We Floridians are lucky we don’t have to contend with the snow, icy temperatures, and freezing conditions that befall much of the country in wintertime. Here, it’s always warm enough to sit outdoors, and it’s (almost) always beach weather. That means one thing: It’s never too cold to eat ice cream!
Whether you are on a romantic first date or want to reward the kids for finishing their chores, a trip to an ice cream parlor is a special treat. And with our robust Florida foodie culture and focus on farm-fresh, natural ingredients, we have a wealth of exciting options to choose from.
Here are some of our favorite ice cream shops in Central and Southwest Florida. Packed with innovative flavors (plus the classics, of course!), waffle cones, toppings, and custom sundae combos galore, these sweet spots are sure to please.
Big Olaf’s — Siesta Key
Beginning with a small shop on Siesta Key in 1982, ice cream maker Dennis Yoder made it a point to use only the freshest creams and finest ingredients in creating his hand-mixed ice cream flavors. Fast forward nearly 25 years, and Big Olaf’s comprises seven ice cream parlors in the Sarasota area. In addition, over 50 stores around the state carry their custom-crafted pints, all of which are produced in their creamery in Sarasota’s Amish village of Pinecraft.
Paciugo Gelato — St. Pete
Straight from their native Italy, Paciugo gelateria founders Cristiana, Ugo, and Vincenzo Ginatta decided to re-create the family’s Old World recipe for homemade gelato in their newly adopted country. Having started in Dallas in 2000, they now have franchises in nearly 20 states, including here, in St. Petersburg. Choose from classic Italian flavors, like gianduja or cappuccino, or pick an unconventional scoop, like strawberry rose chocolate or coconut dulce de leche.
Strachan’s Ice Cream & Desserts — Tampa Bay area
Strachan’s was established in 1999 as a mom-and-pop ice cream shop by a couple fresh out of the corporate world in Moline, IL. A new family has since taken over the Tampa Bay-area creamery (now expanded to two shops, in Palm Harbor and Dunedin), but they have kept the original made-from-scratch recipes. Their stores maintain that nostalgic family-friendly feel, with parlor-style barstools and old-fashioned murals on the walls. Plus, their carrot cake tastes as good as grandma’s!
Coquitos Ice Cream Café — Kissimmee
When you step into Coquitos, you’ll be hard-pressed to determine whether you are in San Juan, Puerto Rico or Kissimmee, Florida. This hip, modern, Spanish-friendly, family-owned shop features exotic and tropical flavors like sweet corn, guanabana, and passion fruit. Choose from gelato, ice cream, or sorbet, and create delicious combos in bowls or cones. The coffee alone will keep you coming back for more.
Mystic Ice Cream — Fruitland Park
How about some boozy “adult” ice cream to change up your dessert habits? When you walk into Mystic Ice Cream, you enter a zone of ‘60s to ‘80s pop culture featuring lava lamps and record albums plus Looney Tunes and Seinfeld paraphernalia. Here the creative flavor combos are spiked with spirits: try Sweet Honey Bourbon, White Chocolate Pinot Grigio, or an ice cream version of Grand Marnier: vanilla ice cream with orange liquor, cognac, and dark chocolate chips. Mystic even offers a delivery service, providing all-you-can-eat ice cream bars for “birthdays, anniversaries, and divorces.” Oh my….
At not even one year old, Sweet Jessie’s is already making a big splash in Ocoee. Founded by Maryland native Jessica Pollack, Sweet Jessie’s features 30 to 40 homemade flavors each day, and they have more than 200 to choose from. Jessie changes her flavors every couple of weeks, and she always invites customers to make requests. Try a Hollywood-themed sundae, like the Forrest Gump “Life is like a box of chocolates” with Triple Chocolate ice cream, Double Dark Ice Cream Crushed Cookies, chocolate and raspberry syrup, whipped cream and a cherry. Or for a lighter treat, there’s a flavor board full of traditional Hawaiian “shave ice” varieties, including out-of-the-box dill pickle and fireball. Now you just have to decide if you are you up for a bowl full of creamy-smooth, mouth-puckering, or eye-watering goodness.
Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream — Orlando
It’s a far cry from nursing school to owning an artisanal ice cream truck, but Kelly has done just that. Fueled by her success after a year’s worth of farmer’s markets, special events, and food truck festivals, she and her husband Scott have recently opened a brick-and-mortar store in Orlando’s Audubon Park Garden District neighborhood. Their distinctive pink and white candy-striped food truck still makes the rounds, and it has a permanent berth every Monday evening at the Lake Nona farmers’ market. Try their ice cream flights and seasonal specials, like October’s enticing flavor innovation: caramelized butternut squash.
Sweet Spot — DeLand
How can you get more classic and small town than opening an all-homemade ice cream shop kitty corner from Main Street? It’s a perfect fit for historic Deland, with its neighborly feel and architectural beauty. Owned by Jimmy and Melissa Brissey, a young couple from the northeast, the shop makes all its original flavors on site. Even the hot fudge and caramel sauce are hand-crafted. Check out waffle cone Wednesdays or vote for your favorite flavor every Tuesday, when Melissa crafts her ice creams for the week. Be sure to get your order in before they run out of their exotic combos, including Peanut Butter Toffee Bacon, Green Tea with Honey, Pumpkin Spice Brownie, and White Chocolate Roasted Cinnamon. Do we seriously have to choose?
Know of parlors or other sweet spots we didn’t’ mention? Share your favorite place in the comment section.