Our 9 favorite San Diego gourmet ice cream shops
In San Diego, Labor Day doesn’t equal the end of summer the way it does in other, snowier places. Our hot temperatures can last all the way through October, giving us all those extra days to eat ice cream.
While there are plenty of ice cream options around the county, there are some shops that stand out thanks to creative flavors, natural ingredients and inviting atmospheres. The PACIFIC staff went on a search for the best gourmet ice cream in San Diego and here’s what we found.
(Please let us know if we missed your favorite, we’d love to do a part two.)
An’s Dry Cleaning
An’s Dry Cleaning, which serves Italian gelato, has kept the dry cleaner theme in its décor. There are ironing boards used as tables and clothes hung on the walls, plus flavors are grouped as “fabrics.”
Known for: A semi-confusing name. The gelato shop kept the name of the building’s previous tenant, a dry cleaner, as a nod to its roots. An’s also encourages customers to take “flavor tours” before ordering by trying a sample of each.
Popular flavors: An’s rotates its flavors regularly, but there’s always a mix of vegan and non-vegan flavors. When I went, the flavors offered were vegan Strawberry Meyer Lemon, vegan Coconut Orange Passionfruit, Olive Oil Rosemary and Dulce de Leche Churro.
What I tried: Had to go with the most unique offering on the menu, so the Olive Oil Rosemary was my choice. They topped off the scoop with a sprinkle of Hawaiian black volcanic salt to bring out the rosemary flavor. The ice cream was subtle and not overpowering at all, but the olive oil and rosemary definitely came through.
Prices: Prices range from $5.20 for a short cup to about $12 for a pint.
Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream
Billed as “a San Diego original ice cream,” Cali Cream Homemade Ice Cream prides itself on being homegrown.
Known for: Waffle bowls, easing the indecision between a cone and a cup. The shop is also very dog-friendly and offers free “puppy cones.”
Popular flavors: Cali Cream’s signature flavor is Graham Central Station, a graham cracker-flavored ice cream with chocolate-covered honeycomb crunch. Oreo Dough and Vanilla Caramel Brownie are also customer favorites.
What I tried: A four-flavor flight: four family-sized scoops served in a clear, restaurant to-go box. What it lacked in presentation was made up for it taste — from the chocolate-covered, delicate honeycomb bits in the Lavender Honeycomb to the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough’s chunks of dough that seemed to come straight out of the mixing bowl. The creamy, hefty scoops stayed frozen longer than expected; when they did begin to melt and swirl together, I was relieved to have gotten complimentary flavors.
Prices: Starting at $4.95 for a single flavor ice cream cup; the four-flavor flight is $6.95.
Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream
Hammond’s whopping 300 flavors — offered on a rotating basis — are all made with Tropical Dreams Hawaiian ice cream and sorbet.
Known for: Ice cream flights … with a 32 flight option. Perfect for both Instagram and indecisive eaters.
Popular flavors: Favorites include staples like Chocolate and Tahitian Vanilla, along with more unexpected picks like Chocolate Coconut Macadamia Nut, Lilikoi Sorbet, and Peanut Butter and Guava Jelly.
What I tried: A six-flavor waffle cone flight, served in an acrylic holder. Admittedly, by the time I received my flight, I had forgotten half of the flavors I’d picked ... and the flight is not labeled. Luckily the colors of my sorbet — purple Ube and orange P.O.G. — along with the strong tasting notes of macadamia nut helped ease the detective work. As for taste, the sorbets were equally as refreshing as the ice creams were creamy.
Prices: Flights are available in 2 to 6 cone flights and range in price from $3.99 to $9.50. The 32-flavor option is $34.95.
Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream & Yogurt
Handel’s originated in Ohio in 1945 and is still beloved around the country thanks to the over-the-top variety of flavors.
Known for: Giant portions — you get a lot of ice cream in a single cup. It also doesn’t skimp on mix-ins, you never have to go digging for chocolate chips, nuts or fruit because you get some in every spoonful.
Flavors: SO MANY. Are you in the mood for chocolate? Try Cheesecake with Oreo or Chocolate Raspberry Truffle. Fruit? There’s Orange Pineapple and Banana Cream Pie. Something new? How about Peanut Butter & Jelly or Horchata? There’s also sherbets, ices and vegan options.
What I got: Coffee Chocolate Chip. This is the ice cream I’ll request for my birthday — it’s my new favorite. The coffee is strong but not overpowering and the chocolate chips are actually bites of chocolate, not flecks like you often find in chocolate chip flavors.
Prices: $4.50 for a single scoop, $5.50 for a double. Other treats range from $3 (for a chocolate covered banana) to $7.50 for sundaes.
Where is it? There are locations in Carlsbad, Del Mar, San Marcos and Santee (with a Pacific Beach location coming soon).
