Pit Stops: Best Ice Cream

Gifford's "Grape Nut" Ice Cream

As if you needed an excuse, July is National Ice Cream Month. There’s something beyond sweet about the combination of ice cream, summer and a road trip. Nostalgia. Indulgence. No one crying or whining about sitting in the car. Chocolate. You get the idea.

I asked readers and expert tasters to give me their picks for ice cream shops worthy of a pit stop. Worthy of wasting an hour of daylight, or of extending a trip by an hour, if necessary. Comment or email your favorites and we’ll stop by and try them out for the list next year!

Most Historical:

  • Philadelphia: Franklin Fountain — An old-fashioned ice cream parlor with a wide variety of flavors, some new and hip and some old standards. Readers’ favorite flavors? Maple Walnut, Butter Pecan, Peanut Butter and Banana.

Most Popular:

  • Traverse City, MI: Moomers Homemade Ice Cream — With the most reader votes, Moomers takes the most popular prize. They’ve even been on Good Morning America! Readers’ favorite flavors include Rocky Road, Black Cherry, Cherries Moobilee and SuperMoo.
  • Best Adult Flavors:
    Fort Collins, CO
    : Walrus Ice Cream — Guinness, Jack Daniels Chocolate Chip and Rocky Bomb (made with New Belgium’s Sunshine Wheat Beer) are a few of the more adult flavors on the menu. Winner of Fort Collins’ Best Ice Cream for 11 years in a row, the options are endless, and all cones are sold by weight, so you pay for only what you want.

Best Ice Cream Stands:

  • Northeast: Gifford’s Ice Cream — Family owned and operated for over 100 years, this is the real experience — ice cream from a road-side stand. There are five Gifford’s stands in Maine, and hundreds of stands all over the Northeast sell only Gifford’s ice cream. Some of their best-selling flavors include Maine Lobster Tracks, Maine Wild Blueberry and Grape Nut.

Road Tripper Favorite:

  • Fredericksburg, Virginia: Carl’s Custard — Open since 1947, nothing much has changed at Carl’s. 1940’s era Electro-Freeze ice cream machines still turn out the holy trinity of ice cream flavors: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Well known as a road trip pit stop, Carl’s serves nothing but ice cream and frozen treats, and is only open seasonally (February thru November).

Best Dairy Tours:

  • Julian, North Carolina: Homeland Creamery has nearly two dozen flavors of ice cream and tours Monday thru Friday.
  • New Era, Michigan: Country Dairy requires a call to reserve a space on their 1 1/2 hour tour, but the tour includes a hay ride and gives the kids a chance to really stretch their legs.
  • Osborn, Missouri: Shatto Milk Company has a tour that lets kids get personal with the newest calves and sample ice cream flavors.

Ice Cream Capital of the World:

  • Le Mars, Iowa: Blue Bunny — More ice cream is made in Le Mars by a single company in one location than anywhere else in the world. To the tune of more than 120 million gallons yearly! That’s worth a pit stop and sampling extravaganza. Learn how many strawberries Blue Bunny uses every year, how the ice cream cone was invented and other useful facts while tasting all your favorite flavors and finding new ones.

Hardest to Find (but worth it!):

Nashville, Tennessee: Las Paletas — An authentic Mexican popsicle shop, making fruit and vegetable popsicles from old family recipes, you can try unusual flavors like avocado, rose petal or pineapple chili. The shop is simple and no frills, but it’s a local favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Carl's Frozen Custard Sign

Carl’s Frozen Custard Sign