Think the pandemic was tough for restaurants? Try surviving lockdown as an independent ice cream shop.
“The entire neighborhood closed its doors,” says Saadi Halil, who opened Hometown Creamery with his brother Adar near the corner of Ninth and Irving streets in the Inner Sunset in 2015. The shop cut its hours, trimmed staff, added delivery, bought a pint-packer and parked its “Cream Machine” VW bus and ice cream truck at the west end of Marina Green, meeting customers in one of the only places they could go: outside.
Having survived Covid, Hometown is back to the art of small-batch ice cream.
“I love that you can create a dish of the highest quality that is still affordable to everyone,” says Saadi who, along with his brother, is a career-change ice cream entrepreneur.
The former artist, filmmaker and musician now funnels his creative instincts into making unique flavors that local customers love but might not fly anywhere else.
You can find Taiwanese shaved snow at Powder, Thai rolled ice cream at Glazier and Icicles, next-gen dessert sandwiches at Baked Bear, Milkbomb, or Cream, and patented flash-frozen concoctions at Smitten.
But old—and new—standards remain popular. There are historic stands like Mitchell’s, Joe’s and Miyako’s; vintage soda shops like Castro Fountain, St. Francis Fountain, and the Ice Cream Bar; new SF classics like Bi-Rite and Humphrey Slocombe; and touristy spots like Ben & Jerry’s on Haight and Ashbury or the newly remodeled granddaddy of them all, Ghiradelli’s.
One thing’s for sure: In a city with weather that doesn’t often scream the need for frozen treats, San Francisco does pretty well in the homegrown ice creamery department. Choose your own cool and creamy adventure by perusing the map below.
Guide to the Ice Cream Shops of San Francisco
Fort Mason, Fisherman’s Wharf
Flavor Favorites: Bear Batter, Cookies and Cream, Blackberry Crumble
A custom ice cream sandwich shop with more than a dozen baked-in-house cookie and ice cream recipes. Pick your favorites and top ’em with caramel or hot fudge—then roll the whole thing in nuts, Fruity Pebbles or whatever your stomach can handle. It’s a great late-night option: Open weekdays until 11 p.m. and weekends until 1 a.m.
Haight-Ashbury, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Point
Flavor Favorites: Cookie Dough, Phish Food, Marshmallow Sky
The three San Francisco shops are locally owned and operated with 36 flavors to choose from.
Flavor Favorites: Salted Caramel, Balsamic Strawberry, Black Sesame
Just one slurp of Bi-Rite Creamery’s extra melty, salty-sweet salted caramel ice cream could change your life, but we recommend trying every one of their 24 small batch flavors.
Flavor Favorites: Red Velvet Cake, Strawberry Tres Leches, Mint Chip
An ice cream parlor, soda shop and bake store. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
Flavor Favorites: Chocolate Chip Cookie with Vanilla, Snickerdoodle with Chocoholic, Butter Sugar with Cookies and Cream
This Bay Area-born, family owned and operated shop has been “serving happiness one ice cream [cookie] sandwich at a time” since 2010. Cream—sometimes stylized in all caps in a riff of a Wu Tang Clan classic—makes super premium ice cream, fresh baked cookies, ice cream sandwich party packs, sundaes, ice cream waffle tacos and ice cream sandwich cakes. Vegan options are available.
Flavor Favorites: It’s a Goody, Sea Salt Caramel Frozen Custard, Lively Lemon Sorbet
Choose from 28 flavors of ice cream, custard, plant-based and organic options available.
Flavor Favorites: Cookies and Cream, Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate
Founded in the Bay Area in 1928 where the headquarters remains to this day. They offer slow-churned ice cream and frozen yogurt in all the standard flavors.
Flavor Favorites: Banana Pudding, Vanilla Lilikoi, Ube Pandan
All ice cream is made on-site with a focus on fresh fruit options. Cantaloupe ice cream is the top summer flavor. It’s made from hand selected melons from farms in the Central Valley. The stone fruit ice cream and sorbets are also sourced from local farms.
Flavor Favorites: Hot Fudge Sundae, Salted Caramel Sundae, Cookie Crumble Sundae
Hands down, the most perfect, classic hot fudge sundae in the world, carried by the namesake gloppy topping. Bliss! The upper plaza location just reopened to the public after undergoing a major remodel and redesign.
Flavor Favorites: Salted Caramel, Sour Cherry Chip, Stracciatella
GIO stands for “Gelato Italiano Originale.” Their Italian gelato is made with all natural, farm fresh California ingredients. Find 51 flavors with gluten, egg, dairy, nut-free and vegan options available. They even have a healthy gelato flavor for dogs.
Flavor Favorites: Banana Split, Hello Marshmallow, Chocolate Craze
Try all 12 rolled ice cream signature combos on the menu. Fresh waffle cones and rolled ice cream dishes are prepared right in front of your eyes.