Contact: handelsicecream.com; Instagram: handelsicecream
A cozy neighborhood ice cream shop that brings a homey vibe to its coastal setting. Plus, you get a free mini chocolate chip cookie with every ice cream purchase!
Known for: Making everything from scratch: the organic ice cream, those free tiny cookies, the waffle cones and even the add-ins like brownies, honeycomb and fudge.
Flavors: Neighborhood favorites include Cayenne Sea Salt Caramel, Honey Lavender, Lemon Berry Shortbread and Mint Cookies N’ Cream. The shop also has a variety of dairy-free options like Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie. Waffle cones and cookies also come in gluten-free options.
What I got: Bananas Foster, made with brown sugar, roasted bananas, cinnamon and rum. It was perfectly balanced, the fruit flavor wasn’t overpowering but still bold enough to satisfy banana lovers.
Prices: Items range from $5.25 for one scoop to $10.50 for a pint.
Where is it?: 937 South Coast Highway 101, Suite 106, Encinitas
Contact: jojoscreamery.com; Instagram: jojoscreamery
Mr. Trustee Creamery
This cute walk-up window serves cones, cups and pints out of an Italian restaurant in Mission Hills.
Known for: Being the only ice cream shop in the Trust Restaurant Group universe. Mr. Trustee (get it) is located at TRG’s Cardellino, its new-ish Italian restaurant.
Popular flavors: Regular flavors like Honey Vanilla, Strawberry Sorbet, Cookies ‘n’ Cream, Rocky Road and more. Plus, soft serve flavors like Captain Crunch and Malted Milk.
What I tried: The Captain Crunch soft serve struck my fancy. And while it didn’t contain any actual cereal, the familiar flavor was undeniable.
Prices: $5 to $6 for a cup, $6 to $7 for a cone and $10 to $11 for a pint.
Where is it? 4033 Goldfinch St., Mission Hills.
This trendy joint is adorned with ornate wallpaper, concrete floors, wood detailing and bursts of bright color.
Known for: Mutual Friend is adjoined to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters, and the shops share more than just a wall — Mutual Friend is the sister company of Dark Horse. The small batch ice cream shop has limited supply and often sells out of its innovative flavors.
Popular flavors: Mutual Friend’s rotating menu changes every day. Flavors are not available to view online prior to showing up, so make sure you’re in the mood to try something new. Menu items during my visit included Sea Salt Vanilla Bean, Milk & Cookies and Haole Pie.
What I tried: Dark Horse Coffee ice cream, which took the usually mundane flavor to a new level. This is the first coffee ice cream I’ve ever tried that actually tasted like exactly like my morning brew. Unfortunately, the ice cream melted fast in my waffle cone and made a bit of a mess, so next time I’d order a my coffee scoop in a cup instead.
Prices: $3.50 for a kid’s scoop, $4.75 for a single scoop and $6.75 for a double scoop.Pints are $9.75.
Where is it? 811 25th St., Golden Hill
Salt & Straw
A Portland-based chain that mixes unlikely flavors in its organically-sourced ice cream.
Known for: Having lines that go around the block. Completely out-of-the-box ideas like Creepy Crawly Critters (a Halloween ice cream with chocolate-covered crickets and toffee mealworms).
Current flavors: The list is constantly changing, but through the end of September you can find Pear & Blue Cheese (Oregon bartletts with crumbles of Rogue Creamery blue cheese) and Maple & Bacon Streusel (bits of bacon, brown sugar streusel and amber salted maple ice cream).
What I got: Cowboy Coffee Grinds & Bourbon — an ice cream that combines all my favorite flavors! The coffee is strong but nicely balanced with just a hint of bourbon, chewy brownies and fudge. And yes, it’s actually made with coffee grinds so one scoop has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
Prices: $5.75 for a single scoop, $7.15 for a double. Pints are $12.50.
Where is it?: Salt & Straw has two locations: Little Italy and Del Mar’s One Paseo.
Contact: saltandstraw.com; Instagram: saltandstraw
Stella Jean’s Ice Cream
This spot is approachable and fun, with bright Instagrammable art on the walls, including the a mural of the store’s namesake, Stella Jean, a friend’s beloved rescue pitbull.
Known for: Being the sister store to University Heights’ uber-popular Pop Pie Co. and for having unique flavors (Mango Sticky Rice, anyone?).
Popular flavors: Stella Jean’s alternates flavors, but some that are always on the menu include S’mores, Milk & Cookies, Salty Caramel Corn and Matcha Pistachio.
What I tried: The deep purple color intrigued me, so I went with the Ube & Pandesal Toffee. It’s an exotic flavor (ube is a popular Filipino sweet potato commonly used in desserts and pandesal is a Filipino bread), but the taste was simple and sweet — and if you like toffee, you’ll love it.
Prices: Range from $3.75 for a kids scoop to $12 for a pint.
Where is it? 4404 Park Blvd., Ste. B, University Heights (there’s also an Orange County location).
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