It’s summer: The season of picking ticks off your dog, spending way too much time with your extended family, and looking like you swam to work when really you just rode your bike. But if the sweatiest season has an upside, it’s this: Ice cream becomes socially acceptable to eat for any (and all) meals. In fact, for these few glorious months, ice cream becomes its own food group.
But not just any ice cream will do. Let’s be clear: This is a guide to the best ice cream shops in America. No frozen yogurt or low-fat dairy desserts allowed. This is about tasty, creamy, full-of-fat and oh-so-wonderful ice cream.
Boulder, Denver, and Around Colorado’s Front Range
Sweet Cow makes its ice cream from locally sourced ingredients in small batches with to-die-for flavors like honey with mint, PB&J, and banana and Nutella. On particularly hot days, duck in for a scoop of Gatorade sorbet, which is basically a health food. Find details on Sweet Cow’s six locations and roving truck here.
South Dennis, Massachusetts
In our book, good ice cream can be a religious experience, and at Sundae School, it is. Since the 1970s, this family-owned shop has been serving super-high-quality scoops. All fruit flavors are made from fresh fruit. The not-to-be-missed menu items are the fruit sundaes, which mix scoops of ice cream with fresh fruit and are topped with homemade whipped cream and a locally grown cherry.
Durham, North Carolina
When making small-batch ice cream, less can definitely be more. That’s the case at the Parlour, where there are only a handful of flavors each day, but the flavors are unforgettable. Try the lavender vanilla or the blueberry buttermilk. If you want something richer, opt for the tiramisu, made with real mascarpone and ladyfingers.
This is a Boston-area institution, and although J.P. Licks also serves frozen yogurt, we’re putting it on this list because it is just that good. The shop is known for big, bold flavors—expect loads of cookie bits in the cookies and cream and plenty of tang in the strawberry rhubarb. One other thing that makes this place so lovable is that it’s extremely sensitive to dietary restrictions. Gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan flavors are all available and noted as such on the menu.
Brooklyn, New York
Organic, grass-fed milk gets mixed into unique flavors like Snap, Mallow, Pop (think Rice Krispy treat somehow made into ice cream) and Gooey Butter Cake. People who visit Ample Hills are often so enthralled that they want to take it back home with them—so now the company ships nationwide. But standing in line surrounded by a mix of humanity on a hot summer night in Brooklyn is part of the experience, so if you can make it in person, go.
Dave and Andy’s
Homemade waffle cones and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that’s more cookie dough than anything else? Yes please. This Pittsburgh institution makes great ice cream cakes, shakes, and sundaes. FYI, Dave and Andy’s is cash only, so come prepared.
Kopp’s Frozen Custard
If you’ve never had frozen custard, get thyself to America’s Dairyland, stat. Frozen custard has more eggs than regular ice cream and gets less air beaten into it during the churning process. The end product is deliciously dense and smooth—like soft serve on steroids. Kopp’s is the best place to get the quintessential frozen custard experience. You can choose from chocolate, vanilla, or the rotating flavor of the day. Whatever you opt for, we personally guarantee you will love it.
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream
Sourcing is important to Molly Moon’s, and everything from the milk to the strawberries and mint comes with its very own origin story. Where a lot of our favorite shops rely on classic flavors—like cookies and cream—Molly Moon goes out on a limb with options like Earl Grey, German chocolate cake, and vegan Thai tea. Not sure what to get? This is Seattle, so you can’t go wrong with a double scoop of Stumptown coffee.
Salt and Straw gets a lot of the love in Portland, and it’s really great, so, by all means go there. But Ruby Jewel’s three shops deserve a visit, too. The ice cream is fabulous, but the ice cream sandwiches—made with homemade cookies—are the kind of thing you find yourself craving long after you’ve left the city. In summer, reach for the brown sugar cookies wrapped around Oregon strawberry ice cream or the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with butterscotch ice cream.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Look, hipster places that source milk from cows that only listen to the National and other underground bands have their place. But so too do iconic old-school spots like Frozen Gold. For years, families have made this stand an after-beach tradition, and while it is neither fancy nor hip, it is delicious. The soft serve stirs something deep within our nostalgic hearts. Get yours dipped in chocolate for the ultimate trip down memory lane.
This is big sky and big scoop country. Portions at Big Dipper are large, prices are reasonable, and if you’re struggling to choose just one flavor, servers will “split” a scoop for you. Don’t miss the huckleberry flavor, though the cardamom is also wonderful.
Pay by the ounce means you can get as big or small of a scoop as you’d like—but honestly, we think you’ll want to go big at Clumpies. There’s a regular cast of flavors with all the things you might expect, plus rotating options like carrot cake, coconut lime sorbet, and mint julep.
Bay Area, California
Leave it to the Bay Area to turn ice cream into a tech experience. Place your order at Smitten, and a “brrrrista” (yeah, we rolled our eyes too) pours an ice cream base into a machine that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze your scoop. The idea is that the just-frozen product is smoother and creamier than something that has ice crystals from a week ago embedded in it. But like everything in the Bay Area, you will pay a premium.
Mariposa Ice Cream
San Diego, California
If Smitten is one extreme, Mariposa is the other. This shop proudly boasts that its ice cream is so good it needs no gimmicks or trendy mix-ins. Flavors are basic, like banana walnut and peach, and there are plenty to choose from. We also adore that Mariposa makes its own hot fudge and dulce de leche—something too few shops do.