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Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Thursday 7:30pm

The 14 Best Ice Cream Flavors in San Francisco

From Bi-Rite’s salted caramel to “Star Wars” at Polly Ann

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San Francisco is a pretty serious ice cream town: With its proximity to incredible dairy from the likes of Straus Creamery, access to wonderful, locally-made chocolate, and a city-wide penchant for unique ingredients, how could it be otherwise?

Over the years, even long-running ice cream makers like Mitchell’s have gravitated toward flavors well beyond simple vanilla and strawberry, and concoctions like salted caramel and “secret breakfast” have become the calling cards for a new breed of ice cream shop. Here’s a smattering of 14 of the city’s best ice cream flavors, with one historic and irresistible option from Oakland. They were selected for their unimpeachable, scientific perfection — okay, based on personal preference and overall popularity, so take the bait and argue for other favorites in the comments. If you’re seeking the best local ice cream shops overall, here’s that, too.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Rocky Road at Fentons Creamery

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4226 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 658-7000
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Once upon a time, the only common ice cream flavors were strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate. Oakland soda fountain Fentons (est. 1922) claims to have changed that with the invention of Rocky Road, where candy maker George Farren adapted his Rocky Road candy bar into ice cream, the story goes. Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, now owned by Nestlé but founded in Oakland (and named for the town’s Grand Avenue) also claims to have invented the flavor. Regardless, Fentons still makes it best, with fudge-y, creamy chocolate, puffy marshmallows, and crunchy walnuts, in generous (read: enormous) scoops.

Caleb Pershan

2. Sticky chewy chocolate at the First Swensen's Ice Cream Store

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1999 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 775-6818
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The original Swensen’s location, opened in 1948, has given way to many more branches around the world, but this first outpost is still a classic, homey Russian Hill haunt. Time-tested flavors like cookie dough never fail, but the best of the bunch is the sticky chewy chocolate, with a thick, peanut-buttery texture.

Caleb Pershan

3. Pistacchio at Gio Gelati

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1998 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 867-1306
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For beautiful, summery Italian gelato, look no further than Gio, whose classic flavors are each wonderful expressions of their ingredients. Pistacchio might be a highlight: Simple, elegant, and packed with nutty flavor.

4. Strawberry Tres Leches at Salt & Straw

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2201 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 829-2803
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Portland-based Salt & Straw has made a name for its zany seasonal flavors, but after customers sample the latest and strangest, they gravitate toward one local option in particular (Salt & Straw’s different West Coast locations each have many of their own flavors). San Francisco’s favorite is strawberry tres leches, which combines refreshing strawberry jam, a sweet strawberry ice cream, and tres leches-soaked sponge cake throughout.

5. Vanilla at Smitten Ice Cream

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432 Octavia St #1a
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 863-1518
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Smitten’s flavors are churned to order with liquid nitrogen, making for extremely smooth ice cream and a fun little show. Options like mint, olive oil, and honey chamomile rotate in and out of the lineup (typically just three flavors are available at any given time). But classic vanilla shows off the Smitten style best, and despite vanilla’s occasionally negative connotations, there’s nothing boring about it — in fact, it’s rather decadent.

6. Caramelized honey at the Ice Cream Bar

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815 Cole St
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 742-4932
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The cakes, shakes, and sweets at this retro ice cream bar and soda fountain are all excellent, but if condemned to a single order here, the unique and complex caramelized honey might be the best bet. It’s a lot like a salted caramel, but just a touch lighter, with more floral notes.

Caleb Pershan

7. Fresh Mint chip at San Francisco's Hometown Creamery

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1290 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 682-4977
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With flecks of Guittard chocolate and fresh mint, this flavor at small but mighty Hometown Creamery is a perennial favorite. It’s only available when mint is in season — these guys take their “farm to cone” motto very seriously, so look out for it when it’s available, and if it isn’t, feel free to order an ice cream “flight” to try everything else.

8. Salted Caramel at Bi-Rite Creamery

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3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 626-5600
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It’s easy to see why everyone adores this flavor at Bi-Rite Creamery, a Mission District offshoot of a long-loved local grocery. It’s impossibly creamy and fluffy, with a slightly smoky, dark caramel flavor and lots of salt to cut through it. Yes, it’s worth the line known to extend around the corner on sunny days by Dolores Park (though you can also find it by the pint at Bi-Rite’s market and on Divisadero at Bi-Rite’s second location). Note: Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th Street is currently losed for renovations, but a mobile truck is filling in during the interim, and pints are available at Bi-Rite Market across the street.)

