I scream, you scream, we all scream—for ice cream season. When the heat hits, a scoop of fresh ice cream is a fine way to cool down—and satisfy that summer sweet tooth. Whether you prefer your treat in a cone or cup, plain or with toppings, we can all agree that it’s just not summer if your face isn’t sticky with ice cream.
While every town has its own beloved shops, some cities stand above the rest when it comes to this frozen dessert. From places known for small-batch, artisanal shops (like Portland), to those holding strong for their classic parlors (like Savannah), these are the best spots to enjoy a scoop (or a few...) this season.
When a city has its own Eater heatmap just for ice cream, you know its residents take this dessert seriously. And just like the city’s chefs, Portland's ice cream makers are know for their dedication to local ingredients and seasonal flavors.
Portland’s biggest ice cream claim to fame is Salt & Straw, which churns out inventive flavors at four local shops (and an expanding list of outlets in Los Angeles). In addition to its classic flavors like Salted, Malted, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, Salt & Straw also features constantly rotating seasonal offerings.
Going strong since 1919, Leopold’s is more than an ice cream shop—it’s an iconic landmark, a spot as beloved by locals as it is by tourists. Leopold’s offers a menu of “The Regulars”—classics like pistachio and strawberry and signature offerings like Rum Bisque—and there’s a list of “Seasonal or Special Flavors” like Japanese Cherry Blossom and Savannah Smiles. But that’s not all; Leopold’s also has an extensive fountain menu, with sundaes, banana splits, shakes, floats, and more.
It's no surprise that a city as big (and humid) as NYC would have some of the best ice cream shops in the country. And there’s also a huge variety of styles; each successful shop has settled into its own niche.
Brooklyn’s Blue Marble focuses on organic, fresh ingredients, while Big Gay Ice Cream puts a modern spin on the classic ice cream truck. In Williamsburg, OddFellows Ice Cream Co. caters to the hip(ster) crowd with wild, small-batch flavors on a seemingly constant rotation, while Momofuku Milk Bar’s various locations woo visitors with its Cereal Milk and Pretzel soft serve flavors. And there’s always room for newcomers too, as 10Below Ice Cream proved when it started serving their social media-star ice cream rolls last year, a Thai-inspired style of scooping (or, rather, freezing an ice cream base on a -10°F "cold plate" and then rolling it up with metal spatulas) that proves you can have your art and eat it too.
One way to beat the notorious Texas heat is with ice cream from Austin’s local shops. And any talk of Austin’s ice cream scene has to start with Amy’s, a shop that helped put this city on the sweet treat map. After scooping for 30 years, Amy’s Ice Cream’s locations are still going strong and treating generations of locals to some of the best ice cream around. There are seven standard flavors, including Sweet Cream, Mexican Vanilla, and Belgian Chocolate, and a rotating lineup of specialty and seasonal flavors, so there’s always something new to try.
But Amy’s has some competition: Another local shop, Lick Honest Ice Creams, has made a name for itself by focusing on serving up cow-to-counter “Honest Ice Creams.” It offers inventive flavors like Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint; Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey; and Horchata, as well as dairy-free and vegan selections. Photo Courtesy of Amy's Ice Creams
5. SAN FRANCISCO
Although San Francisco’s “summer weather” may be slightly more conducive to a cup of hot cocoa than a scoop of ice cream, Karl the Fog can’t keep us from indulging in this city’s ice cream offerings.
In the Mission neighborhood, renowned Bi-Rite Creamery pretty much always has a line of Dolores Park-goers eager to tasted its famous Salted Caramel or ice cream sandwiches; (trust us, they're worth the wait). Another San Francisco favorite, Humphry Slocombe, is known for unusual ingredients like bacon, Vietnamese coffee, corn, and cucumber; don't worry, itsscoopers are happy to give you enough samples to convince you that these flavors aren’t nearly as insane as they sound. And recently Smitten Ice Cream has made a name for itself by producing artisanal, preservative-free treats that are frozen with liquid nitrogen. Basically, you can’t go wrong when grabbing a cone in San Francisco… as long as you bring a jacket.
Midwestern food doesn’t typically get a lot of love, but Columbus has a thriving restaurant scene and some of the best ice cream shops in the country. The most famous of these is Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream—a brand that is synonymous with re-creating (and elevating) the classic ice cream experience. Though Jeni’s now has eight shops across the country, it’s still most popular in their hometown, and it has 10 locations in Columbus alone.
For the ultimate experience, head to the counter at North Market, where Jeni’s serves up the ice creams, frozen yogurts, and sorbets that made this Midwestern town a major player in the dessert scene. From classics like Green Mint Chip and Salty Caramel to newer varieties like Candied Ginger and Brambleberry Crisp, Jeni’s has something for everyone—along with a classic experience that replicates the ice cream #vibes of our childhoods.
Quaint Santa Barbara, CA is better known for its beaches than for its ice cream—but perhaps that needs to change. With two specialty makers, Rori’s Artisanal Creamery and McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, Santa Barbara is making serious waves in the ice cream space.
Rori’s (named for the founder and ice cream connoisseur behind the shop’s selections) scoops small-batches at the Montecito Country Market and the Santa Barbara Public Market. But the Rori’s ice cream experience doesn’t end there—it also has a factory in Carpinteria (in south Santa Barbara County) where visitors can see the magic behind the brand’s fresh flavors and perfect spoonfuls.
But Rori’s is not without competition—McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams has been serving Santa Barbara cones since 1949. Today it has expanded to a new downtown location (and outlets in Los Angeles), where it's still serving from-scratch flavors like Churros Con Leche, Summer Fruit Cobbler, and Dutchman’s Chocolate. Simple and flavorful, McConnell’s is what ice cream was meant to be.