Small-batch, seasonal, hand-made, local, etc. ice cream is the calling card at San Francisco’s arguably most popular scoop shop. Lines usually snake out the door and down the block with people waiting for tastes of salted caramel and balsamic strawberry, two of Bi-Rite’s most popular flavors, or the more unusual options like basil and honey lavender. Pro-tip: fans of soft-serve can usually forego some of the wait time at their soft-serve and baked goods window, just past the main scoop shop.
It may not always be ideal ice cream weather, but that’s never stopped San Franciscans from snaking a line down the block for some of the sweet stuff. In fact, waiting in line only makes the ice cream better, not that any of the spots on this list need a boost. They’re already serving the creamiest varieties, whether it’s classic or more unusual flavors you’re in the market for.
You already know Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe are guaranteed to give you a good frozen fix, but there are also plenty of places with liquid nitrogen-frozen instance ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, interesting flavors like prosciutto, and more. In a town that straddles the line between traditional and modern, there are options to reflect both those sensibilities with classic parlors and more updated spots.
Here’s a look at all of SF’s best options for ice cream when the mood strikes.
1 Bi-Rite Creamery
Expect to wait in line for Berkeley-based CREAM’s (Cookies Rule Everything Around Me) mix-and-match ice cream sandwiches that have proved exceedingly popular with the Cal student set. The endless options allow ice cream sandwich fiends to build the ideal sandwich from a large selection of cookies (there are vegan and gluten-free flavors, plus more unusual variations like turtle, M&M and cappuccino) and ice creams (green tea, cinnamon, and the highly meta cookie dough). Check out their full list of locations around the Bay Area here.
3 Honey Creme
Brought over from Korea, Honey Creme focuses on fresh cream soft serve with a variety of fun toppings, like the eponymous honeycomb, cotton candy, dark chocolate sauce, and more.
4 Humphry Slocombe
Get your weird on with experimental flavors at this crazy popular Mission ice cream destination (with an outpost in the Ferry Building, too). The most-talked-about flavor is Secret Breakfast, made with vanilla, cornflake cookies and Jim Beam bourbon, but there’s no shortage of wacky options such as prosciutto, cheese, mushrooms and foie gras from evil ice cream genius Jake Godby.
5 Joe’s Ice Cream
This no-frills classic scoop shop doesn’t pull any punches, offering Americana standards such as root beer swirl and rum raisin, or more unconventional flavors like wasabi and chai tea. One thing’s for sure: it’s still serving up ice cream straight from your SF childhood — even after a 2010 move across the street.
6 Little Giant Ice Cream
Little Giant isn’t messing around, offering scoops of ice cream that they churn from their own proprietary base. The first location opened in Uptown Oakland, followed swiftly by a FiDi outpost, where ice cream fans can geek out on unique flavors. The shop has become known for its cocktail-themed flavors like the negroni or old fashioned.
7 Mitchell’s Ice Cream
Mitchell’s opened in Bernal Heights way back in 1953 and has been inspiring lines of fans ever since. The classic shop is known for its authentic Mexican (horchata, Mexican chocolate), Peruvian (yucuma) and Filipino (two types of coconut) options.
8 Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous
If it’s gourmet ice cream you desire, look no further than this daily-changing option from Wolfgang Puck Spago alums (and husband and wife team) Ian Flores and Annabelle Topacio. Flavors like mango chili lime, chocolate chicory coffee and candied violet will satisfy your higher-end needs, though there’s no shame in going classic with plain old vanilla bean, too.
9 Polly Ann Ice Cream
Have flavor fatigue? Leave your fate in the hands of Polly Ann, where you can spin the wheel and let it decide which of the over 500 rotating flavors you’ll be trying today. The shop, which has been open since the 1950s, often has Asian flavors like durian, lychee and jasmine on display, as well as favorites like rocky road and mint chocolate chip.
10 Smitten Ice Cream
If the excitement of dining at a chef’s counter is your idea of a good time, head to Smitten where the ice cream is made at all locations in front of you in about 90 seconds, using liquid nitrogen for a smoother, denser cream. Owner Robyn Sue Fisher created and patented the machine herself, which churns out everyday local flavors like Blue Bottle espresso and TCHO 60.5 percent chocolate as well as seasonal options such as sweet corn with berries and rhubarb crisp.
11 Swensen’s Ice Cream
It’s all old-school all the time at this Russian Hill ice cream parlor — which has since gone international — scooping up standbys such as sticky chewy chocolate and Turkish coffee, plus turning them into massive classic sundaes, too.
12 The Baked Bear
Get as crazy as you can imagine at this Fisherman’s Wharf ice cream shop that pairs 11 cookie flavors with 12 flavors of ice cream and 11 types of toppings. Just take a look at the Baked Bear Instagram from some flavor inspiration.
13 The Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain
Head back in time at this classic 1930s-inspired soda fountain shop serving up vintage phosphates, lactarts, malts, plus boozy milkshakes, ice cream soda floats and ice cream sandwiches in vegan options, too. There’s another locationheaded to the Castro in the near future, so be ready for more maple syrup or chicory coffee ice cream shakes.
14 Three Twins Ice Cream
Yes, you can grab a pint of Three Twins at the grocery store, but this ice cream shop got its start (and expanded) in nearby San Rafael. Now its SF location is scooping up flavors with inventive, cheeky names like Bear Bait (a Gay Pride special of vanilla with muffin top chunks) along with more staid options such as lemon cookie and cardamom.