9. Matcha Gold at Garden Creamery

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3566 20th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(808) 224-6626
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Creamy Hawaiian-influenced flavors (including some non-dairy options) at the Mission’s Garden Creamery are all pretty special — and how could they be bad when served in a chimney cone? But if it’s matcha you seek, the matcha gold flavor (matcha with toffee bits) is sure to satisfy. Runner up: Ube pandan.

Kerry Lee

10. Thai Ice Tea at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

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699 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 970-0750
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The number one complaint at this small Dogpatch shop is its limited hours, and the number two complaint is when they don’t have Thai iced tea. It’s smoky, sweet, and satisfying. That said, all of the expressive, gourmet flavors at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous are worth a try, so don’t fret if they’re out of just one.

Caleb Pershan

11. Star Wars at Polly Ann Ice Cream

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3138 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 664-2472
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Star Wars is a nicely representative flavor at whimsical Polly Ann, where nothing makes literal sense. For the record, it’s blue mint ice cream with marshmallows, and even if it doesn’t taste like the George Lucas film franchise, it’s pretty great. Don’t want to pick for yourself? Spin their flavor wheel if you’re feeling pollyannish — and why wouldn’t you be optimistic when all the flavors are great?

12. Secret Breakfast at Humphry Slocombe

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2790a Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Yes, this one’s bourbon ice cream with corn flakes for a delicious crunch. It’s no secret that Humphry Slocombe’s best known and best loved flavor is hard to resist, even well before 5 p.m. rolls around.

Humphry Slocombe [Official Photo]

13. Ube at Mitchell's Ice Cream

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688 San Jose Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-2300
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Take a number, deli-style, and be prepared to wait at peak hours: That’s the Mitchell’s tradition, and for many at this 1953-founded shop, it also involves bright purple ube ice cream. Mitchell’s has gone well beyond the standard American flavors of its early years to add Filipino influences and ingredients (halo halo is another specialty). Ube, imported from the Philippines and blended into a rich but not too sweet ice cream, is now a Mitchell’s classic.

Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Thursday 7:30pm

14. Black sesame at Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream

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1447 Taraval
San Francisco, CA 94116
(415) 731-2833

Most visitors to long-running Parkside sweet spot Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream grab as many Asian-inspired flavors as possible, including tropical options like a funky durian. But don’t miss the black sesame, which is richly nutty and perfect for pairing with other flavors, all of which have the consistency of gelato.

Caleb Pershan

1. Rocky Road at Fentons Creamery

4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611
Caleb Pershan

Once upon a time, the only common ice cream flavors were strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate. Oakland soda fountain Fentons (est. 1922) claims to have changed that with the invention of Rocky Road, where candy maker George Farren adapted his Rocky Road candy bar into ice cream, the story goes. Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, now owned by Nestlé but founded in Oakland (and named for the town’s Grand Avenue) also claims to have invented the flavor. Regardless, Fentons still makes it best, with fudge-y, creamy chocolate, puffy marshmallows, and crunchy walnuts, in generous (read: enormous) scoops.

4226 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611

2. Sticky chewy chocolate at the First Swensen's Ice Cream Store

1999 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Caleb Pershan

The original Swensen’s location, opened in 1948, has given way to many more branches around the world, but this first outpost is still a classic, homey Russian Hill haunt. Time-tested flavors like cookie dough never fail, but the best of the bunch is the sticky chewy chocolate, with a thick, peanut-buttery texture.

1999 Hyde St
San Francisco, CA 94109

3. Pistacchio at Gio Gelati

1998 Union St, San Francisco, CA 94123

For beautiful, summery Italian gelato, look no further than Gio, whose classic flavors are each wonderful expressions of their ingredients. Pistacchio might be a highlight: Simple, elegant, and packed with nutty flavor.

1998 Union St
San Francisco, CA 94123

4. Strawberry Tres Leches at Salt & Straw

2201 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

Portland-based Salt & Straw has made a name for its zany seasonal flavors, but after customers sample the latest and strangest, they gravitate toward one local option in particular (Salt & Straw’s different West Coast locations each have many of their own flavors). San Francisco’s favorite is strawberry tres leches, which combines refreshing strawberry jam, a sweet strawberry ice cream, and tres leches-soaked sponge cake throughout.

