Summertime is prime time for ice cream, and San Diego is loaded like a giant waffle cone with great places to savor it. In honor of National Ice Cream Day on July 16, here’s the scoop on some favorite places to indulge in cold, creamy delights all around San Diego — from traditional tastes to boldly creative flavors.
With shops in both Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and the North County beach town of Encinitas, Cali Cream has been scooping up happiness since 2016. The place offers more than 55 flavors, from S’mores to Lavender Honeycomb to Cotton Candy Fizz to Cookie Monster. And if all that cold, creamy bliss isn’t quite enough, Cali Cream has a bakery, too, with custom ice cream cakes, pies and more.
This local favorite, with locations in North Park and Point Loma, serves Hawaiian-style ice cream inspired by the flavors of the islands. Hammond’s has concocted some 300 flavors of super-premium ice cream and sorbet, with 32 available at any one time. It’s all handmade and contains 18% butterfat for a ridiculously rich and creamy texture. Among the offerings: Ube (sweet potato), Lava Java and Beer Cream. (Tip: When you’re at the North Park shop, be sure to check out the custom chandelier made of sundae glasses.)
This historic seaside amusement park offers two great choices for ice cream lovers: The Sweet Shoppe, which serves up monster portions of classic flavors; and Beach Treats, scooping out soft-serve ice cream (in house-made waffle cones), shave ice and more, right on the adjoining Mission Beach boardwalk. Just the thing to cool off and fuel up between rides on Belmont Park’s classic Giant Dipper roller coaster.
Salt & Straw
This Oregon-based ice cream purveyor has made a splash with sometimes wildly inventive flavors and a flair for the savory — from Honey Lavender and Arbequina Olive Oil to such seasonal surprises as Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero, part of the summer “Berries Berries Berries” series. The kind of devotion that Salt & Straw (which has four locations around San Diego) has inspired among ice cream aficionados prompted Bon Appétit magazine to say it “may be the only ice cream chainlet in the country to claim the kind of cult following reserved for ’80s movies or indie bands.”
An’s Dry Cleaning
So, about that name: The owners of this locally born company couldn’t bear to change the name of the original business when they opened up shop in North Park, so they just kept it (and have since opened a second location called An’s Hatmakers in Del Mar). It doesn’t seem to have hurt: Not only is An’s Dry Cleaning a neighborhood favorite, but it’s been named among the Top 40 ice cream joints in America by Thrillist, and was the only California nominee among 20 chosen by USA Today to vie for the title of 2023’s 10 Best Ice Cream Shops in America. The shop, which specializes in silky gelato, calls its flavors “fabrics,” and you’ll find them in flavors from traditional strawberry to Irish Coffee and a whole lot more.
Born in Ohio in 1945, Handel’s has become a San Diego sensation, with 10 locations around the county from Oceanside to Chula Vista. Their ice cream, made fresh daily, takes in everything from Monkey Business (banana cake batter ice cream with caramel ripple and brownie pieces) to Horchata to the ever-popular Birthday Cake.
A beloved Normal Heights institution for more than two decades, Mariposa sticks to the basics (no mix-ins or other frills) and makes them great. The family-owned shop offers such sumptuous flavors as Mexican Chocolate, Eggnog and Cappuccino Almond Fudge, and — like most of the places on our list — also offers vegan and gluten-free options.
Born in 2018 as an offshoot of the popular Pop Pie Co. in University Heights, Stella Jean’s has taken flight in a big way since then, with four San Diego-area locations and two more on the way. Their fascinating flavors of small-batch ice cream bring an international flair to the palate, with such creative offerings as Mango Sticky Rice, Thai Tea + Brown Sugar and Tahini + Miso Caramel.
For ice cream desserts with a Korean flair, check out the three San Diego locations (Convoy District, Westfield UTC and Mira Mesa) of this growing chain. SomiSomi’s specialties include Ah-Boong, a goldfish-shaped waffle cone stuffed with your choice of filling plus soft-serve ice cream; and Taiyaki, a warm, fish-shaped waffle with a choice of fillings that include taro, custard and red bean. For a simpler option, you also can get soft-serve in a cup: Flavors include Matcha, Milk Tea and Black Sesame.
It might be the smallest ice-cream spot on our list, but Mr. Trustee — whose single location is a pickup window next to the Cardellino restaurant in Mission Hills — has earned a big reputation among local ice cream connoisseurs. Regulars swear by the Lemon Pistachio Biscotti as well as the signature Cap’n Crunch ice cream. And they appreciate that Mr. Trustee is still going strong after the Trust Restaurant Group opened it at the height of the pandemic to “add some positivity and normalcy back into our day-to-day lives.”
This little corner of ice cream heaven, tucked away in the Lumberyard shopping center in coastal Encinitas, is a variation on a mom-and-pop shop: It was launched in 2017 by a mom/daughter team. All of JoJo’s ice cream is made from scratch using organic dairy products from the Straus Family Creamery, and every order comes with a free house-made cookie. The place offers loads of great flavors, including Malted Cookie Dough and Lemon Berry Shortbread. But do try the Cayenne Sea Salt Caramel: With its blissful mix of heat and sweet, it just might change your life.