We all may currently be screaming for reasons other than ice cream, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a scoop. And after a long summer-that-mostly-feels-like-winter, the fog is lifting, meaning ice cream season is upon us.
SF is full of incredible ice cream shops, so there’s no excuse to be stuck on your couch next to an expired pint of freezer-burnt grocery store ice cream. And luckily, some of the best are still currently open for takeout or delivery. Here are 18 of our favorite places to grab a socially distant scoop.
Secret. Breakfast. Those are two critical words to combine and use often. This is the best flavor at Humphry Slocombe - maybe because it’s bourbon-in-your-breakfast-cereal ice cream or maybe because the chunks of corn flakes are well-dispersed and delicious. The Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee is a close second, though, and whatever crazy seasonal sh*t they think up almost always nails it too. They have locations in the Mission, the Ferry Building, Uptown Oakland, and Berkeley.
We love matcha in its many forms: tea, croissants, mochi, and even Kit-Kats. But Matcha Cafe Maiko has convinced us that matcha soft serve is the best. Their soft serve is unbelievably smooth and creamy, and it’s just sweet enough without overpowering the subtle matcha flavor. You can also go for the boba sundae - it comes with matcha or vanilla soft serve, topped with perfectly chewy boba, and a drizzle of their house kuromitsu syrup. We dream about it on the hour, every hour.
The extremely rich, creamy gelato at this spot in North Beach is some of our favorite in the city. They’ve got a small, frequently-changing selection of things like brown butter & chocolate honeycomb, rose, and dulce de leche, which you can order in a pint or a scoop to-go.
Mitchell’s has been around since 1953, and these days the ice cream spot is synonymous with “quintessential San Francisco.” Flavors like banana, cantaloupe, ube, and buko are what usually draws long lines to this small creamery on San Jose Avenue. The best part is their ice cream comes in endless forms - cups, cones, sundaes, splits, milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches, all of which you can order at the front door to go.
We probably aren’t the first to tell you that Salt & Straw knows how to make some damn good ice cream. Their lines, known to wrap around the block, aren’t too bad in pandemic times - and now you can pre-order scoops and pints online. Their flavors range from standbys like honey lavender, and salted, malted, chocolate chip cookie dough (hits) to monthly-changing flavors like mashed potatoes and gravy (less of a hit) or birthday cake and blackberries. So, if you’re passing by and smell the serotonin-inducing scent of waffle cones and pure sugar, you should definitely grab a pint.
The snug, Black-owned ice cream shop is covered from floor to ceiling with colorful candy jars and ice cream flavor lists, and has been in the Fillmore since the early ’90s. They serve locally made ice cream from Mitchell’s and Dreyer’s, and have over 100 flavors - everything from ube (our favorite) to cookie dough to Mexican chocolate. Also, don’t let the word “small” fool you when you decide what size to get. It’s basically four massive scoops for $4 - a win in our book.
Being Dolores Park-adjacent means there’ll most likely be a line at Bi-Rite. But said lines move quickly, and it’s worth waiting to get some of their incredible soft serve or regular flavors like balsamic strawberry, salted caramel, or toffee coffee. Whichever you choose, the texture will be creamy and perfect.
Garden Creamery has fantastic, mostly Asian-inspired flavors that you can currently pre-order in pints or pre-packaged double scoops. We like the roasted almond oolong, and the fruity, non-dairy section is well worth a try. Plus, opening up shop a few blocks away from Bi-Rite is a power move we can respect.
You’ll definitely want to stop by this family-run store the next time you’re in the Mission. It’s a dessert spot with a small grocery store in the back, and they’ve got everything from Mexican sorbet to ice cream to milkshakes. The star of the show, though, is the mangonada: a cup filled with mango sorbet and tangy chamoy sauce, piled to the brim with fresh, juicy mango. It’s refreshing, flavorful, and the perfect on-the-go dessert to take with you to Dolores Park. They also have another location in Oakland’s Fruitvale.
Smitten - which makes its ice cream in typically precious SF fashion using liquid nitrogen and maybe even algorithms - could easily be dismissed as a smoke and mirrors operation. Except that all that dry ice smoke and the mirrored, custom-made machines result in phenomenal, smooth ice cream. In terms of your order, the cookie dough with pretzels and the strawberry mascarpone are the way to go. Science rules.
The colorful ribbons of shaved snow at Powder, made with condensed milk and ice, melt in our mouth and are everything we could ever ask for in a frozen dessert. The cereal snow with cinnamon sugar is basically the frozen version of cinnamon toast crunch, and the matcha topped with mochi is fantastic as well. As an added plus, the texture of the ice cream is super airy, so you can eat a large size without feeling too full. And you will want a large size.
This spot in the Inner Sunset makes their ice cream in small batches, with housemade ingredients - and the effort is worth it. Their mint chip, which is always on the menu, is incredibly light and delicious, and it’s made with fresh mint. Hometown Creamery also has excellent rotating flavors, like coffee and donuts or honey berry breakfast. They’re not offering their five-scoop tasting flights right now, but you can order several “smidges” - a golf ball-sized scoop that’s perfect if you want to try a bunch of different flavors without having to pull out the Lactaid.
Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous
Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous plays pretty hard to get - they’re only open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 12-6pm, so you have to keep this Dogpatch spot in consideration for daytime consumption only. But it’s some of the best ice cream around - because the quality of ingredients is very high, and maybe also because they always have at least one flavor that involves alcohol. Get one of the homemade cones and call it a day.
Swensen's Ice Cream
A very old-school spot on a corner in Russian Hill, Swensen’s is an SF classic that has more than stood the test of time. All the flavors are our go-tos, but black raspberry swirl, cookies ’n cream, and thin mints are our favorites. And you should always order yours in one of their superb cones.
If you’re trying to get drunk, a boozy milkshake is probably not the way to go. But if you want to give your afternoon a little kick, Ice Cream Bar is here for you. The PX Pie, with pumpkin ice cream and beer, and the Dublin Honey (Guinness with port and honey ice cream) are both excellent, and if you can finish an entire shake in one sitting, please give yourself a pat on the back. The Cole Valley spot is set up as a retro ice cream fountain, though the ice cream flavors are modern and change seasonally - the cherry, basil, and caramelized honey are all excellent.
When you have the urge for the cold, creamy good stuff, you have two options: blindly open the grocery store freezer to grab a random pint of ice cream (or tub of frozen gravy), or go to Polly Ann in the Outer Sunset. In addition to the classic flavors, Polly Ann has a great selection of Asian-influenced flavors, like green tea, durian, black sesame, and jasmine. They also have ice cream cakes, milkshakes, and sundaes to-go, and recently introduced a “Five for $5” tasting flight.
This place might be a pure novelty ploy to get you to take pictures of your adorable fish-cone with pretty, colored ice cream in it. And even though those social media-friendly fish aren’t the most structurally sound delivery devices for soft serve, the black sesame and matcha are delicious. Those cones taste pretty great too - if you can get to them before they go soggy. Uji Time is located inside the mall in Japantown, but they’re currently operating out of the plaza, in front of Daiso.
We’d do anything - even [REDACTED] - to get our hands on a perfectly made ice cream sandwich on fresh-from-the-oven cookies. Luckily, all we have to do is pop over to the Marina and order one of Over the Moon’s massive ice cream cookie sandwiches. If you want to level up, get the ice cream in a chocolate chip, cookies and cream, or snickerdoodle cookie cup - it’s an excellent way to expedite your impending sugar high.