Outdoor dining, sipping, and strolling have always been de rigueur for California’s sundrenched summer season, but this year, there will be even more opportunities to get outside. Because indoor operations for restaurants, wineries, museums, and breweries are currently restricted or suspended in many counties due to pandemic precautions, cities across the Golden State are creating new outdoor spaces for guests to enjoy this summer. From pedestrian promenades to dining-room expansions, here’s where to find some of California’s best al fresco experiences.
In response to indoor restrictions, many California cities have closed down streets to create European-style pedestrian promenades that temporarily allow restaurants and retail businesses to take over sidewalks and streets.
Two of Palo Alto’s major dining and retail thoroughfares will be designated as pedestrian-only zones through Aug. 2—and possibly beyond. Street closures include California Avenue from El Camino Real to Birch Street, and University Avenue from Cowper Street to High Street.
In Santa Barbara, a new eight-block pedestrian promenade will be open through Labor Day, extending along State Street from Haley to Victoria streets. Restaurants have expanded their seating onto sidewalks, creating a festive atmosphere in the city’s downtown corridor.
Sections of Old Town Front Street in Temecula are temporarily closed to traffic to allow restaurant and retail businesses to add sidewalk and street seating. To make up for lost parking spaces, the city has opened two free lots in front of City Hall.
Two major theme parks have reopened their walkable dining hubs for visitors: Universal Studios Hollywood's CityWalk and the Downtown Disney District now offer more outdoor seating and features such as digital menus and online reservations for sit-down restaurants.
California cities across the state are also allowing restaurants to create new dining areas on sidewalks and in curbside parking spaces, while allowing vehicle traffic to continue.
In Sonoma, locals’ favorite Café La Haye has added sidewalk tables for outdoor dining and The Girl & the Fig has a new pop-up dining space on the Sonoma Plaza. Nearby Petaluma has allowed Cucina Paradiso and Risibisi to add outdoor tables along Water Street, creating a charming riverfront dining area. Napa’s Oxbow Market just opened its remodeled river deck and plans to expand seating into the parking lot between Gott’s Roadside and the main Oxbow building.
The Luau Lounge Tiki Bar at San Francisco’s Pier 39 has temporarily moved its operations to an outdoor patio space at the end of the pier, and many restaurants have added more outdoor seating. Bella Trattoria, in the Inner Richmond District, now has sidewalk tables, along with outdoor wine tastings and happy hours accompanied by DJ-spun music. In North Beach, Italian classic Sodini's created a new dining space on Grant Street, and several eateries on Green Street between Grant and Columbus have created makeshift street dining areas.
Some roads have closed to cars near San Jose's Santana Row, creating a walkable shopping and dining district. The San Jose Al Fresco program allows restaurants to use adjacent sidewalks or parking lots to create more outdoor eating space.
Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Al Fresco program allows the city’s restaurants to expand their outdoor dining footprints. Among them are the ever-popular Mulvaney’s B&L, which added an inviting sidewalk dining area, and the cheese-wine-beer haven The Rind, which now boasts a street café setup.
Downtown City Park in Paso Robles has been transformed into an open-air dining space for the summer. Reserve a table, grab a takeout meal from a nearby restaurant such as Fish Gaucho or Odyssey World Café, and follow your concierge to a farmhouse table under the bistro lights.
In Los Angeles, Lady Byrd Café erected mini greenhouses around individual patio tables for the ultimate in garden-inspired social distancing. The Old Hollywood vibe at Dear John’s in Culver City extends to the classic steak joint’s new parking lot patio, which includes a mural of the interior dining room. Dudley Market, a block from the Venice boardwalk, now offers ocean views on the patio along with its line-caught seafood.
Irvine has expanded dining options to create more outdoor seating in many of the city’s shopping centers. Enjoy a beer on Left Coast Brewing Company’s patio at Sand Canyon Plaza, get your Benedict on at Breakfast Republic at University Center, or grab a pie at Angelina's Pizzeria Napoletana at Los Olivos Marketplace.
With dining and retail spaces spilling out onto sidewalks and streets for the remainder of 2020, San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter is now an even livelier eating and shopping destination. Fifth Avenue is closed to traffic Thursday–Sunday evenings for street shopping and dining at stylish venues including Lionfish and Nobu San Diego.
Wineries Take it Outside
California’s wineries have also gotten creative with new outdoor settings and experiences.
Along with vineyard hikes that end with a charcuterie picnic, Sonoma County’s Jordan Winery has added a multi-course Paris on the Terrace lunch experience with vineyard views. Napa Valley’s Charles Krug just launched its luxurious Cabana Experience, featuring a customized wine tasting with food pairings. Adobe Road Winery in downtown Petaluma made clever use of the site for its yet-to-be-built Turning Basin production facility by turning it into an open-air, riverfront tasting space.
Lodi’s Jeremy Wine Co. moved its urban tasting room outdoors, offering wines by the glass or bottle in the winery’s courtyard. In Paso Robles, Midnight Cellars completely revamped its garden area and added a seated tasting area, and Barton Family Wines created a new outdoor tasting lounge.
Indoor operations for many California museums and attractions are currently closed, but there are some great outdoor exhibits to discover.
Book online to check out historic aircraft at the Aerospace Museum of California’s 4.5-acre park in Sacramento. The outdoor space at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino reopened to the public July 1, inviting visitors to roam 12 specialized gardens spread across 120 acres. At the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, explore the new Australian Adventures open-air habitat, feed a giraffe, or take a nature hike.