Your Ohio Ice Cream Checklist

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Aura Lewis)

If you love ice cream, you need to go to Ohio. Ohio, you might ask? Ohio, we say!

If you love ice cream, you’ve heard of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, but do you also know about Graeter’s and Mitchell’s? Have you heard of Toft’s Dairy, tried the super-fresh custard at Rosati’s, or sampled the maraschino cherry-flecked “White House” ice cream at Taggart’s? No, well, then this road trip is for you.

Begin by soaking up the beauty of Lake Erie, then travel through waterfalls and Amish Country before diving into the arts, shopping, and nightlife of the state capitol, all while nourishing yourself with Ohio dairy. Three-hundred-and-fifty miles, 12 ice cream shops. Ready, set, go!

1. Start Here: Lake Erie

The big-time charms on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie — resorts, fishing, and, of course, the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky — bring in thousands of visitors each summer. And where there are summer tourists, there’s ice cream. Your biggest challenge is deciding between all the shops.

In Sandusky, Ohio’s iconic Toft’s Dairy is a must. If you’re in the beautiful lakeside town of Marblehead touring the nearly 200-year-old Marblehead lighthouse, stop by family-owned Brown’s Dairy Dock for creamy soft serve in chocolate, vanilla, and sherbet twists.

The Best Ice Cream Shops in (and Near) Sandusky

2. Small-Batch Scoops in Cleveland

Heading east toward the big-city attractions of Cleveland — including museums, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and shopping in the 5th Street Arcades — the sheer number of ice cream choices is (again) daunting. Beloved spots include sundae-focused Sweet Moses, plus family-owned local chains like Honey Hut (sweetened with honey). But brother-owned Mitchell’s, with several stores clustered around Cleveland, is our pick for a great classic scoop made with sustainably produced ingredients, including milk from grass-fed cows on local farms.

The Best Ice Cream Shops in Cleveland

3. Frozen Custard in Cuyahoga Valley

From Cleveland it’s just a half-hour drive south to the stunning beauty of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where you can walk the original towpath of the Erie Canal and amble along hiking trails that take you past waterfalls. The 51-mile park and its surrounding area, particularly at the southern end near Akron, seems to be a magnet for frozen custard stands, including venerable Strickland’s, and nearly 50-year-old Pav’s Creamery, with its boozy shakes. Neon-ice-cream-cone-topped Rosati’s is just four miles from the thundering 65-foot Brandywine Falls, where you can fuel up post-hike with custard so fresh it’s made every hour.

The Best Ice Cream Shops in Cuyahoga Valley

4. Old School Shoppes in Amish Country

You’ll need to pass through Canton on the way to Amish Country (or if you want to check out Pro Football Hall of Fame), so you might as well stop and stretch your legs at Taggarts ice cream parlor, kitted out with old-fashioned décor that hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1926. Get a generous sundae, slice of ice cream pie, or scoop of “White House” — vanilla flecked with maraschino cherries — a flavor that’s as old-school as it gets.

Or save your scoop for Amish Country. Get on Highway 62 and head southwest toward Columbus. On the way you’ll pass through lush farmland, sweet B&Bs, and quaint, antique-filled towns like Millersburg and Berlin, where you can even stay overnight in one of Amish Country Lodging’s treehouses. When you get to Utica, stop for a tour at the picturesque Velvet Ice Cream Company‘s Ye Old Mill.

The Best Ice Cream Shops in Canton and Amish Country

5. Artisan Ice Cream in Columbus

Finding yourself in Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, can come as a shock after the quietude of Amish Country. To ease your re-entry into modern society, head straight for the historic Brewery District and German Village neighborhoods, with mid-1800s brick houses, great dining and nightlife, cool boutiques, and an outpost of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, perhaps the state’s most famous export. Here you can tuck into insanely rich scoops in ever-changing flavors like Gooey Butter Cake, Juniper and Lemon Curd, or Churro, then walk through pristine Schiller Park. If you’re lucky, you might catch a Shakespeare performance from the Actors’ Theater of Columbus.

The Best Ice Cream Shop in Columbus

6. The Original in Cincinnati

Fourth-generation, 145-year-old Graeter’s is now a big operation with dozens of stores throughout the state. Still, the best place to sample this icon of Ohio ice cream is in its place of origin. It’s totally worth the 100-mile drive.

The Best Ice Cream Shop in Cincinnati

Did your favorite scoop shop make the list? Share with us in the comments!