19 Popular Ice Cream Chains, Ranked

Ice cream, the quintessential indulgence, offers us a spectrum of experiences: a sweet reward that delights our senses, a nostalgic trip that transports us to fond memories, and a canvas for culinary experimentation. The fact that ice cream has its own national day on July 19 speaks volumes about its enduring popularity. While ice cream chains tantalize us with inventive combinations, most Americans still find comfort in classic flavors such as cookies and cream, vanilla, and chocolate. And while the waffle cone reigns supreme, many of us still prefer to relish our scoops in a simple bowl. 

Though some of our favorites may be the most simple flavors that doesn't mean we don't enjoy some interesting deviations every now and again. Fortunately, ice cream chains abound, offering whimsical ice cream cakes, sophisticated soft-serve, and artisanal, small-batch scoops of homemade ice cream. With such a rich variety of delectable options, the world of ice cream invites us to venture beyond our comfort zones and explore the endless possibilities of flavor.

19. Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen holds a special place in our hearts as one of the first ice cream destinations to capture our taste buds and imagination. Situated in countless small towns, Dairy Queen is often within easy reach, making it an ideal spot for impromptu visits. Leisurely bike rides to a nearby Dairy Queen are a fondly remembered pastime, particularly on sun-drenched summer afternoons when we escape to the air conditioning and frozen goodness within.

Though we still love Dairy Queen's Blizzards, and those ice cream cakes are nothing short of crave-worthy, we recognize that DQ's core ice cream offerings remain relatively basic. Instead, the flavor magic lies in the delightful toppings and mix-ins that elevate these frozen treats into something more memorable. But, as the ice cream landscape has evolved, other chains have emerged and these brands offer innovative and sophisticated frozen treats with unique flavor profiles, artisanal ingredients, and inspired combinations.

18. Tastee Freez

If you're looking for a hot dog and an ice cream, there's no better stop than a Tastee Freez. However, you're not going to find anything extraordinary or ultra-creative here. What you see is basically what you get.

Even still, the Tastee Freez' ice cream options are pretty delicious. You can enjoy a soft-served cone, a Tastee Freez sundae, some specialties, shakes, floats, or even a Freezee. The soft serve comes in vanilla, chocolate, twisted, or even dipped in chocolate. If you want a sundae, you can add any of the usual sticky toppings, like hot fudge, caramel, or strawberry. The Freezees will blend up your soft serve ice cream with a helping of Oreos or Reese's. If you're looking for something a little more classic, the Banana Split or Parfait may be your game.

17. Baskin-Robbins

Burton Baskin and Irvine Robbins are brothers-in-law who created this ice cream giant. In a time when hand-dipped ice cream typically came in basic flavors, the duo had the delicious idea to offer 31 flavors, and the Baskin-Robbins concept was born. Of course, flavors have come and gone, and there have been far more than 31 flavors offered at these ice cream establishments; the number is closer to 1,300 flavors.

And while we love a scoop of Pralines' n Cream, Baskin-Robbins just isn't one of our favorite establishments. More than anything, it has to do with the feeling of stepping into one of these ice cream shops. You're immediately greeted with a few prominent cases filled with ice creams and plenty of toppings — but it feels outdated. The branding needs updating, and the ice cream shops need to feel less like you are walking into the grocery store's freezer aisle.

16. Twistee Treat

Twistee Treat is one of the more distinctive ice cream spots you will find because the roof of these little ice cream spots is twisted to look like the soft serve ice cream sold inside, and it's been that way since 1983. On the menu, you will find plenty of ice cream treats to dress up the vast collection of flavors. You can get everything from traditional chocolate to cheesecake. Plus, for a sundae, you can add different toppings to make your twisted treat extra special.

The downfall of Twistee Treat is that, in terms of strictly ice cream, it offers soft serve rather than homemade or hand-scooped. That said, there are a few options featuring soft serve ice cream not in a cup or cone, like a waffle taco. You'll find this ice cream spot throughout Florida and in a couple of Texas locations, so it also has limited availability for most of the country. 

15. Marble Slab Creamery

Marble Slab Creamery and Cold Stone Creamery are rather similar in concept, but Cold Stone Creamery has some limitations that Marble Slab Creamery does not. For instance, when mixing in additions to your ice cream, Marble Slab Creamery has unlimited free options. The company is big on allowing your imagination to run wild, so this premise makes sense with its business model. Marble Slab Creamery also opened in 1983, a few years before the first Cold Stone.

However, while it may have been the original, we wish the Marble Slab Creamery Standard featured favorite mix-ins the way Cold Stone does. We appreciate the opportunity to explore and try different mix-ins, but sometimes, you want to pick something out rather than create an ice cream flavor.

14. Friendly's

One thing is for sure when it comes to the truth about Friendly's: If you somehow make it out without trying ice cream, you did it wrong. After all, even with a complete lunch and dinner menu featuring burgers, pasta, salads, and other sandwiches, there is also a substantial dessert menu. 

