Because in Seattle, ice cream is the thing year round!
So you’re visiting Seattle and you want to get some great ice cream while you’re here? Great! There’s just one awesome problem: Seattle has a ton of ice cream. And since you’re probably only visiting for a few days, I’m betting you want the ice cream that’s right for you.
Want the quick answer? Head to Capitol Hill. They have most of the best ice cream options in town in a super small area, including vegan and gluten-free options, so you should be able to find something awesome for your ice cream dreams. This video covers them all, though sadly the Cookie Counter Cap Hill location has since closed (they’re still open in Greenwood):
If you need more help than that, I’ve made this sort-of personality quiz about most of the local makers. Hopefully this’ll steer you towards that perfect scoop!
Are you vegan or lactose intolerant/sensitive?
Then you’ve got two options, depending on what type of ice cream you’re after. (As a heads up, all ice cream stores in Seattle offer some kind of vegan option. These are just the all vegan shops.)
You want really adorable sundaes and maybe some cookies with your retro ice cream flavors? Check out the options at Cookie Counter.
I freaking adore Cookie Counter. I may not be vegan, but I love a shop that owns its aesthetic and just runs with it. It’s retro-cute, down to the adorable metal mugs and the sprinkles. They’re serving coconut based ice cream with super classic flavors like mint chip and strawberry, and you can even get vegan magic shell!
It is also the only vegan sundae shop in town – while Shug’s offers vegan sorbet and ice creams, most of the options for toppings are decidedly not vegan. Cookie Counter may be far in the reaches of Phinney/Greenwood, but for pastel school time aesthetic with the cutest sundaes you can hold in the palm of your hand, it’s worth the trip.
Want of the moment, seasonal flavors? Maybe something with rose or charcoal? Frankie & Jo’s.
Frankie & Jo’s is plant based ice cream, out of the minds of Autumn Martin (Hot Cakes) and Kari Brunson (Juicebox). They’re out to put as much flavor as possible into the ice cream, as seasonally sourced as possible. And a bunch of the flavors have tasted like epic smoothies and I’m here for that.
(I’m still sad the Concord Grape sorbet didn’t return this year. It was amazing.)
As a heads up they have massive lines, so go early. A few spots in town (like Lululemon U-Village of all places) sell the pints, which is much, much easier to grab.
The only comment I have is that they regularly sell charcoal products, and many folks still don’t understand charcoal’s interactions with medications. (Charcoal binds to everything it touches. So if there’s medication in your stomach when you eat charcoal caramel, you won’t get the right dose that day.) So if you’re on any medications you should skip that and eat everything else?
Got kids in tow (or feel like a kid at heart)?
This is probably the most prolific option, but if you want cute sundaes and bold, bright ice cream flavors, that’s what’s here. No subtlety, but a lot of hot fudge and good flavors.
You want to feel like a kid again: Molly Moon’s
Molly Moon’s is the quintessential Seattle ice cream at this point. And it’s for good reason: she’s got eight stores all over town, rallies for great causes (including pay transparency and supporting small farmers), and also happens to make really solid ice cream flavors. They’re mainly classic with a small twist, like salted caramel or yeti (vanilla ice cream with granola, chocolate chunks, and caramel swirl).
What to get: the Molly’s Favorite sundae: a scoop each of melted chocolate and salted caramel ice cream, with hot fudge, candied hazelnuts, whipped cream, and a cherry on top. It’s the kind of ice cream comfort you want on a bad day, and the hazelnuts add a lovely crunch to bring it all together. Order the kid’s version, because those sundaes are massive.
And if you can’t decide, you can always get the Molly’s Flight, which has a mini scoop of every flavor they have in stock. (It’s surprisingly doable! I’d just get a topping or two to go with it.)
As a heads up the Cap Hill location has some of the worst lines for ice cream in town in the summer. Go early, or pick a different location.
You want to feel like a kid again, but maybe with some beer: Bluebird Microcreamery
Bluebird feels the most old school, down to the marble countertop and the super retro register. The ice cream is solid with flavors like snickerdoodle and CB’s nuts, done in a style very similar to Molly Moon’s – thick and dense and just a bit beyond classic flavors. Their lineup is pretty consistent, so if you’re looking for a certain flavor you should be in luck.
If you’re a beer fan, this is the ice cream spot for you. They are a microbrewery, and have been making their own brews since they began. And while I don’t drink, I do love their root beers, which are bold with a good amount of bite. If the snickerdoodle soda ever returns get it. It’s a warming variation on cream soda and is freaking awesome. Basically this is the spot to sip, drink or eat ice cream, and watch all the Phinney pups walk by.
Though I’m still not over the loss of chocolate pudding ice cream, one of the best chocolate ice creams to grace the Seattle scene. I’m sure they’ll come out with something more epic in the future.
You want to feel like a kid again, but with pinball: Full Tilt
The first thing you’ll notice are the pinball machines, which take over a whole wall of the Ballard store. They’re just amazing. It’s like being in the Pinball Museum only while ordering a scoop or two.
The flavors are very kid-and-beer friendly, harkening back to the days of sharing a pint of ice cream with friends after school. The flavors aren’t super bold, more creamy than intense, but it works for the space. You’re there to hang out and eat some ice cream.
