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
Seasonal ice cream flavors like peach cobbler and blueberry morning mingle with classic flavors including honey lavender and Ritual Coffee at Bi Rite Creamery.
(Courtesy of @biritecreamery)
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. // 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. // When the urge strikes for a classic hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top, we head for the original Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop(Ghirardelli Square, 900 North Point, Fisherman's Wharf). // 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; One Ferry Building, Embarcadero; and locations Bay Area–wide) 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; 2201 Fillmore St., Pac Heights; plus locations in Burlingame and Palo Alto) 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) 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. // FK Frozen Kuhsterd is delivering the goods in bar form with funky flavors like ube, s'mores, and strawberry shortcakes (Fridays at Off Grid, Fort Mason). // 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. // Have a taste for bizarre foods? Polly Ann Ice Cream(3138 Noriega St., Outer Sunset) has 500 rotating flavors like Irish brown bread, Black Rabbit Candy (a pork situation inside a century egg), and miso caramel. Can't decide? Spin the wheel of flavors!
Soft-Serve + Gelato
Create your own flavors and fine fat-free and dairy-free fro-yo options at Loving Cup(multiple locations in SF and Marin). // 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; plus multiple East Bay locations) serves swirls of matcha, sesame, and tofu flavored fro-yo in cute fish-shaped cones. // Lush(520 Columbus Ave., North Beach) 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.
The Best Ice Cream Around the Bay Area
It's all sweet, local, and handmade at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar.
(Courtesy of @noblefolk)
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. // 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. // Formerly known as Cookiebar Creamery, Lana's(517 8th St, Oakland) is the place to eat some proper protein before you go all in on the sweet stuff. Order up a smashburger made with grass-fed beef from Cream Co. Meats, then lick exotic flavors like macapuno, toasted black sesame, and cinnamon toast crunch. // Did know SF's beloved Humphry Slocombe (948 College Ave, Berkeley and 2335 Broadway, Oakland) is 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.
Fairfax Scoop(63 Broadway Blvd, Fairfax) offers modern classics—think vanilla honey lavender, earl grey, and lemon almond—in waffle cups. // Guerneville's popular Nimble & Finn's is now scooping in Marin County (123 Fourth St., Santa Rosa). You'll find all their favorite flavors, handmade with organic milk and seasonal ingredients, along with grilled cheese sandwiches and waffle dogs. But here's the best part: Boozy ice cream cocktails are now on offer so adults may partake of concoctions such as the Bee's Knees (Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream, rosemary, J Chardonnay, and local honey) or the Permanent Holiday (Meyer lemon ice cream, Lo Fi Sweet Vermouth, and passionfruit rosé Cider from Goat Rock Cider Company). // Marinites no longer have to go all the way to Healdsburg for handmade ice cream and baked goods from Noble Folk(539 4th St., Santa Rosa), where pre-ordering is also available.
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. // Once 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. Look for flavors like blue jasmine tea, coffee with cacao nib toffee, and salted butterscotch plus several vegan options.
Kick back in the Art Deco–style Nimble & Finn's(Guerneville Bank Club,16290 Main St, Guerneville) and treat yourself to a scoop or milkshake made with organic milk from Strauss Creamery and local seasonal ingredients; favorite flavors include dark chocolate, honeyed peach, rhubarb crisp, and Meyer lemon olive oil. Be sure to take home some of their ready-to-bake cookie dough. // Screamin' Mimi's (6902 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol) owner Maraline Olson browses her collection of 300-plus 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 Ice Cream & Pie Bar(116 Matheson St, Healdsburg), where unexpected flavors (black sesame coconut; cornflake maple; orange creamsicle) meet options for every dietary restriction. Enjoy a cone while you wander around the town square, and take home whole pies, cupcakes in a slew of flavors, cookies sandwiches, French macarons, and more.