The Best Ice Cream Shops In San Francisco

From soft serve to creamy gelato, here's where to get your ice cream fix.
The Best Ice Cream Shops In San Francisco image

photo credit: Spencer Cotton

San Francisco is full of incredible ice cream shops, so there’s really no excuse to reach for a freezer-burnt pint next time you’re in the mood for some sweet, frozen dairy. Which is why, after extensive scientific analysis (a.k.a. eating a bunch of it all at once), we’ve rounded up 23 of our favorite places to get ice cream, from creative gelato spots to decades-old institutions.


photo credit: Spencer Cotton

Ice Cream


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For creative flavors like Secret Breakfast (bourbon ice cream with corn flakes) or Cornflake Crunch (cereal milk ice cream with cornflake cookies), 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 by the bay. Humphry Slocombe also has an ice cream shop in the Mission, but you can also find 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 at 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.

You have a wealth of dessert options to choose from if you’re in the Mission, but Hila Gelato should be on the top of your list, hot day or not. The Sicilian-style gelato is incredibly creamy and there’s a large variety of fun and always-changing flavors, like lemon delight, stracciatella, and cherry. Standouts are on the fruitier side, like the blueberry that’s chock full of small bits of fruit that taste straight from a farm stand in the Central Valley. But no matter the flavor, every gelato is fresh—and the perfect way to cool off on a 72-degree San Francisco day.

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, fresh mint chip, 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 go-to) 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 needing to bust out the Lactaid.

Double Rainbow is a beloved SF icon, and decades after they first opened in the Castro, they’re back with a new scoop shop close to the original location. The small storefront is home to a rotating menu of ice creams, like It’s A Goody (vanilla, peanut butter, and fudge), peanut butter and jelly, and strawberry matcha. Load up a waffle cone with your favorites, or go for one of their thick, creamy shakes—and maybe grab a pint to take home, too. 

Being Dolores Park-adjacent (and also churning out fantastic ice cream) 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’re in need of a midday treat that also functions as a caffeine boost, it’s time to beeline to Philmore Creamery. Their gelato (along with some dairy free options) comes in pretty classic Italian flavors like pistachio, stracciatella, and vanilla bean, all of which can be doused with a shot of espresso. Grab an affogato of your choice and sip on it while window shopping along Fillmore St. 

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.

There aren’t many ice cream shops in town where you can ride a coin-operated pony. Enter: Toy Boat by Jane. This Clement St. mainstay has been around for decades, and now, they’re owned by Jane the Bakery, which mostly just means you can also buy bread here. They serve ice cream by Double Rainbow, Mitchell’s, and SF’s Hometown Creamery, all of which get majorly dressed up with creative sundae combinations—think marshmallow fluff and graham crackers, or meringue pieces with strawberry and whipped cream.  

At Smitten, they use liquid nitrogen to churn your ice cream to order—and the result is phenomenal, ultra-smooth ice cream. The cookie dough with pretzels and chocolate chips is our default order, and you can get your scoop topped with everything from chocolate syrup to cookie dough chunks.

The frozen dessert you’ll get at Powder in the Lower Haight 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 default is the cereal snow with cinnamon sugar, which is basically the frozen version of cinnamon toast crunch.

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. Black raspberry marble, cookies ’n cream, and thin mint are the flavors we gravitate to, but no matter what you go with, get a cone. No one has ever regretted a house-made waffle cone.

Garden Creamery has fantastic, mostly Asian-inspired flavors that you can get in a cup or cone at their storefront in the Mission. The menu changes, but expect to see things like Thai tea, black sesame, butter mochi toasted sesame, and ume—plus a fruitier non-dairy section with flavors like coconut pandan and orange creamsicle.

If you’re trying to get drunk, a boozy milkshake is probably not the most cost-efficient 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 caramelized honey is 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 rush.

What’s the Scoop is a music-themed one-stop shop in Bayview for all things sweet, including ice cream, cookies, and milkshakes. Tubs of thin mint, grasshopper pie, and New York cherry are on display in the fridge, jars of marshmallows, Oreos, and other toppings fill the space, and housemade cookies envelop the room in a sugary aroma at all times. Stopping in for a cone or a thick snickerdoodle or oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich—with music-inspired names like The Mixtape or MP3 Player—is a must any time frozen dessert calls to you, or, really, whenever you’re in the area.

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