Ice cream. We've got big shops, little shops, carry out and full service. There are vendors, stalls and factories.

One thing is certain: Washington area residents are suckers for ice cream. Brands once limited to others parts of the country or to specialty grocers now are cause to open a store here. I've watched people around the area stop their cars to ask pedestrians eating ice cream cones where the closest store is. Ice cream does that to you.

Our family's tastes run for simple bowls to flowing floats or soaring sundaes. But we adhere to the American standard: we're an ice cream family. s

But when you start to talk about ice cream, you realize that everyone has a favorite. The reasons vary, but ice cream lovers will tell you why their favorite is the best. There are people who eat only vanilla ice cream, no matter what the other options are.

The following is a sampler to help finish the hazy summer days and start the winter wonders. Ice cream knows no season.

Good ice cream speaks for itself. But you need to save your pennies to go out for ice cream now. Gone are the 10-cent cones, and it also is hard to find toppings for 10 cents. Sundaes may cost as much as $2. Diary Farm Store University of Maryland, Rt. 1, College Park. 454-4521.

Hours: Weekdays, 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, noon until 6 p.m. Winter hours until 6 p.m. daily.

Special features: Plenty of available seating. Near the university's farm.

Ice cream flavors are rotated depending on seasonal availability, but one feature is constant: creamy freshness. The ice cream is so fresh and creamy that when our daughter's chocolate soda tried to overwhelm her Rocky Road, she concentrated solely on the ice cream. The lemon custard is lemony through and through -- not a sprinkling of flavor, but complete permeation.

It's the type of store that fills a cone with a huge scoop for 55 cents and makes you will want to ask for half-portions. Sodas and sundaes are 80 cents and 90 cents for full-size creations covered with whipped cream and old-fashioned cherry topping.

If you time your visit well before dark, you still can take drive around the campus and find the farm that gives this successful retail outlet its name. t Carvel Ice Cream Supermarket 785-H Rockvill Pike, 279-0713.

Other locations: In Beltsville, Gaithersburg, Langley Park and Olney, Md. Also Falls Church, Va.

Hours: Open Daily at 10:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturdays.

Special features: Soft-serve and regular ice cream. Ice cream pies and cakes.

"Supermarket" is an apt part of Carvel's title, for there is a sampling of different types of ice cream available.For those in a hurry, ready-made creations are packed. (There are even failures put together in an "oops" box for those who do not mind a crooked sandwich covering or a lopsided drumstick.)

Carvel offers soft-serve vanilla and chocolate but does not prepare a combination soft-sever cone. Several lo-calorie yogurt flavors are available for those who cannot resist a taste of sweetness.

We did not fare as well with the regular cone offerings. The chip selections do not have as many chips as our tastes are accustomed to.

Cones are 50 cents and, for an additional 15 cents, can be coated in chocolate or multicolored sprinkles.

Sprinkles and soft-sever are Carvel's best offerings among an array of delicately flavored ice creams. Gifford Ice Cream Company 5555 Lee Highway, Arlington. 538-5670.

Other locations: Bethesda and Silver Spring, Md. Also Bailey's crossroads, Va.

Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Special features: Table service, complete carry-out. Homemade candies.

May fondest memories of Gifford's date back to the first time we ordered a jumbo soda. Four scoops of ice cream filled a flowerpot-like container that looked as if it otherwise would hold a dozen long-stemmed roses.

Fortunately, some things never change. You still can select four different flavors of ice cream. On a recent visit, our son chose the chip cousins: chocolate chip, mint chip, mocha chip and chocolate chocolate chip.

Also Gifford's still must be the only place in town that recognizes the importance of a glass of water with rich, creamy ice cream.

But the impact of the times has had a good effect on Gifford's for now you also can mix flavors on cones and order toppings on any flavor you like.

Gifford's is still the home of sweet sauces and bananas. It also will make single-scoop sundaes for those unable to leave without tasting a swiss sundae. This is a light milk chocolate concoction that can include a banana and be called an alpine split.

Gifford's occupies a large space, but often is crowded on weekends and waits for a table may occur. Swensen's Ice Cream Factory and Parlor 5310 Wisconsin Av. NW. (Mazza Gallerie) 966-8606.

Other locations: In Maryland at Montgomery Mall, and in Bethesda and College Park. Also in the District at Tenley Circle and in Georgetown.

Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. until midnight during the week and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Special features: Table and carry-out service. Sandwiches also available.

A few years ago California came to Washington in the form of Swensen's. Now there are Swensen's outlets throughout the area.

You can order single dishes or cones for carry-out, but the primary emphasis for table service is on sundaes, sodas, floats and special children's portions.

The treat for children at Swensen's is to watch the ice cream making equipment at work.

The attractive room is filled with pleasantly spaced tables and booths, ceiling fans and fresh flowers. Gilt-edged decoration is everywhere. Prices match.

Sundaes begin at $2.45 for two scoops and topping. Many of the names are reminiscent of the San Francisco area: the biggest, shakiest sundae of them all, for $6.95, is called "The Earthquake."

Junior size sundaes, sodas, shakes and malts are available beginning at $1.50. Most children enjoy the upside-down cone decorated with bubble gum features called Mr. San Francisco.

Treasure Island floats ($1.50) may be the best of the many offerings. A large scoop of ice cream is served in a frosty mug, the old-fashioned iced way. l

Ice cream at Swensen's is big business. You're better off with single scoops, or your ice cream adventure may rival the cost of dinner out. Baskin-Robbins

Located throughout the metro-politan area. Hours vary.

No matter where you are, a Baskin Robbins cannot be far away. As a franchise operation, certain items are standard. Any variation may be due to the difference in freezer conditions from one store to another.

Some flavors are available every month. New ones rotate into the structure and older, popular flavors return. Sherberts, ices and yogurts are also available. Little pink spoons are available to help you sample selections you are not familiar with.

Toppings are reserved for sundaes and the largest creation aptly is titled "Mount Olympus."

The fare at Baskin-Robbins centers primarily around cones, although a full range of sodas, sundaes and floats is available. Double scoops are 95 cents and served in a choice of cones or in a bowl.