Indoor operations are currently on hold for restaurants in many California counties due to COVID-19 restrictions, but that’s not stopping Golden State restaurant owners from creating incredible outdoor dining experiences for locals and visitors to savor. This is especially true in California’s urban centers, where dozens of restaurants—from taquerias to trattorias—have moved their operations entirely outdoors.
“The ability to expand seating outside on sidewalks, into parking lanes, and into our streets has helped our eating and drinking establishments survive financially,” says Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, “all while creating spaces that best promote the safety of customers and employees."
Here’s where to find some of the best al fresco dining experiences in major cities throughout California. Before you go, read our helpful guide on What You Need to Know About Visiting California Restaurants.
Restaurants across San Francisco are taking advantage of the city’s Shared Spaces program, expanding onto sidewalks, streets, and open lots. With full street closures on weekend days, Chinatown’s Grant Avenue and the Mission District’s Valencia Street offer plenty of mouthwatering options. Head to the China Live food emporium on Grant for divine dumplings and artisan teas, or grab some ceviche and tuna tacos at Loló on Valencia. With a menu showcasing upscale American cuisine, elegant Financial District favorite The Vault has reinvented itself as The Vault Garden, a leafy, 100-seat courtyard oasis just outside the restaurant building at 555 California Street.
In Old Oakland, Oeste Bar & Cafe repurposed shipping containers to create clever curbside booth seating to go along with the cafe’s cozy comfort-food menu. Diners will soon be able to enjoy Shakewell’s popular Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine al fresco, in a newly constructed parklet. In Rockridge, Oliveto’s charming sidewalk dining space offers an inviting spot to linger over some of the city’s freshest Italian fare. For delicious curbside Vietnamese and Southeast Asian eats, head for Co Nam in Temescal.
Thanks to Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Al Fresco program, many of the city’s restaurants are taking their operations outside, from Midtown to Downtown. Savor paleta margaritas and authentic, farm-to-table Mexican cuisine on the expanded patio at Mayahuel, dine on steaks and seafood on the shady courtyard patio at The Firehouse Restaurant, or devour double-dipped fried chicken and mac n' cheese under the tent on the Capitol Mall at House Kitchen & Bar. Giving eateries along the R Street Corridor the green light to expand onto sidewalks has created a lively street-dining scene, with seasonally inspired Cafe Bernardo and Burgers and Brew among the eclectic offerings. For those who like a side of fabulousness with their casual comfort food, Capitol Garage is taking its Dinner & Drag shows curbside.
Los Angeles County
In Los Angeles, Koreatown is the place to go for canopied outdoor dining. MDK Noodles has morphed into MDK Pocha, a parking lot bar/restaurant offering beer and soju with drinks-friendly Korean finger foods. For all-you-can-eat barbecue, indulge under the lighted tents at Yerim Korean B.B.Q. Gay bar extraordinaire The Abbey Food & Bar in West Hollywood opened a shady alley dining space they’re calling Abbey Road, where diners can relax over cocktails, all-day brunch, or an Angus burger with buttermilk onion rings. Sophisticated Italian hotspot Bestia in the Downtown Arts District has added a romantic tented area in the restaurant’s parking lot, adorned with colorful rugs and string lights. Wood-fired Southern food specialist Hatchet Hall in Culver City converted an old parking lot into a new dining area outfitted with heaters and umbrella tables.
L.A. hotels will highlight outdoor dining with special prix fixe lunch and dinner menus during dineL.A. Restaurant Week, September 1–18. Enjoy modern French fare in an elegant al fresco setting at Avec Nous, at the Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, or drink in Pacific views in Santa Monica while dining poolside at Blue Streak, at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel.
In Marina del Rey, head to Cast & Plow at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey for yacht-view sunset seating and fire-pit tables, or grab a coveted patio spot at neighborhood breakfast and brunch spot Cafe Buna for red velvet pancakes and cheesy grits.
Torrance, meanwhile, is holding a Taste O’Summer Restaurant Week (Sept. 7–18), with deals at a variety of spots that also boast great patios—from the fine dining at The Depot Restaurant to Japanese cuisine at Ise-Shima and craft beers at The Brews Hall.
In the Catalina Island city of Avalon, longtime restaurants like Steve’s Steakhouse and Seafood, Maggie’s Blue Rose, NMDK Fish House, and other standbys have recently been permitted to serve patrons on the beach along the oceanfront Crescent Avenue. On the Two Harbors side of the island, Harbor Sands offers the rare opportunity to have a drink under the palm trees on the sand, on a waterfront dining deck, or under a romantic thatched palapa.
Bring your pup along to Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Irvine and enjoy tapas on the expanded dog-friendly patio. Al fresco dining options abound in Anaheim’s Packing District, from vegan comfort food and cocktails at Healthy Junk’s colorful Sacred Junk Bar patio to the outdoor lounge at MAKE, home to Unsung Brewing Company, Pali Wine Company, and Jav's BBQ. Old Vine Kitchen & Bar in Costa Mesa has a cool new rooftop dining area with an outdoor fireplace, Craft House in Dana Point is serving up locally sourced seafood on a pretty patio illuminated by string lights, and in Santa Ana, the 4th Street Market food hall added an 800-square-foot parklet where diners can sample everything from Hawaiian comfort food to Vietnamese crepes from a rotating roster of inventive chefs.
On Friday and Saturday nights, India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy becomes a pedestrian-only paradise for Al Fresco, a weekly celebration of open-air dining. Enjoy rustic Italian classics at Buon Appetito or grab a wood-fired, Neapolitan pizza at Nolita Hall. Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter is now closed to vehicle traffic most days, allowing people to dine curbside at diverse eateries such as Cafe Sevilla, celebrated for its paella, and Tajima, where fragrant bowls of ramen beckon. Take in incredible waterfront vistas at the newly opened Portside Pier while exploring fresh seafood dishes at Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, or explore local craft brews and hearty pub-fare-with-a-view at Ketch Grill & Taps. At award-winning Solare Lounge at Liberty Station, you can now pretend you’re dining on a Tuscan estate, thanks to the restaurant’s lovely new lawn seating.