Ice cream—even in 65-degree weather—is an essential part of summer…unless you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or just looking to cut back on your daily dairy intake (and giving up cheese is not an option). Lucky for us, both mega-chains and local shops have upped their milk-free ice cream game, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Many of them are so good that even die-hard dairy lovers are coming back for more. Here’s the scoop on the best spots around town for ice-cold nondairy treats.
8 SF Scoop Shops Where the Vegan Ice Cream Is as Good as the Real Thing
Owner Erin Lang’s Hawaiian upbringing makes its way into Garden Creamery’s Polynesian-inspired sweets, all made from fresh, handpicked produce and herbs sourced from local farms. Flavors like Thai tea, Kona coffee and orange creamsicle are just some of the creative dairy-free coconut-milk sorbets that we find ourselves daydreaming about. Stop by the Mission scoop shop, check the Facebook page to find the creamery’s roving truck, or if you’re around Civic Center, grab an icy treat at the café in the Asian Art Museum.
3566 20th St.; gardencreamery.com
Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery
Ari and Andrew Cohen are just two dudes with special dietary restrictions who love whipping up creamy, rich, delicious ice cream made without soy, dairy and gluten. So how do they do it? It all starts with cashews, which they grind into a powder, mix with water, flavor with all-natural ingredients and then churn on-site. The result: a taste and texture like gelato with the creaminess of full-dairy ice cream. One scoop of caramel almond crunch or chocolate orange chip and you’ll go nuts for the stuff too.
Multiple locations; mrdewies.com
Ice Cream Bar & The Castro Fountain
These two old-fashioned soda fountains serve up ice cream churned on-site using local, organic dairy, but owner Juliet Pries makes sure to offer three dairy-free options at each of her sweet shops. Look for coconut milk–based dark chocolate almond and dark chocolate sorbet, along with seasonal flavors like apricot-raspberry. Pries’s all-time favorite flavor she’s ever made (dairy or non) is—wait for it—coconut milk maple pecan, and it’s currently being scooped at the Castro Fountain.
815 Cole St., theicecreambarsf.com; 554 Castro St., thecastrofountain.com
Little Giant Ice Cream
This Oakland original bills itself as the “smallest scoop shop in America,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not big on taste. The menu of 12 rotating flavors always includes a few coconut- and almond-based options, like green tea matcha and Thai green curry (it’s better than it sounds). And if there’s a flavor you’re dying to try, drop the staff a note—they love crowdsourcing new ideas.
1951 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; littlegianticecream.
Dairy fanatics can’t get enough of Loving Cup’s all-natural fro-yo, but now vegans and the lactose intolerant can get in on all the creamy goodness with the homemade “faux-yo.” The local shop uses frozen bananas as its base, which thicken up when swirled through the churning machines. Top off a cup with your choice of mix-ins and you’ve got an indulgent summer treat that might actually count as a fruit serving.
Multiple locations; lovingcup.com
Now the dairy-free among us can finally build the ice cream sandwich of their dreams. This Berkeley-born chain offers some great vegan options. First, choose a vegan cookie base—Chocolate Banana Bliss, Fudging Awesome or Maple Oatmeal Spice. Then pick a plant-based ice cream, with a choice of flavors like soy blueberry, soy strawberry and soy mint chocolate chip. Sprinkle on some toppings for the ultimate layered confection.
Multiple locations; creamnation.com
This quirky local chain might be best known for its lemon cookie ice cream (not vegan-friendly, unfortunately), but Three Twins always tries to offer at least one vegan sorbet or one rice milk ice cream at each of its scoop shops. Sadly, the Fillmore location has closed, but call ahead to see what flavors are on tap at the Larkspur, Berkeley and Napa outposts. And the next time you’re flying out of Terminal 1 at SFO, be sure to grab a scoop before takeoff.
Multiple locations; threetwinsicecream.
Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s might be known for its crazy, dairy-ful concoctions like Chubby Hubby and New York Super Fudge Chunk, but the Vermont-bred mega-chain now offers 12 nondairy options, mostly by the pint. Scoop shops serve up at least two almond milk–based flavors by the cone or cup, our personal favorite being the Coconut Almond Fudge Chip—so creamy and delicious that non-vegans might consider converting.
Multiple locations; benjerry.com