You want ice cream that tastes like a cupcake: Cupcake Royale
Cupcake Royale makes ice cream! I know, it surprised me too when it launched. A cupcake shop selling ice cream? Somehow, it works.
The flavors are bright and on the sweet side, and super kid friendly. Last time I was there I really liked the Oregon Strawberry, which tasted sweet in a strawberry jam sort of way.
You want nicer Dairy Queen: Old School Frozen Custard
Seriously, that’s it. It’s super smooth frozen custard that tastes like gourmet Dairy Queen. You can’t go wrong with that.
Go for a scoop of whatever flavor tastes the best. There’s usually a daily flavor, which they post on their calendar and online.
You want exactly the ice cream your grandparents shared with you when you were a kid: Husky Deli
This is literally your grandparents’s ice cream place – to the point where I met people bringing their grandkids for their first scoop.
Tucked inside Husky Deli, the ice cream counter has a ton of flavors ranging from horchata to Husky flake (vanilla with chocolate flakes), all in that super old school style. It reminds me a lot of the now-gone Thenos Dairy, only it’s in West Seattle rather than hoofing it to Snohomish.
Best of all, they have both mini scoops *and* mini waffle cones. They’re adorable!
You want to feel like a kid by eating a sundae the size of your head: Shug’s Soda Fountain
I hesitated to include Shug’s because while they’re totally awesome, they’re slinging Lopez Island Creamery ice cream, not stuff they’re making in house. And if I included them, should I include Nana’s Green Tea and Matcha Cafe Maiko, which make soft serve sundaes? Well I decided to include Shug’s for two reasons: first, they are the best sundae shop in town. Second, they’re the only local source for scoops of Lopez Island without buying a pint, and I swear there’s some magic in getting it from Shug’s rather than PCC. The ice cream is softer, almost stretchy sometimes, and fluffy retro delightfulness with some really lovely flavors.
Also really, they’re sundaes the size of your head. Just get one.
(Pro tip: if you’re intimidated by the large size, you can request a smaller sundae. They may not be in as cute of a glass, but they’ll definitely be just as delicious.)
You want artisanal ice cream, dang it.
You want fresh off the farm flavors: Kurt Farm Shop
Kurt and his team have a farm. Everything you see? Is coming from their farm. Sometimes Kurt just wanders his property until he gets inspired. The flavors themselves all have an earthy rustic quality to them, like you’re getting the depths of what that flavor can become.
The flavor to get when it’s in season for the summer: lemon verbena. Somehow the herb is super fresh and bright in ice cream form, minty and lemony and sweet. It feels like you’re on a porch feeling comfy, watching the sunset, in ice cream form.
Though the only topping Kurt Farm Shop has is hot fudge. I think you’ll be okay with that – it’s really good hot fudge.
You want fresh off the farm flavors done fancy: Parfait
Basically, if you like Kurt Farm Shop but you want the level of toppings and flavor options you’d have at Molly Moon’s, this is your spot. Instead of working out of one farm, they’re working with a bunch; and their goal is to highlight seasonal flavors as much as possible.
What I love about Parfait is just how accurate their flavors can taste. When I was there over the summer I tried their apricot sorbet, which tasted exactly like eating a fresh fuzzy apricot, only frozen, and I loved it. And they add nibs to their ice cream, which I’m always in for.
You want geeky ice cream done deliciously: Sweet Alchemy
I wasn’t sure where to include Sweet Alchemy. This place is both super kid friendly, pumping out cookie-loaded ice cream (helllooooo Darkside) and secret sundaes, *and* it’s great for food geeks with options like golden milk and tons of experimental flavors.
It’s clearly the work of a food geek who wants to see what can happen with flavors within ice cream, and it makes me super happy. (Once the light rail goes to the U-District proper I may go here every week.)
They did recently expand to Ballard – and sharing space with Mighty-O, which means donut ice cream collaborations! Nice.
You want some ube in your ice cream: Central District Ice Cream Company
Ube? Hibiscus? Roasted marshmallow? Want all of that and more in your ice cream? You’re going to CD.
The ice cream is actually sold inside Happy Grillmore, so it can be easy to miss the first time you visit. But it’s a chill area over by Central Smoke and the Seattle University soccer field, with actual parking (if you’re not there on a game day). And they’ll make the ice cream into milkshakes! Bonus!
They change their flavors monthly, so go fast if something catches your eye.
You really wanted to go to Portland: Salt & Straw
Yes, they make amazing, ridiculous flavors, and they collaborate with local makers. And I adore their ice cream! (Heck, I went to their Seattle opening! And tried to convince them to bring Wiz Bang Bar up here!) But at the end of the day it’s a Portland chain – and the only place on this list that’s not a local shop or chainlet.
Is that a bad thing? Nope! I’d just rather acknowledge that it’s doing its own Seattle-Portland flair and attracting that kind of crowd. And their flavors are solid, especially if you’re feeling extra adventurous.
I really liked their chocolate series when they launched, which included options from local makers Fran’s, Intrigue Chocolate, and more. I hope they come back in the fall or winter!
That being said, their lines can be worse than Molly Moon’s Cap Hill if you go after about 1 pm. Go early and reap the rewards!