We’re of the opinion that once summer reaches its peak, there’s no better way to sample a city’s local food scene than by eating as much ice cream as possible. In some of our favorite destinations around the country, the ice cream scene is seriously heating up, taking creative ingredients and local food trends and freezing them up for long lines of happy customers. Here are our favorite places to cool off and treat yourself across the U.S.A. this summer.
Hot Richmond summers call for a scoop or two of artisanal ice cream from Gelati Celasti. With drool-worthy flavors like birthday cake (made with actual cake mix!) and the popular chocolate decadence, it’s easy to see why this joint is a local favorite and why most people opt to mix and match their cones. They have 24 house favorite flavors, adding a rotation of seasonal delights throughout the year, so it’s perfectly OK if you have to make multiple visits to Gelati Celasti during your trip to Richmond.
San Diego, CA
If you’re looking for the most ridiculously indulgent treat you can imagine, look no further than The Sugar Factory in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter (conveniently close to HI San Diego Downtown hostel, so you don’t have to go far for the sugar rush). The eatery serves a full food menu, but it’s wise to save your appetite for the ice cream sandwiches or, if you’ve got a sweet-toothed travel buddy, the sundaes for two. Need a new travel goal? See if you can make 11 new friends at the hostel so you can all try the King Kong Sundae, which serves 12 and has 24 scoops of ice cream with all the toppings you can dream of.
While you’re exploring the neighborhoods of D.C., pop into Dolci Gelati in trendy Shaw for artisanal gelato and ice cream. Flavors range from American classics like cookies and cream and rum raisin, to Italian scoops of espresso and Amarena cherry. Plus, they have vegan options and experimental flavors like raspberry, red beets, and basil. Keep an eye on Dolce Gelati’s social media feeds for daily special flavors, and look out for the food truck roaming the D.C. streets for your scoop on the go.
Salt & Straw has become something of a lines-out-the-door phenomenon all over the west coast in recent years, but it started its reign in food-obsessed Portland, and it’s still as popular there as ever. Salt & Straw takes the term “farm-to-cone” seriously, incorporating summertime farmers’ market produce into its ice creams seasonally, and uses local Pacific Northwest coffees, chocolates, and more in its year-round flavors. Pick up a scoop (or three) in some of Portland’s coolest neighborhoods: their Southeast shop is an easy walk from HI Portland Hawhtorne hostel, while their Northwest location is on uber-hip Alberta Ave.
San Francisco, CA
For a long time, there were two types of San Franciscans: those who loved Bi-Rite ice cream, and those who were hardcore Humphry Slocombe fans. Over the last few years, the city’s had a few more scoop shops enter into the running, including Smitten (which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze your flavors while you wait) and Portland’s own Salt & Straw.
But we’re still partial to Humphry Slocombe for its creamy textures, to-die-for flavors (think Vietnamese coffee, black sesame, and Harvey Milk & honey grahams), and outrageous toppings (gooey bourbon caramel, anyone?). You’re also likely to find one or two “wait, how is this delicious?” ice cream flavors here too, like cornbread & jalapeno or candy cap mushroom. Grab a cone or a cup at the Ferry Building, or stop their original shop in the Mission District after your neighborhood walking tour with one of HI’s three San Francisco hostels.
Honorable mention goes to Hometown Creamery, a small family-owned shop near Golden Gate Park with homemade flavors ranging from early grey & lavender, to peanut butter fudge.
J.P. Licks is as Boston as it gets: the name even references Jamaica Plain, the Boston neighborhood where the creamery started back in 1981. The original shop has since grown to a small local chain, but at each location you’ll find a similar eclectic décor (usually featuring a lot of pink and pieces of cow-themed art) and a huge line-up of flavors. You’ll always find their twists on traditional favorites like cookie dough, mint chip, and rum raisin, plus seasonal concoctions like fresh peach and pineapple featuring whatever’s good right this minute.
New York City
NYC is an enormous city, and it’s one of the world’s best food destinations, so it’s tough to narrow down the competition. But Chinatown Ice Cream Factory has been around for decades, making it an unofficial local landmark and one of the city’s longtime favorite scoop shops. Stop by its newest location in the Essex Market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for ice cream flavored with Chinese almond cookies, red beans, or lychees. Heading up to Flushing, Queens to stuff yourself silly on every kind of Asian food imaginable? Good news: you can grab their cones there, too.
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