San Francisco is an ice cream town. And the rest of the Bay Area? Just an even bigger excuse to binge on too much sugar.
And binge we do—we're even crazy enough to stand outside, in line, for an eternity, in the fog, just for a scoop of the most-buzzed about flavors. Here are our favorites in the Bay Area—and we've even included some fro-yo, gelato, and vegan versions too—because hey, we don't discriminate.
The Best Ice Cream in San Francisco
The original Swensen's (1999 Hyde St., Russian Hill) has none of the bells and whistles of your modern, hipster-hangout scoop shop (it doesn't even have tables), but it's a must on any ice cream lover's tour of SF. Bonus: It's right on the trolley route. // In case you didn't get the memo, Dogpatch is hot. Or, as the case may be, cool. But while new businesses are venturing into the area, Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous (699 22nd St., Dogpatch) can take cred for being one of the first. The modest shop serves innovative flavors like fruity pebbles, burnt sugar, salted mango and, our all time fav, frozen hot chocolate. // There's only one really good reason to wait in line for food. Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th St., Mission), and 550 Divisadero St., NoPa) delivers legendary ice cream that, in turn, delivers Instagram pics to forgive the queue around the corner. Go for the old favorites (balsamic strawberry, salted caramel, honey lavender) or, better yet, get one of Sam's Sundaes with chocolate ice cream, blood orange olive oil, Maldon sea salt, and whipped cream. // if you come from a multigenerational SF family, Mitchell's (688 San Jose Ave., Noe Valley) is the spot your grandparents frequented for a treat on the weekends. In business since 1953, this old-fashioned scoop shop keeps up with the times, offering unique and trademark flavors—ask for samples of the grasshopper pie, halo halo, or Mexican chocolate—with 16 percent butter fat. // If choosing is agony, this one's for you. San Francisco Hometown Creamery (1290 9th Ave., Inner Richmond) solves ice cream indecision with flights of five scoops of daily flavors. Move over beer flights, you've got competition for our calories. // Smitten (multiple locations) is a hometown favorite that's proven itself beyond the semi-gimmick of making instant ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Each scoop is made to order, and you'll never regret asking for the seasonal flavor, which bursts with fresh, local ingredients (psst...Peaches & Bourbon!). We also love their sundae kits for special occasions and parties. Don't leave without trying their new flavor: Surfer Girl.
It's been over a decade since Humphry Slocombe (2790A Harrison St., Mission), and One Ferry Building, Embarcadero) opened its doors (this makes us feel old), but ice cream fanatics still go bananas for Jake Godby's irreverent flavors. We're forever fans of the Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), but don't leave without saying you've tried the Prosciutto...or, perhaps Elvis (The Fat Years). // An OG cult ice cream originally hailing from Portland, Salt & Straw (586 Hayes St., Hayes Valley and 2201 Fillmore St., Pac Heights) is not for plain ole vanillas. The small-batch ice cream is all about intense (and sometimes cuckoo) flavor combos: Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper and Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons. Follow the smell of fresh baked waffle cones—and the line out the door. // From food truck to brick-and-mortar, Garden Creamery (3566 20th St., Mission) is turning the ice cream scene on its scoop with their tasty "chimney" cones, made from Hungarian cake dough twisted around a cylinder and baked to form its unique shape. Only available on Saturdays (2-4pm), these fluffy, sugary cones have ice cream lovers lining up around the block. // The folks at Milkbomb (1717 17th St., Potrero Hill) have officially disrupted the old ice cream sandwich by stuffing scoops into a sliced, hole-less doughnut for one delicious sugar bomb. Opt for vibrant ube (made of purple yam and pronounced ooh-bae) ice cream rolled in mochi and fruity pebble toppings —taste the rainbow! // Powder (260 Divisadero St., Lower Haight) and 601 Mission Bay Boulevard North, Mission Bay) brought something all new to SF: gourmet, shaved-to-order, fluffy ribbons of icy ice cream. Now, the Taiwanese-style shaved snow spot has expanded with a truck at Spark Social SF. // Sure, lots of ice cream spots offer the option to whip a dollop of icy cream into sandwich form, but no one does it better than Baked Bear (303 Columbus Ave., North Beach). Yes, it's a chain. But there's no beating homemade cookies, baked fresh daily, hugging flavors like chocolate chip, red velvet cake, and cookies 'n cream. // Food porn followers are familiar with the popular rolled ice cream trend that's taken over Instagram. Tucked at the edge of the Inner Sunset, Let's Roll Ice Creamery (1152 Irving St., Inner Sunset) creates its sweet concoctions right before your eyes, pouring a generous amount of liquid ice cream onto a freezing stone before chiseling it off into perfect rolls. // FK Frozen Kuhsterd's (multiple locations) scoops, sandwiches, bars, and bites all have a custard base that's emboldened with funky ingredients into flavors like cornflake cereal milk, black sesame, and ube. If you find yourself in SoMa or Lower Haight, you can also pop into the bar Trademark & Copyright to snag their custard creations in the form of boozy milkshakes. // At The Ice Cream Bar (815 Cole St., Cole Valley), it's all about the retro, soda fountain vibes, with old fashioned ice cream drinks made with the likes of tart cherry and candy cap mushroom syrups, homemade fruit tinctures, and acid phosphate soda. // Polly Ann Ice Cream (3138 Noriega St., Outer Sunset) has 500 rotating flavors. Can't decide? Spin the wheel of flavors!
