From classic soda fountains to innovative new takes on flavors and booze-infused "Remedies," San Francisco does ice cream right. You're sure to find something that suits your sweet tooth in the City by the Bay, but to make your search easier, we've compiled a list of favorite SF spots—places you're sure to love too (if you don't already!).
A frontrunner in San Francisco's small-batch ice cream scene, Bi-Rite has been an absolute godsend for ice cream lovers since its Mission-based creamery first opened in 2006. This flagship locale (Bi-Rite has a second location in Nopa) is now bigger and better after a recent overhaul, while still serving up the same delicious flavors it's known for—like roasted banana, honey lavender, and salted caramel—with a few additions, including ice cream bars perfect for snacking on in Dolores Park, just across the street. All the ice cream is handmade, as are all its top-notch toppings (think brownies and peanut brittle).
The Ice Cream Bar
A visit to Cole Valley's Ice Cream Bar is like stepping back in time to the golden era of soda fountains—a time of uniformed soda jerks doling out delicious scoops of ice cream (in this case popular flavors like butterscotch, banana pudding, and creme fraiche) and dishing up fudge-covered sundaes for a line of hungry patrons. The Ice Cream Bar doubles as a full-service lunch counter, but it's the confections that really draw in patrons: everything from the waffle cones to the brownies are made in-house, and are mouth-wateringly delicious. The bar also features an authentic Streamline Moderne-style soda fountain that came all the way from Mackinaw City, Michigan. Another cool factor: it's menu of Remedies—booze-infused ice cream drinks for the 21+ crowd.
Smitten Ice Cream
Tucked away in a recycled shipping container in Hayes Valley, right across the street from Patricia's Green, San Francisco's flagship Smitten Ice Cream turns locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients into fresh-churned works of art. One of Smitten's perks is that you can actually watch the ice cream being made—a process that involves liquid nitrogen. There are only a handful of classic and seasonal flavors (including classic vanilla and cookie dough with pretzels and chocolate chips) to choose from, but they're all luscious and pair perfectly with the variety of sauces and crunchy toppings. Smitten also has outposts in the Mission District and Pacific Heights.
Mitchell's is a San Francisco institution, first opened in 1953 and earning praises ever since. Still family owned, their flagship Mission-based shop serves up all 40 of Mitchell's flavors daily, including their selection of tropical flavors made with fruits imported from the Philippines—an ode to the surrounding neighborhood. Mitchell's was the first ice cream place in the Bay Area to offer mango ice cream and the flavor remains their best seller, though other popular 'exotics' include ube and coconut pineapple. The ordering system is easy: just grab a number, wait for it to be called, and then sample as many flavors as you like before choosing. Other delicious flavors include Grasshopper Pie and dulce de leche.
Three Twins Ice Cream
Although its Lower Haight storefront closed in 2018, you'll still find Three Twins ice cream in supermarkets and corner stores city (and country) wide, and may even recognize its founder Neal Gottlieb and his green, ice cream-covered pants from season 32 of "Survivor." Gottlieb established the all organic brand—named for Neil, his twin brother Carl, and Carl's wife Liz, who is herself a twin—in the Bay Area's own San Rafael in 2005, and its flavors like Madagascar Vanilla, Mexican Chocolate, and Mint Confetti—mint ice cream with pieces of dark chocolate—are available in everything from pint-sized versions to ice cream sandwiches. It's the perfect purchase-and-go snack for trips to Golden Gate Park or a day at Baker Beach. In 2017, Three Twins added two additional brands, including Slim Twin Ice Cream—a protein heavy, low calorie ice cream for those keeping close watch on their splurges.
Known for its highly inventive (and often booze-fueled) offerings, Humphry Slocombe first came on the scene in 2005. It has since gained a loyal following, impressed with the ice cream maker's ability to create unconventional flavors unlike any that have come before. Seems like they'll try anything in an ice cream—root beer, oolong, and jalapeño cornbread, to name a few. Some concoctions work, other not so much, but winners include Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee; the milk-flavored Harvey Milk & Honey Graham; and Secret Breakfast, a blend bourbon ice cream and corn flakes. Along with their Mission District location, Humphry Slocombe also features a kiosk in the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Swensen's Ice Cream
First opened on the corner of Union and Hyde streets in 1948, Swensen's went on to become a global phenomenon, with outlets in countries like India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Still, it's the original Russian Hill location—an easy stop along the Powell-Hyde cable car line—that most captivates hearts after more than 70 years. This old-fashioned ice cream parlor rotates between dozens of all natural flavors—delicious offerings like Green Tea, Lemon Custard, and Thin Mint—and serves up shakes and sundaes (such as hot fudge bonanza and strawberries, banana & cream) as well. It's cash only, so be sure and swing by an ATM beforehand.
Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous
Located within a corner spot in Dogpatch, this bright and modern space is the picture-perfect sweet shop. Two former Spago chefs run the place and make everything on-site, from their organic ice cream to toppings such as homemade butterscotch and pineapple sauce. There's ample seating for enjoying creative concoctions such as Ballpark, a helping of Anchor Steam porter ice cream blended with chocolate-covered pretzels and peanuts; White Rabbit, a mix of condensed milk and white chocolate chips; and Pink Squirrel, with almond and chocolate liquors, though flavors are on constant rotation, so you never know what you'll find.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream
Salt & Straw originated in Portland in 2011, but it's gained a local Bay Area following by introducing flavors utilizing beloved local ingredients, like Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies & Cream, and Mt Tam Cheese with Toasted Acme Bread. Like it's flagship shop up north, this Hayes Valley outpost specializes in small-batch ice creams made by hand in a variety of innovative flavors. SF residents can't get enough of the Organic Roots Arbequina Olive Oil and the Green Fennel & Maple, made with fennel that's been freshly juiced, from bulb to frond.
Opened in 2017, this tiny Potrero Hill shop is best known for its doughnut ice cream sandwiches—heaping helpings of ice cream sandwiched between two doughnut halves, then sliced down the middle and loaded with sauces and toppings like toasted marshmallows, Fruity Pebbles, and all the sprinkles you could wish for. The standing-room only storefront serves up about 15 to 20 innovative flavors, including Thai ice tea, red bean, horchata, and espresso chip, as well as a range of add-ons such as blue corn ice cream cones and condensed milk drizzles. Come ready to be surprised!
Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream
The go-to spot for Asian-inspired gelato flavors in the heart of the city's Parkside/Outer Sunset neighborhoods. It's a small, cash-only place with a couple of tables inside, but one that's been putting smiles on the faces of locals and visitors alike for decades. Flavors run the gamut from mango and pistachio to soursop, mangosteen, lychee, and the oh-so-pungent durian (if you dare), and they actually taste like fresh fruit.
Joe's Ice Cream
Family-run Joe's has been serving up its award-winning homemade ice cream to locals and visitors alike since 1959. Despite moving across the street from its original Outer Richmond location in 2010, Joe's still boasts the same nostalgic feel it's known for, and a full menu that includes burgers and chicken sandwiches alongside ice cream flavors like Earl Grey tea (a favorite), wasabi, and Root Beer Swirl, as well as a selection of sorbets and sherbets. Die-hards can't get enough of the ice cream's creamy texture, and are just as happy with a bowl of classic chocolate chip as they are with a cone full of bubble gum-flavored goodness.
The Castro Fountain
A spin-off of Cole Valley's Ice Cream Bar, the long-anticipated Castro Fountain finally opened in 2017 with the same kinds of delectable and house-made ice cream, sundaes, and floats for which its predecessor is best known. The Fountain also specialities in brownies, cookies, and pies made on-site. Fan favorites include scoops of roasted pineapple; the Harvey Milk(Shake), made with fruit syrup, eggs, and cream; and the Instagram-worthy Rainbow Cake, a top-seller during Pride.
Matcha Café Maiko
A franchise that started in Honolulu, Hawaii, San Francisco's first matcha cafe, Matcha Café Maiko, opened in 2018 in the city's Japantown neighborhood. Go for an order of soft serve ice cream sprinkled with organic matcha powder—made of finely ground green tea leaves—and served up in cups or waffle cones. Or opt for a matcha float using the cafe's own house-made ice cream. There are also shaved ice, frappes, parfaits to choose from, including the specialty Maiko Special, made with layers of matcha cream, matcha chiffon, chestnuts, and mochi.