I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.

If that sounds like the scene at your house these drippy August days, you're in luck. The cool, sweet respite offered by this frozen delight -- and its partners, sticky sauces and tart toppings -- awaits you at a plethora of parlours dotting the Washington area.

After our family took a tour recently of local ice cream shops, we concurred: The area is an ice-cream eater's playground.

From our tastings, we compiled a list of what we consideer the top choices. Whether you'rre a vanilla-only dipper or a triple-sundae freak, we think you'll find a little bit of ice cream heaven at the spots we chose.

One word of warning: The 10-cent cone is a thing of the past. You can't even find toppings for a dime nowadays. So be prepared to pay a pretty penny for everything from a single-dip cone to a sundae.

But as the August days get hotter, you probably will agree with us that the cool taste of that all-American favorite is well worth the splurge. Bob's Famous Homemade Ice Cream

2416 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington. 965-4499.

Hours: Noon to midnight Sundays through Thursdays; noon to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Special features: Limited but creative menu. Few tables and chairs, but toppings galore.

The name says it all: Famous Homemade Ice Crea. Many of the ice-cream rules of the city fell apart when Bob's was born. No longer was the realm of an imaginative sundae limited to chocolate sauce. Flavors escaped from rigidity of taste and spelling, and a cone became a creation.

The flavors may include chocolate moose, java, French vanilla, pistachio Oreo, Mozambique and MMM & MMM.

If the flavors alone do not start you dreaming, try the toppings. Long ago in the annals of ice cream, toppings were limited to sundaes. Not so at Bob's. A single scoop can be topped indefinitely.

A single ice-cream scoop costs 75 cents. Toppings average 25 cents each. Sundaes begin at $1.60 and climb higher with the number and combinations of toppings.

Beyond hot fudge, you'll find honey banana, honey walnut, hot apple-cinnamon and whipped cream. Then, of course, you can add granola, jimmies, goobers or chocolate chips.

Bob's Famous is a "you-name-it, we'll make-it" place. They scoop with a heavy hand and give honest advice about the size of a double cone and the probability of finishing such a mountain.

Bob's Famous is the freshest of the fresh. Gifford Ice Cream Company

5555 Lee Highway, Arlington. 538-5670. Also at Bailey's Crossroads, and, in Maryland, Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Hours: Open 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

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

Gifford's is the kind of place that recognizes the importance of serving a glass of water while you down rich, creamy ice cream.

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

For a jumbo soda, you 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.

Gifford's will make single-scoop sundaes for those unable to leave without tasting a Swiss sundae. This is a light milk-chocolate melange that can be topped with a banana, at which point it is called an Alpine split.

Gifford's is still a bastion of sweet sauces and bananas. But changing tastes have had their impact on the store, for now you can mix flavors on cones and order toppings on any flavor you like.

Even with as big a space as Gifford's occupies, you may have to wait for a table on weekends. Dairy Farm Store

University of Maryland, Rte. 1, College Park, Md. 454-4521

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. (In winter, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Noon to 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays.

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

The ice cream is so fresh and alluring here 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. It is not a sprinkling of flavor, but rather a complete permeation. And when they make a milk shake, they use milk from a milk machine.

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

Flavors are rotated depending on availability and demand, but one feature is constant: creamy freshness.

If you time your visit well before dark, you can still take a drive around the campus and find the farm that is responsible for this successful retail outlet. Carvel Ice Cream Supermarket

2939 Gallows Rd., Falls Church. 560-0999. Also in Vienna, and in Maryland, in Rockville, Beltsville, Gaithersburg, Langley Park and Olney.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday's 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.

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

"Supermarket" is an apt word in Carvel's title, for there is a sampling of different types of ice cream available. For those unwilling to wait for a scooper, ready-made creations are packed and in a freezer. There are even failures put together in an "oops" box for those wo do not mind a crooked sandwich covering or a lopsside drumstick.

Carvel offers soft-serve vanilla and chocolate and a combination vanilla-chocolate soft-serve cone. Several low-calorie yogurt flavors are available for those who cannot resist an extra taste of tart sweetness.

We did not fare as well with the regular cone offerings. The chip choices are not as filled with chips as our tastes are accustomed to.

Cones are still 50 cents and for an additional 15 cents can be coated in chocolate or multi-colored sprinkle.

The sprinkles and the soft-serve ice cream are Carvel's best offerings among an array of lightly-flavored ice creams. Baskin-Robbins

Throughout the metropolitan area: Hours vary.

No matter where you are, a Baskin-Robbins cannot be far away. As a franchise operation, certain items are standard. The major variance may be just the difference of each store's freezer conditions.

Some flavors are available every month. New ones rotate with the calendar, and older, popular flavors make return debuts. Sherbets, ices and frozen yogurts also are offered.

Little pink spoons are available to help you sample choices of which you're uncertain.

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 bowl or in sugar or plain cones.

Toppings are reserved for sundaes, with the largest creation aptly titled "Mount Olympus."