Create your own flavors and fine fat-free and dairy-free fro-yo options at Loving Cup (multiple locations). // Honey Creme (839 Irving St., Inner Sunset) is a small shop with major soft serve made from Taiwanese fresh-milk and dense whipping cream. Make it fun with toppings of honeycomb, cotton candy, and popcorn. // Everyone knows Gott's Roadside (1 Ferry Building #6, Embarcadero) for its delicious burgers, but the soft serve ice cream is one of their best treats. Go all in with their hand-dipped shells in flavors like blueberry and peanut butter. // Uji Time (22 Peace Plaza, #440, Japantown and 135 4th St., Embarcadero) serves swirls of matcha, sesame, and tofu flavored fro-yo in cute fish-shaped cones.
The Best Ice Cream in Oakland + Berkeley
We're never surprised when organic tastes good, but Tara's Organic Ice Cream (3173 College Ave, Berkeley) is next level. With ingredients like pandan and baobab packed into their guilt-free scoops, you can sit in their shops and swirl flavors around your tongue for ages. Saffron, burnt caramel, and Turkish coffee? Yes, yes, and yes. // Lush (multiple locations) makes delicious gelato and sorbetto from scratch in small batches. Their ingredients are sourced from 15+ farms and are 100 percent local—and 110 percent delish. // Curbside Creamery (482 49th St, Oakland) is a vegan's dreamery—say goodbye to always-chocolate and hello to flavors like cherry almond and pistachio, packed with cashew-based creaminess in every scoop. // Sandwiching a glop of ice cream between two warm cookies might be done all over the Bay, but Cookiebar Creamery's (517 8th St, Oakland) exotic flavors are enough to make you do double-take. Vietnamese coffee ice cream, Filipino ube, and black sesame are just a few that grace their menu. // Secret Scoop Thai Gelato (1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley) serves up incredible Thai iced coffee ice cream. Even better: You can top it with homemade sticky rice. // Did know SF's beloved Humphry Slocombe (948 College Ave, Berkeley and 2335 Broadway, Oakland) is now scooping in the East Bay? Look for seasonal, special flavors such as the vegan cashew-based Berkeley Bar. // Trends, schmends. Since 1894, iconic ice cream landmark Fenton's Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland) has been dishing up good ole hot fudge sundaes and the whole ice cream parlor/diner experience. It even made an adorable appearance in Pixar's Up. // I Scream Donuts (4731 Telegraph Ave, Oakland) takes Tara's Organic Ice Cream and squeezes it into warm doughnuts. For real.
The Best Scoops in Marin
Larkspur's Posie (250 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur) is a community staple with fresh ingredients and chuckle-worthy flavor names—think Grass-Fed, made with wheat grass and olive oil. // San Rafael–based Three Twins (multiple locations) is still loved for its original flavors (Lemon Cookie forever) now has shops all over the place, from SFO to Napa to Tokyo and Seoul. // Fairfax Scoop (63 Broadway Blvd, Fairfax) offers modern classics—think vanilla honey lavender, earl grey, and lemon almond—in waffle cups.
The Best Ice Cream in the South Bay
You can't talk about the South Bay ice cream scene without giving attention to the Thai rolled ice cream craze. Icicles (multiple locations) in San Jose was among the first to make rolled ice cream exclusively, and now has shops all over the South Bay and in Pleasanton, as well. // For all the vibes of a neighborhood candy store, look no further than Preston's Candy and Ice Cream (1170 Broadway, Burlingame)—their handmade chocolate translates into TDF scoops. // Italian ice cream meets utterly American flavors at Powell's Sweet Shoppe (multiple locations)—there's no way you're not trying the s'mores gelato. // After a year as an ice-cream-of-the-month club, Tin Pot Creamery (multiple locations) opened its first brick and mortar in Palo Alto and has been gracing the South Bay with its handmade goodness ever since.
The Best Ice Cream in Wine Country
Kick back in the Art Deco–style Guerneville Bank Club (16290 Main St, Guerneville) and treat yourself to a milkshake made with a piece of pie blended with ice cream and milk. Killer flavor: Bulleit Bourbon ice cream with chocolate-covered pretzels. // The server asks what flavor you'd like, then handcrafts the ice cream in front of your very eyes. Great clouds of fog billow out as the all-natural base, heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar is infused with refrigerated liquid nitrogen at Subzero Ice Cream and Yogurt (6760 McKinley Street, #11, Sebastopol). Don't miss the dulce de leche with mix-ins of cheesecake bites and Twix. // Screamin' Mimi's (6902 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol) owner Maraline Olson browses her collection of 300+ recipes daily to come up with her line-up of freshly made frozen treats, (we love the lavender olive oil). Each ice cream cone is weighed to determine the price, so who's to judge if you go for a "single" scoop bigger than your head? // Everything is locally made at Noble Folk (116 Matheson St, Healdsburg), where unexpected flavors (black sesame coconut; cornflake maple; orange creamsicle) meet options for every dietary restriction.