Sweet, Uncomplicated Summer Bliss Can Be Had for Just $1.80

Our editors dish on their soft-serve stand favorites across America, from Vermont creemees to pine nut honeycomb crunch in the Pacific Northwest.

<p>Ina Lim / Getty Images</p>

Ina Lim / Getty Images

There's something in the uncomplicated pleasure of a roadside soft-serve ice cream stand that seems to take everyone's temperature down a degree or two, and there's almost certainly a place like that near you. Whether it, like my favorite, Dairyland, has been around since 1963, or is more newfangled, this should be the summer you take a little time to hop in the car, pedal your bike, or take a stroll to your local soft-serve spot for simple, all-American delight. Here, my colleagues and I are taking a stand for a few of our favorites.

Dairyland (Sharon Springs, New York)

<p>DANA JUNG</p>


I've got a knack for making things too complicated, but not when it comes to soft serve. I'll take a small vanilla sundae, please, with chunky pineapple topping dolloped on, a hailstorm of chopped-up peanuts, and do you even need to ask about the cherry? Unnaturally scarlet and staining the cumulus cloud of whipped topping heaped atop it all. Plastic or waffle cone cup — doesn't matter. It'll all taste the same anywhere in the country I order it, but it's never so sweet as when I'm basking in the neon flicker of the Dairyland boy perched on a shed rooftop just on the edge of Sharon Springs, New York (population around 504), across Route 20 from the Dollar General and the Walmart distribution plant that employs half the county.

Related: This 5-Ingredient Pineapple Soft Serve Couldn’t Be More Simple

From April or May through late September, no matter if it's late morning or past dusk, I'm standing in a reliably long line with what seems like the majority of my neighbors as we shuffle up to order our ice cream, maybe some fried pickles and a lemonade, and take seat in the shelter of the aluminum sheds or the hoods of our cars. It's a remarkably peaceful, casual summer scene, considering the clashes that no small town seems to be immune to these days and it may be one of the very few places everyone seems to feel OK commingling, celebrating, licking their hands, and laughing.

Cone & Shake at The Oasis (Marietta, Ohio)

<p>DANA JUNG</p>


There’s nothing very notable about this family-run stand’s soft serve itself, except how it hits the spot on a summer day. Their servings are giant, so I get the mini cone of vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and race to eat it before it melts. It’s a bargain at $1.80. My daughter got her first ice cream cone ever at Cone & Shake, and now we joke that it’s where she’ll get her first job. It’s a manifestation of that elusive, timeless Americana, where a pocket of change can buy anyone something cool and creamy. — Sara Bir, Simply Recipes Senior Editor

Canteen Creemee Company (Waitsfield, Vermont)

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I’ll drive an hour to get a creemee, as soft serve is known in Vermont. Tucked into a shopping plaza, Canteen Creemee Company awaits. They’re known for Instagrammable creations — think big waffle cones loaded with dark chocolate soft serve, brownie chunks, caramel drizzle, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. There’s also the Bad Larry: maple soft serve with maple crystal “sprinkles,” maple cookies, maple syrup, and a crown of maple floss (the essence of Vermont). But what really gets me behind the wheel for this pilgrimage are the flavors made with local ingredients, like honey-blueberry swirl in the summer and eggnog-pumpkin swirl in the winter. I don’t sleep on the Buffalo fried chicken sandwich, either; it’s the perfect setup for creamy soft serve. — Michelle Edelbaum, F&W VP and General Manager

Related: Where to Taste Vermont's Silky, Sweet Maple Creemees

Sugarpine Drive-In (Troutdale, Oregon)

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There’s nothing that sets the world right like wearing yourself out at Troutdale’s Columbia River Gorge to stare at a waterfall for 10 minutes and then swinging by Sugarpine Drive-In for a big soft-serve cone. The move is to get a cone in a cup of vanilla soft serve with pine nut honeycomb crunch or miso caramel sauce (or both, depending on how much joy you want in one sitting). Break up the cone, then scoop the soft serve with the cone shards like chips with dip. — Megan Scott, Simply Recipes Senior Editor

Related: The Best Ice Cream Spots in the U.S.

Sandy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers (Austin, Texas)

<p>DANA JUNG</p>


Generations of Austinites have cooled off on a blistering summer’s day with soft serve from Sandy’s, a classic hamburger stand that’s been delighting crowds since 1946. With its chocolate-dipped cones, shakes, malts, sundaes, and root beer floats, this small piece of Austin history continues to hang on, even as apartment buildings and towering offices are built all around it. There’s no dining room here, just a drive-through, a walk-up window, and picnic tables out back, where you’ll likely contend with some hungry grackles angling for the fries you’re dipping into soft serve. Raphael Brion, F&W Restaurant Editor

Related: No Ice Cream Machine? No Problem: Make This No-Churn Corn Ice Cream


In Buffalo, New York, Charles Taylor patents what is considered the first soft-serve machine.


Tom Carvel serves melted ice cream from his broken-down truck by the roadside and develops a patented recipe and ice cream machine.


The first Carvel store opens.


John Fremont McCullough and his son Alex develop a soft-serve formula of their own and convince their friend to sell it in his store in Kankakee, Illinois.


The McCulloughs open their first Dairy Queen in Joliet, Illinois.


William Conway and James Conway found Mister Softee in Philadelphia and their trucks — engineered for serving ice cream — hit the road.


The Flavor Burst system is introduced, bringing soft-serve vendors a new way to add color and extra flavors to an ice cream base.

Our editors’ favorite soft-serve toppings

Doughnut crumble

“At Pizzi Farm in Waltham, Massachusetts, there’s a cone that’s on my autumn bucket list every year: vanilla soft serve with a caramel core, blanketed in sugary, cinnamony doughnut crumble made from the farm’s freshly baked apple cider doughnuts.” — Karen Shimizu, F&W Executive Editor

Rainbow sprinkles

“The ice cream, waffle cones, and toppings at Big Softie in Atlanta are homemade and beautiful. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but the bespoke sprinkles with little stars made for the parlor by local spice company Beautiful Briny Sea are a go-to.” — Jennifer Zyman, F&W Senior Commerce Writer

Chopped pecans

“In Texas, nothing rivals chopped pecans, especially at Connor’s Creamery in Austin. Sometimes with an added drizzle of caramel, the nuts transform a swirl of vanilla into a humble pecan pie on a cone. It’s become my summertime tradition.” — Daniel Modlin, F&W Senior Commerce Editor

Crumbled graham crackers

“Finely ground graham crackers, my favorite topping at Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco, are fairly neutral, so they’ll blend with any soft-serve flavor or topping while also adding a gentle boost in texture.” — Andee Gosnell, F&W Assistant Food Editor

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