2201 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115

5. Vanilla at Smitten Ice Cream

432 Octavia St #1a, San Francisco, CA 94102

Smitten’s flavors are churned to order with liquid nitrogen, making for extremely smooth ice cream and a fun little show. Options like mint, olive oil, and honey chamomile rotate in and out of the lineup (typically just three flavors are available at any given time). But classic vanilla shows off the Smitten style best, and despite vanilla’s occasionally negative connotations, there’s nothing boring about it — in fact, it’s rather decadent.

432 Octavia St #1a
San Francisco, CA 94102

6. Caramelized honey at the Ice Cream Bar

815 Cole St, San Francisco, CA 94117
Caleb Pershan

The cakes, shakes, and sweets at this retro ice cream bar and soda fountain are all excellent, but if condemned to a single order here, the unique and complex caramelized honey might be the best bet. It’s a lot like a salted caramel, but just a touch lighter, with more floral notes.

815 Cole St
San Francisco, CA 94117

7. Fresh Mint chip at San Francisco's Hometown Creamery

1290 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122

With flecks of Guittard chocolate and fresh mint, this flavor at small but mighty Hometown Creamery is a perennial favorite. It’s only available when mint is in season — these guys take their “farm to cone” motto very seriously, so look out for it when it’s available, and if it isn’t, feel free to order an ice cream “flight” to try everything else.

1290 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94122

8. Salted Caramel at Bi-Rite Creamery

3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

It’s easy to see why everyone adores this flavor at Bi-Rite Creamery, a Mission District offshoot of a long-loved local grocery. It’s impossibly creamy and fluffy, with a slightly smoky, dark caramel flavor and lots of salt to cut through it. Yes, it’s worth the line known to extend around the corner on sunny days by Dolores Park (though you can also find it by the pint at Bi-Rite’s market and on Divisadero at Bi-Rite’s second location). Note: Bi-Rite Creamery on 18th Street is currently losed for renovations, but a mobile truck is filling in during the interim, and pints are available at Bi-Rite Market across the street.)

3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

9. Matcha Gold at Garden Creamery

3566 20th St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Kerry Lee

Creamy Hawaiian-influenced flavors (including some non-dairy options) at the Mission’s Garden Creamery are all pretty special — and how could they be bad when served in a chimney cone? But if it’s matcha you seek, the matcha gold flavor (matcha with toffee bits) is sure to satisfy. Runner up: Ube pandan.

3566 20th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

10. Thai Ice Tea at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous

699 22nd St, San Francisco, CA 94107
Caleb Pershan

The number one complaint at this small Dogpatch shop is its limited hours, and the number two complaint is when they don’t have Thai iced tea. It’s smoky, sweet, and satisfying. That said, all of the expressive, gourmet flavors at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous are worth a try, so don’t fret if they’re out of just one.

699 22nd St
San Francisco, CA 94107

11. Star Wars at Polly Ann Ice Cream

3138 Noriega St, San Francisco, CA 94122

Star Wars is a nicely representative flavor at whimsical Polly Ann, where nothing makes literal sense. For the record, it’s blue mint ice cream with marshmallows, and even if it doesn’t taste like the George Lucas film franchise, it’s pretty great. Don’t want to pick for yourself? Spin their flavor wheel if you’re feeling pollyannish — and why wouldn’t you be optimistic when all the flavors are great?

3138 Noriega St
San Francisco, CA 94122

12. Secret Breakfast at Humphry Slocombe

2790a Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Humphry Slocombe [Official Photo]

Yes, this one’s bourbon ice cream with corn flakes for a delicious crunch. It’s no secret that Humphry Slocombe’s best known and best loved flavor is hard to resist, even well before 5 p.m. rolls around.

2790a Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94110

13. Ube at Mitchell's Ice Cream

688 San Jose Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110
Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Thursday 7:30pm

Take a number, deli-style, and be prepared to wait at peak hours: That’s the Mitchell’s tradition, and for many at this 1953-founded shop, it also involves bright purple ube ice cream. Mitchell’s has gone well beyond the standard American flavors of its early years to add Filipino influences and ingredients (halo halo is another specialty). Ube, imported from the Philippines and blended into a rich but not too sweet ice cream, is now a Mitchell’s classic.

688 San Jose Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94110

14. Black sesame at Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream

1447 Taraval, San Francisco, CA 94116
Caleb Pershan

Most visitors to long-running Parkside sweet spot Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream grab as many Asian-inspired flavors as possible, including tropical options like a funky durian. But don’t miss the black sesame, which is richly nutty and perfect for pairing with other flavors, all of which have the consistency of gelato.

1447 Taraval
San Francisco, CA 94116

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