Check out the Retro Royal Banana Split with three scoops of ice cream, split banana, whipped cream, and delicious toppings for a classic offering. Of course, if you're going for something a little smaller, no one would judge you for ordering a kid's Monster Mash Sundae. After all, it's made to look like a cute little monster and makes an adorable photo on social media. Unfortunately, Friendly's has fallen on some hard times and is rather hard to find outside of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. 

13. Jeremiah Italian Ice

Sometimes when craving ice cream you don't want simply a dairy treat. That's when Jeremiah Italian Ice is an outstanding option. This ice cream shop all started back in 1988 when the founder, Jeremy Litwack sold Italian ice out of a pushcart parked in front of the Philadelphia Mint. From there, his operation grew until he opened his first store outside of Orlando in Winter Park, Florida. Now, you can find Jeremiah's Italian Ice throughout the south. 

Though you can order simple ice cream or Italian ice, we are big fans of the Gelati. This is a layered treat of Italian ice and soft serve ice cream stacked on top of one another. Though the soft serve flavors are limited to vanilla, chocolate, or swirl, there are 40 different kinds of Italian ice. While delicious, the biggest downfall of Jeremiah's Italian Ice is that it isn't available throughout the country. Plus, the soft-serve flavors are rather limited. This is a place that joins two different kinds of cold desserts rather than exclusively focusing on ice cream. 

12. Cold Stone Creamery

Donald and Susan Sutherland are Cold Stone Creamery's husband and wife team. It all started in 1988 when the duo opened their first ice cream shop in Tempe, Arizona. There, they worked hard, for many months, sometimes making only $6 a day. Then, when a local newspaper hailed the small shop as having some of the best ice cream in town, everything changed, and it began growing into the popular ice cream establishment it is today, according to Oprah Daily.

While other ice cream shops have pre-mixed ice cream flavors with customization limited to toppings, Cold Stone Creamery allows you to choose ingredients to mix into the base ice cream. It's all combined on some frozen Granite Stone right in front of you. One of our favorite flavors is Cheesecake Fantasy with cheesecake ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, blueberries, and berries. Unfortunately, due to the mixing of the ice cream and depending on the ice cream mixer, the flavors can taste different each time you go. 

11. Graeter's

The most significant difference between Graeter's and other ice cream companies is the way Graeter's produces Its ice cream. Using French Pot Freezers, Graeter's creates an ice cream that tastes and feels unique and delicious. Unfortunately, while every ice cream lover would surely enjoy Graeter's, it is only available in midwestern locations.

Graeter's is also known for the way it incorporates chocolate into the ice cream. Rather than using pre-cut chips, it crunches entire chocolate bars into the mixing and churning process. Perhaps it's no surprise then that the ice cream shops offer an entire collection of chocolate chip flavors. You can get these chocolate chips in a fruity offering like black cherry chocolate chip, or something richer like a salted caramel chocolate chip.

10. Häagen-Dazs

When Reuben and Rose Mattus started their ice cream company in 1960, it all began with three flavors: chocolate, vanilla, and coffee. It wasn't until 1966 that strawberry joined the other Häagen-Dazs flavors. Today, if you've spent any time in an ice cream aisle, there's a good chance that you've seen Häagen-Dazs in those delicious pints, but that isn't the only place to find this delightful ice cream. You'll also find it across the country at Häagen-Dazs' ice cream shops.

The shops the typical sundaes and milkshakes most ice cream parlors offer, but there's also a special offering that puts a whole new spin on ice cream mixed with toppings. While other ice cream shops take ingredients and mix them in with ice cream till everything is very blended, Häagen-Dazs puts his items together without mixing them. This way, the individual components get to shine. These treats are called Dazzlers, and they come in many different flavors.

9. Bruster's

Although we love an ice cream shop that serves soft-serve ice cream, sometimes you really long for old-fashioned ice cream that feels like it was just made. That is the kind of experience you can expect from Bruster's. Here, the shops make each flavor offered in-store and keep a rotating collection of ice cream on hand. 

We love the cold brew brownie flavor that includes delicious chunks of that chocolatey dessert and even offers a little pick me up with the coffee ice cream. There are also plenty of ways you can dress up leaves ice creams in the form of sundaes, splits, and even Blasts, a mix between a milkshake and a sundae. While we love the flavor rotation, it does mean that you run the risk of your beloved flavor not always being available. 

8. Abbott's Frozen Custard

When it comes to frozen custard, if you have Abbott's near you, look no further. Though this delicious spot has somewhat limited locations, you'll find frozen custard that is smooth and ultra-creamy.

Since the first Abbott's Frozen Custard opened in 1926 on Charlotte Beach near Lake Ontario, with Arthur Abbott at the helm, it's been a delicious ice cream destination on the east coast. We especially love the Chocolate Almond Custard, but there is also a slew of other decadent sundaes on the menu. If you prefer to drink your ice cream, check out the delicious milkshakes, but be warned: They can be very thick, so you may want to give them a little time to melt just a little before attempting to drink.

