompanying cookies, caramels, and brittles are also made in-shop.
This street-art-swathed shop owned by Jeffrey Mann and Paul Moore strives to delight and surprise. Pastry chef Amy Pearce whips up a spate of eccentric ice cream flavors by hand, including pink vanilla (Madagascar vanilla ice cream with a splash of beet juice) and maui wowie (macadamia butter ice cream with marshmallow fluff and dark chocolate). Skip the cup in favor of a waffle cone, hand-rolled by hand each morning to crispy perfection.
This Portland-based phenomenon opened in 2011 before spreading to Los Angeles and S.F. Owners Kim and Tyler Malek are cousins–she runs the business side, while he plays mad scientist with flavor combinations and textures. The mini-chain prides itself on its limited-edition flavors, often concocted in collaboration with local chefs, farmer, bakers, and mixologists. The picks of the month might include a freckled woodblock chocolate, a peach vinegar cobbler, or a roasted sunchoke apple pie. The ice cream flavors are as inventive and seasonal as any farm-to-table restaurant.
Smitten founder Robyn Sue Fisher is best known for her ingenious Brrr machine, a freezing liquid nitrogen machine that allows her to flash-freeze ice cream to-order, resulting in a delectably silky texture (without emulsifiers). Though she now claims four San Francisco locations, the original shop was set in a humble shipping container off Hayes Valley’s Patricia’s Green. In the six years since opening, the neighborhood has exploded—the shipping container is now surrounded by Biergarten, Blue Bottle, and an outdoor movie theater. The handmade waffle cones are heaped high with made-to-order ice cream in flavors like cookie dough and pretzels, blueberry lavender, and earl gray and chocolate. Garnish your scoop with exotic toppings like the spicy caramel or strawberry prosecco sauce.
This East Bay original expanded into San Francisco in 2016. But “expansion” is hardly the word: This 150-square-foot storefront claims to be the smallest scoop shop in America. (There are ample neon-colored stools stationed on the adjoining Claude Lane.) The beauty of the ice cream is in its simplicity: just cream, milk, eggs, sugar, and salt. All the ingredients are sourced from Clover Stornetta Farms in Petaluma the waffle cones are made on-site. Owners Kevin Best and Neil Rideout serve a dozen flavors each day. Try the turmeric and ginger and the Dirty South (bourbon caramel ice cream generously studded with candied pecans).
Hawaiian native Erin Lang started her ice creamery out of a food truck, churning daily-rotating flavors by hand from Straus organic dairy products. Since opening a proper San Francisco storefront, she’s expanded her repertoire, offering 24 daily ice cream flavors alongside popsicles and sandwiches. The ice cream is worth the trip, particularly the flavor-packed Strawberry on Steroids (made with Dirty Girl Farm’s berries) and butter mochi flecked with toasted sesame seeds. But the real draw is the fluffy chimney cones, a sugary cross between a croissant and a waffle cone.