The 12 Best Ice Cream Shops in San Francisco
By: Stephanie Garr
No matter how wintry the summer may get, San Franciscans will happily layer up and line up for a scoop or two of killer artisanal ice cream. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of spots serving up this sinfully sweet treat, from old-school parlors to innovative cream-churning labs. Throw on your loosest pants and make your way to one (or all!) of our picks for the 12 best ice cream shops in San Francisco.
- Bi-Rite Creamery: 3692 18th Street; 550 Divisadero Street
You’ll never feel more deserving of a refreshing scoop of organic ice cream than after standing in line at this San Francisco staple. Bi-Rite Creamery gets their ingredients from nearby Straus Family Creamery and whips up decadent flavors using other local favorites including TCHO chocolate and Ritual Coffee, as well as California-style blends like the Summer of Love (with fennel pollen, hemp seed oil, and blackberry swirl) and Honey Lavender with Sonoma honey. For the true ice cream junkie, go straight for one of their knee-melting cakes—or come join our NoPa/Alamo Square Food Tour to get a taste of their famous salted caramel ice cream!
- Humprhy Slocombe: 2790A Harrison Street; 1 Ferry Building
Get past the silly name (inspired by a British 1970s sitcom) and dive right into this Willy Wonka-like world of ice cream. True adventure eaters should try some of their wackier flavors, like Peanut Butter Curry, Prosciutto, Toast & Jam (with brioche bread crumbs) Elvis: The Fat Years, or their signature Secret Breakfast featuring Bourbon ice cream with cornflakes. Purists will be just as satisfied with a sweet and simple scoop of Here’s Your Damn Strawberry or Tahitian V*n!ll@.
- Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous: 699 22nd Street
This cozy, minimalist shop tucked in a nondescript corner of the Dogpatch churns out some exceptionally creative creams. The masters behind Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous are two former pastry chefs, which means these guys know sweet (and savory) in all its potential. Flavors rotate daily, with tea and Asian-inspired treats and rich, bold blends like Ballpark, featuring Anchor Steam ice cream adorned with chocolate-covered pretzels and peanuts, or White Bunny, a mix of condensed milk and white chocolate.
- Smitten Ice Cream: 432 Octavia Street; 2404 California Street; 2268 Chestnut Street; 904 Valencia Street
Compared to the first three shops on our list, the flavors at Smitten may seem simple and rather limited (at just four a day), but the churned-to-order method is anything but ordinary. Pick from TCHO 60.5% Chocolate, Brown Sugar with Cinnamon Shortbread, or seasonal tastes like Blueberry Lavender. And once you’ve placed your order, it’s made in about 60 seconds using liquid nitrogen, a process that keeps the ingredients remarkably fresh and the final product from quickly melting. Come experience the magic on our Hayes Valley Food Tour or Fillmore Street Food Tour!
- Mitchell’s Ice Cream: 688 San Jose Avenue
This ice cream institution on the edge of the Mission and Bernal Heights has been serving up small-batch, handmade goodness since 1953. Like its neighborhood, Mitchell’s prides itself on its rich diversity, crafting flavors with ingredients from around the globe, including avocado and mango from the Philippines, vanilla and cocoa from Indonesia and Africa, and nuts and peaches from California. Choose between 40 flavors daily, from pure Vanilla Bean to their exotic Halo Halo, a fruity concoction with sweet beans based on a traditional Filipino dessert.
- Swensen’s: 1999 Hyde Street
Another old-fashioned favorite, this now internationally recognized ice cream brand started out in its humble neighborhood spot in Russian Hill back in 1948. Be transported back to simpler (and cheaper!) times with a cup or cone of old standbys including Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Thin Mint, and Rocky Road, or indulge in a childhood favorite like a big, hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top.
- Lush Gelato: 1817 Polk Street
Don’t think we haven’t thought about Italy’s beloved spin on ice cream. Say “Ciao, bella” to Lush Gelato, the first licensed facility in California to make its gelato from scratch using seasonal and local ingredients. Feel free to ask for samples before picking from an always-rotating selection of farm-fresh flavors like Crème Fraiche & Balsamic Strawberries, Bellwether Farms Ricotta & Lemon Zest, and Olive Oil & S’mores. Come join our Russian Hill Food Tour to try a refreshing scoop!
- Shakedown: 835 Geary Street
One of San Francisco’s newest creameries of the crop, Shakedown spins its artisanal treats with a healthy dose of irreverence. Following in Humphry Slocombe’s footsteps, the Tenderloin shop with a Deadhead-inspired name whips up wild and awesomely named flavors like Fig Goat About It (goat cheese ice cream with a fig honey swirl), Maiden’s Ecstasy (milk chocolate ice cream infused with pu-erh tea), and best-seller Jacker Crack (popcorn-infused ice cream with swirls of dulce de leche and crushed peanut brittle). Get it all served in a hand-rolled, gluten-free waffle cone or bowl to keep you—as the Dead would say—truckin’ on.
- Three Twins Ice Cream: 254 Fillmore Street
Sure, you can grab a pint of Three Twins’ organic ice cream at most local grocery stores, but somehow it always tastes better when someone else scoops it up for you. Head to their small shop in the Lower Haight (or before catching a flight at SFO) for classic tastes like Cookies & Cream, Strawberry, and Vanilla Bean and refreshing spins like Mint Confetti with dark chocolate and Dad’s Cardamom.
- Powder: 260 Divisadero Street
Another newbie on the block, Powder gives organic dairy and filtered water a Taiwanese twist with their shaved snow. Here, every creamy concoction is frozen into ice blocks and then shaved-to-order in a way that hits the tongue with a light, velvety texture. To truly appreciate this art form, Powder keeps their flavors fairly simple: pick from black sesame, Vietnamese coffee, strawberry, horchata, or matcha green tea, and then add your choice of fruity, nutty, or chocolatey toppings. You can also grab a scoop on our NoPa/Alamo Square Food Tour!
- Polly Ann Ice Cream: 3138 Noriega Street
This longstanding Outer Sunset shop has been shaking up the ice cream world since 1955. Even back then, the original owners were shocking residents with weird and unusual flavors. Today, Polly Ann’s has some 500 options in its arsenal with 50 available daily—and they run the gamut, from durian (the world’s stinkiest fruit) to best-seller Star Wars, a blend of mint ice cream with marshmallows and a touch of blue. For the indecisive, step on up to the giant spinning wheel to pick your flavor for you.
- Joe’s Ice Cream: 5420 Geary Street
Hop across the park to the Richmond District for another throwback parlor, this one just slightly younger. Joe’s has been serving up classic and specialty ice creams since 1959. The usual suspects are here—coconut, coffee, mint Oreo—but the best reason to visit is for a nice kick in the pants with their wasabi-flavored ice cream.