7. Culver's

If you've spent more than a few hours in Wisconsin, chances are good that you've come across a Culver's. This fast food chain is well known for its delicious ButterBurgers and unique frozen custard. Each day, the various locations offer a flavor of the day, but you can also order concrete mixers and other tasty sundaes. The Turtle Sundae, for example, is a delightful mix of vanilla custard, hot fudge, caramel, pecans, and, of course, a cherry.

Though we love a dish of custard and a burger, the biggest downfall of Culver's is that it isn't just a custard joint. Since it also serves food, that often takes priority and makes your wait for a custard order longer. Other ice cream chains that feature just ice cream have the benefit of offering ice cream quicker than Culver's often can.

6. Carvel

When it comes to odd cakes, Carvel might be your very best choice. These ice cream shops also offer soft serve and scooped ice cream in various flavors. Unfortunately, not all the Carvel locations carry all flavors, so you may be limited in your choices. But, what sets this ice cream stop apart from others is its ridiculous cake offerings. 

The Fudgie the Whale cake, for example, is so popular, it has its own registered trademark. The original version of this one is shaped like a whale with multiple layers of chocolate and vanilla with a layer of Carvel's popular Crunchies in the middle. Of course, you can customize this with other flavors and a custom message if you wish. The Cookie Puss is another ridiculously silly cake with the same general construction but in a different shape and decorations that are, if we're being honest, holy absurd and hilarious. 

5. Oberweis

Oberweis crafts its stores to feel like the local neighborhood market you might stop for a jug of milk. At the dairy and ice cream stores, you can pick up any Dairy offerings, including ice cream. You can even get a homemade waffle cone made fresh each day. Up for a game of chess? Several of the tables even have built-in chess boards ready for you to play. Though delicious, Oberweis is only located throughout the Midwest, including Chicago and its surrounding areas, St Louis, Indiana, and Michigan. 

For a company primarily known for its milk, Oberweis has a delightful array of ice creams, including more interesting ones like Espresso Caramel Chip and even the very traditional vanilla. And you just know these ice cream shops are going to create a delicious milkshake. We had the recommended Strawberry Shortcake Shake. 

4. Ghirardelli

If you are looking for a chocolate shop that is also a delicious ice cream shop, look no further than Ghirardelli. Here, you will find plenty of sundae options doused and that delectable Ghirardelli chocolate. Plus, many of the sundae options feature Ghirardelli chocolate squares, so you get to enjoy th best of both worlds.

Some of our favorite sundaes from a Ghirardelli ice cream shop include a nice mix of caramel and chocolate. Unfortunately, with the flavors available, there aren't many options for people that don't enjoy chocolatey ice cream. Plus, they're very few places around the country to find a Ghirardelli ice cream shop. Currently, there are only 14 Ghirardelli locations that offer ice cream. That said, if you are visiting Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida, you will find a Ghirardelli spot in both vacation destinations. 

3. Ben & Jerry's

In addition to the many delicious pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream you'll find at the grocery store, you'll also find ice cream shops around the country. In 1978, Ben & Jerry's got its start with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in Burlington, Vermont, and began the legacy of the many delicious Ben & Jerry ice cream flavors.

There are plenty of delicious flavors to choose from, but we love the unique Chunky Monkey with banana ice cream and fudge chunks. Honestly, the only downfall with falling in love with a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor is that you run the risk of it being discontinued. In fact, there's a whole Flavor Graveyard devoted to flavors that have come and gone. 

2. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

Founded by Jeni Britton, Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream offers ice cream with creative combinations that make the ice cream feel extra special. You'll notice that these ice creams have a distinctly smooth feel that will also give off a little buttercream feel. You can find Jeni's in grocery freezers as well as in scoop shops around the county. 

We love that Jeni's creates awesome collaborations too. Recently, for example, it partnered with the popular Apple TV show "Ted Lasso," to offer a flavor called Biscuits with the Boss, a nod to a running story throughout the show where the show's titular character makes homemade biscuits for his boss to help win her over. The only downside here is that since this is premium ice cream, it is a little pricey. 

1. Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw's scoop shops are serving up some of our favorite ice creams. Known for its extraordinary flavors that ride that line between unique and strange, you often find that the flavors taste precisely as the name calls them but, somehow, make sense as ice cream. For instance, the Salty Donut Guava and Cheese found in Florida is perfectly tart, sweet, fried, and even a little fruity. The guava pieces and donuts throughout will make you wonder if you can have ice cream for breakfast. With so many flavors that use ingredients not typical to ice cream, you'll love that Salt & Straw offers samples of anything you want. This way, you can hone in on that perfect flavor.

If you're far from a scoop shop, you can also order ice cream to be delivered to your home. Plus, when you select pints to be shipped to your home, you have a huge range of flavors to choose from, even bigger than you find in the scoop shops.