Flavor Favorites: Fresh Mint Chip, Chocolate Sorbet, Banoffee
Located at the gateway to Golden Gate Park, Hometown Creamery’s offerings are all made from scratch on-site, including four daily flavors and four regular flavors of small batch ice cream, and other desserts. “Flights of Five” ice cream scoops are great for tasting and date nights.
Ferry Building, Mission
Flavor Favorites: Secret Breakfast, Harvey Milk and Honey Grahams, Lavender Crumble, Downton Abbey
A dozen ultra unique flavors available in-store: It’s Secret Breakfast combo of bourbon ice cream with cornflake cookies was the beginning of a new era for foodie creams, but every flavor pushes the funky flavor envelope. (Maybe get a sample before the scoop?)
A 1930s style soda fountain with locally-sourced ice cream and baked goods.
Flavor Favorites: Oreo Blast, Strawberry Fantasy, Nutella and Chill
Bay Area-owned and operated, this grass roots ice cream venture in the Bay features handcrafted rolled ice cream. Everything is made on the spot with fresh ingredients.
Flavor Favorites: Marble Fudge, Dalgona, Cafferio
A family-run San Francisco shop since 1959 with over 50 flavors to choose from. The Dalgona flavor is a Korean-style mint, caramel, coffee ice cream with honeycomb candy. Also try their Raspberry Cheesecake and Sweet Red Bean with Mochi.
Offers 12 unique gelato flavors made from scratch. The flavors are always changing and include seasonal options.
Flavor Favorites: Durian, Lychee, Guava
Open for business in San Francisco since 1982. Marco Polo has been serving handcrafted products for over 30 years. It’s open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. including all holidays.
Warm donut ice cream sandwiches with delivery.
Flavor Favorites: Mango, Grasshopper, Ube
Founded in SF in 1953, Mitchell’s makes small batch organic ice cream on site and distributes to more than 200 restaurants, cafes, grocery stores and shops in and around San Francisco. And the old dog has all kinds of new tricks: Keep a botanical dictionary handy when reading the list of “standard flavors.”
Flavor Favorites: Ube, Green-Tea, Kona Coffee, Hot Fudge Sundae
Founded in 1993 by Tom Bennett, Miyako is one of the oldest Black-owned businesses in the Fillmore District. The ice cream is some of the city’s most affordable with most items under $7.
The bestseller is Belgian chocolate hot fudge sundae made with Mitchell’s premium ice cream.
Flavor Favorites: Watsonville Strawberry Sorbet, Gianduia Gelato, Almond Toffee
At this small, family run shop, choose from a variety of rotating gelato and sorbetto flavors made in small batches on-site daily with Double 8 Dairy. Watch the action in the ice cream lab through massive windows.
Flavor Favorites: Coffee Brownie, Black Sesame, Coconut Pineapple
Choose from one of 50 flavors every day, all made in-store. Can’t decide? Spin the flavor wheel to help you choose.
Flavor Favorites: Vietnamese Coffee, Thai Tea, Marshmallow Cereal
Think ice cream meets shaved ice: aka shaved snow. Powder uses Straus organic dairy and locally sourced ingredients.
Flavor Favorites: It’s a Goodie, Grasshopper Pie, Mango Tangerine Vanilla Custard
Come for the collectibles, stay for the treats. Toy Boat by Jane sells locally-sourced ice cream from Double Rainbow, Mitchell’s and Hometown Creamery in a cafe serving baked goods and filled with vintage toys. Consider getting your scoop in a cup so you can ride the mechanical horse while you eat.
Pacific Heights, Hayes Valley
Flavor Favorites: Sea Salt and Caramel Ribbon, Salted Malted Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Vegan Freckled Mint Tcho Chocolate Chip
Yes, it’s a chain, but there’s always a line for a reason. Ten monthly flavors are made in the Salt and Straw kitchen in Oregon with ingredients selectively chosen from local suppliers including women-owned businesses.
Flavor Favorites: Brookies ‘n’ Cream, Cookie Dough Pretzels and Chocolate Chips, Chocolate Ganache
Smitten is known for its “Brrristas” that churn out ice cream flavors made-to-order. Cooled to perfection with a patented liquid nitrogen freezing process, it’s a must-visit for ice cream geeks.
Grab a stool at the oldest soda fountain in SF for a root beer float or milkshake made with Mitchell’s ice cream. The vintage candy counter is fun; the atmosphere is delicious.
Flavor Favorites: Sweet Cream, Milk and Cookies, Grasshopper Pie
Taking over Annabell’s “Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous,” “Sunday Social” is the new name for the new owners but the same mission. In-store made ice cream of unique rotational flavors—don’t miss Popcorn!— and Char Sui danishes.
Flavor Favorites: Cookies and Cream, Raspberry Brownie Chunk, Swiss Orange Chip
Established in 1948, Swensens has been making old fashioned ice cream by hand on-site ever since.Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected].