San Francisco is full of incredible ice cream shops, so there’s really no excuse to reach for an expired pint of freezer-burnt grocery store ice cream next time you’re in the mood for some sweet, frozen dairy. Which is why, after extensive scientific analysis (eating a bunch of it all at once), we’ve rounded up 18 of our favorite places to get some. From gelato spots to decades-old institutions, here are the best places to get ice cream in SF.
For playful flavors like Secret Breakfast (bourbon ice cream with corn flakes) or Matchadoodle (matcha and snickerdoodle), head to Humphry Slocombe. We like stopping by the Ferry Building location and creating our own sundae with their house-made bourbon caramel or hot fudge before eating it on a nearby bench with views of the bay. Humphry Slocombe also has a shop in the Mission, or you can find their pints at a bunch of grocery stores around the city.
While you can get lattes and blended drinks at Matcha Café Maiko, their matcha soft serve is what keeps us coming back. It’s unbelievably smooth and creamy, and just sweet enough without overpowering the subtle matcha flavor. You can also go for the boba sundae, which we dream about it on the hour, every hour. It comes with matcha or vanilla soft serve topped with perfectly chewy boba and a drizzle of their house kuromitsu syrup.
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.” The small creamery on San Jose Avenue usually draws long lines thanks to flavors like banana, cantaloupe, ube, and buko. The best part is their ice cream comes in endless forms, from cups, cones, and sundaes to splits, milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches.
We probably aren’t the first to tell you that Salt & Straw knows how to make some damn good ice cream. 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 fresh waffle cones and pure sugar, you should definitely grab a cone.
This snug, cash-only ice cream shop in the Fillmore is covered from floor to ceiling with colorful candy jars and ice cream flavor lists, and has been around 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, they don’t skimp on the scoops.
This spot in the Inner Sunset makes their ice cream in small batches, with house-made ingredients - and the effort shines through. We like the mint chip, which is incredibly light, made with fresh mint, and is always on the menu. Hometown Creamery also has excellent rotating flavors, like coffee and donuts or honey berry breakfast. Another plus: you can order “smidges,” golf ball-sized scoops that are perfect if you want to try a bunch of different flavors without having to bust out the Lactaid.
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 incredibly smooth soft serve or regular flavors like ricanelas, salted caramel, or cookies and cream. Whichever you choose, the texture will be creamy and perfect.
When you have the urge to consume a cold, creamy dessert, stat, Polly Ann in the Outer Sunset is here for you. 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, soft serve, and sundaes.
You’ll definitely want to stop by this family-run store the next time you’re in the Mission. The dessert spot has a small grocery store in the back, along with 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.
At Smitten, they use liquid nitrogen to churn your ice cream to order - and the result is phenomenal, ultra-smooth ice cream. The matcha or cookie dough with pretzels and chocolate chips are our go-tos, and you can get your scoop topped with everything from chocolate syrup to cookie dough chunks. Stop by any of their locations in Hayes Valley, the Mission, or Pac Heights.
The frozen dessert you’ll get at Powder is like a cross between shaved ice and ice cream - and it’s light, airy, and melts in our mouth. These colorful ribbons of Taiwanese shaved snow are made with condensed milk and ice, which you can get topped with things like cereal, marshmallows, or mochi. Our favorite is the cereal snow with cinnamon sugar, which is basically the frozen version of cinnamon toast crunch.
Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous
Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous plays pretty hard to get - they’re only open Wednesdays through Saturdays in the afternoon, 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 great, but black raspberry marble, cookies ’n cream, and thin mint are our favorites. And you should always order yours in one of their excellent cones.
Garden Creamery has fantastic, mostly Asian-inspired flavors that you can get in a cup or cone at their storefront in the Mission. We like the roasted almond oolong, and the fruity, non-dairy section is well worth a try, too.
If you’re trying to get drunk, a boozy milkshake is probably not the way to go. But if you just want to give your afternoon a little kick, Ice Cream Bar is here for you. The Dublin Honey (Guinness with port and honey ice cream) is 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 and caramelized honey are both great.
The social media-friendly taiyaki from Uji Time may not be the most structurally sound vehicle for a frozen dessert that melts, but that doesn’t stop us from coming to the Japantown spot for excellent black sesame and matcha soft serve. The move is to order the chewy, fish-shaped cakes on the side, so they won’t get soggy.
Ice cream and fresh-from-the-oven cookies are more of a power duo than Zooey Deschanel and that one Property Brother - and luckily, all we have to do to get some 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.