Explore San Francisco

Treat Yourself to San Francisco's Best Ice Cream

Don't settle for a plain vanilla cone in the home of foodie innovation.

You might have heard the clever quip, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," (dubiously attributed to Mark Twain). And sure, many summer days demand a fleece here. But when the fog burns off and the sun is high, the city can warm up. On such a day, chill out with a cool sweet treat. And this being San Francisco—home of foodie innovation—a standard vanilla cone just won't do.

Creative Combos

These spots elevate sweet classics to new heights with unusual ingredient combos.

Bi-Rite Creamery
Bi-Rite Creamery is worth the line. (©Bi-Rite Creamery)

Since 2006, San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery has been drawing lines that wrap around the block. It was the city's first ice cream made with dairy from Straus Family Creamery (located 45 miles north). The original Mission location and the newer NoPa shop are both attached to the legendary grocery of the same name and serve small-batch, homemade ice cream (even the toppings and mix-ins are made onsite) in simple and elegant flavors like salted caramel, Meyer lemon and ricanelas. The sundaes, often garnished with olive oil, are especially popular. Options range from chocolate ice cream with whipped cream and blood orange olive oil to vanilla ice cream with caramelized bananas, hot fudge and toasted walnuts. The former comes topped with Maldon sea salt for an extra kick. 3692 18th St.; 550 Divisadero St.

The Ice Cream Bar
The Ice Cream Bar (©Nick Vasilopoulos)

Don't be fooled by the old-fashioned soda-fountain ambience of The Ice Cream Bar. Despite the retro vibe, this Cole Valley favorite offers plenty of new-wave flair. Our favorite treat? The New Orleans Hangover ice cream float, which can cure any morning-after sickness with its mix of sweet cream ice cream, soda, chicory coffee syrup and golden eagle tincture. This popular spot's sister is the Castro Fountain. 815 Cole St.

Offbeat Treats

For something truly different, look beyond the classics and embrace the weird. (After all, it's the San Francisco way.)

Frozen Kuhsterd
(©Frozen Kuhsterd)

Get sweet on the city's long-running food truck movement with a stop at FK Frozen Custard. As the name implies, this roving truck serves a West Coast-style, frozen take on creamy custard. Order flavors like black sesame, matcha white chocolate and ube from the truck or at the new brick-and-mortar shop in the Lower Haight. 791 Haight St.

Chile Pies
Outside Chile Pies Baking Co. (©Chile Pies)

The pie shake at Chile Pies Baking Co. (recently relocated from the city to Guernville in Sonoma County) is exactly what it sounds like—a slice of pie blended with ice cream. And yes, it's just as good as it sounds. Mix and match from among a variety of ice cream and pie flavors. 16290 Main St., Guerneville

Smitten Ice Cream
Smitten (©Toni Gauthier)

Located in a converted shipping container in hip Hayes Valley (and with newer locations in the Marina, Mission and Pacific Heights), Smitten Ice Cream is perhaps the most innovative ice cream company in town. Its patented machine, playfully named Brrr, uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the ice cream at extremely low temperatures, resulting in perhaps the smoothest and creamiest ice cream you’ll ever have. With the "brristas" making each cup to order, you can watch the whole process, from raw ingredients to finished ice cream, in just 60 seconds. 432 Octavia St.

Coletta Gelato's Henri Waltenspühl and  Antonio Massimini
Coletta Gelato's Henri Waltenspühl and Antonio Massimini (©Chloe List)

Blending Italian tradition with California culinary sensibilities, Coletta Gelato is made from locally sourced raw ingredients. The company even pasteurizes its own milk. Flavors at the tiny SoMa shop include California pistachio with Maldon sea salt, Irish coffee, Gianduia (chocolate with hazelnut) and a combination of amaretto, almond and orange zest. 685 Harrison St.

Crazy Flavors

Forget chocolate and vanilla. These spots think outside the box to deliver surprisingly delicious flavors.

Humphry Slocombe
Humphry Slocombe (©Frankeny Images)

Thai chili lime, foie gras and Jesus Juice Sorbet—these are three of the flavors on the menu at Humphry Slocombe, which works with local Straus Family Creamery. The local favorite has had its original location in the happening Mission neighborhood since 2008 and operates a convenient stall in the Ferry Building. Other quirky flavors include creme fraiche, Secret Breakfast (made with cornflakes and bourbon) and golden milk. 2790A Harrison St.

Salt & Straw shop on Fillmore Street
Salt & Straw shop on Fillmore Street (©Hardy Wilson)

The Portland-based artisanal ice cream company Salt & Straw opened San Francisco locations in Pacific Heights and Hayes Valley. In addition to the experimental flavors the company is known for, the local locations feature Bay Area-inspired flavors, such as Sightglass Coffee with single origin Dandelion Chocolate. 2201 Fillmore St.

Three Twins
Three Twins' Dad's Cardamom (©Three Twins)

Three Twins serves organic, locally sourced ice cream in inventive flavors such as Dad’s Cardamom and chocolate orange confetti. The company operates shops around the Bay Area and at SFO and also stocks many local restaurants and grocery stores. 1809-A 4th St., Berkeley

Bara Gelato by Naia
(©Bar Gelato by Naia)

St. George single malt whiskey. Lindcove Ranch tangelo sorbetto. Masala chai. Why buy an ordinary popsicle when Bar Gelato by Naia offers the classic treat in flavors like these? Find them in the freezer sections of local Whole Foods, A.G. Ferrari and Walgreens stores.