10 Top Bay Area Spots to Eat & Drink Outside

From a back-lawn beach party to a glistening garden in Yountville, here are some of the area's best alfresco spots
May 27, 2014
by Virginia Miller

Come sun or come fog, there's nothing quite like an open-air patio, rooftop bar or expansive lawn for dining and drinks. Unlike other California cities, alfresco spots can be hard to come upon in the Bay Area. But we've drummed up 10 of our favorites from Ocean Beach to Yountville. Seek them out, all summer long.

1) La Mar Cebicheria

This airy, spacious destination, with an expansive back patio right on the water, comes from Peru's most famed chef Gastón Acurio. This was his first US restaurant when it opened over 5 years ago and it's still one of the best perches - for both the food and the views - on the Embarcadero.

The View: The patio is where it's at. Boats dock right by the sunny tables as you take in Bay views. It feels like a vacation - especially with a cocktail in hand from the extensive, pisco-centric menu. 

Eat & Drink: It's all about the classic Peruvian bites done with a studied touch. Of course, the ceviche is beloved, but we are most drawn to tiradito, which are raw, sashimi-style Japanese-Peruvian fish dishes in vivid citrus and fruit sauces. Also don't miss the causas: artful, two-bite-size whipped potato mounds topped with seafood and other flavorful nuggets.

Insider Tip: Brunch or lunch is the prime time to enjoy the patio.

Pier 1.5, The Embarcadero; 415-397-8880

2) Hog Island Oyster Co.

The just reopened Hog Island is more than twice the size, expansive under rope-lined wood rafters. There are three bars, including one large oyster bar facing the Bay.

The View: Gaze out across the water at the striking Bay Bridge as ferries load and unload passengers on the way to North and East Bays. Slurp down oysters and bubbly. It doesn't get much better.

Eat & Drink: Days after Hog Island reopened (on May 8), we shared early favorite dishes and drinks. Besides oysters, fried anchovies ($9) or a cornmeal-fried oyster po' boy ($15) work beautifully with the bar's first cocktail menu, created by none other than Scott Beattie and Michael Pazdon.

Insider Tip: Watch for intriguing daily specials like a bright halibut and geoduck ceviche ($12) accented with red onion, Fresno chile, cilantro, lime and fresh coconut milk.

1 Ferry Building; 415-391-7117

3) Dirty Habit

Dirty Habit is the reinvented fine-dining staple Fifth Floor. It's a sexy, dim, come-as-you-are kind of place with the same Fifth Floor dream team behind the food, cocktails and wine.

The View: The dining room/lounge is cool, but head to the hidden patio in the back. It's warmed up with heat lamps, a rectangular fire pit and both communal and individual tables.

Eat & Drink: Chef David Bazirgan's chicken wings and octopus are excellent, while Brian Means' cocktails delight not just in taste but visually, served in playful vintage glassware.

Insider Tip: "Resident Wine Geek" (aka sommelier) Jose Maria Aguirre has put together a fantastically fun wine book grouped by quirky vintage photos in sections like "Acid Hounds Rejoice."

12 Fourth St.; 415-348-1555

El Techo de Lolinda rooftop (photo source: Virginia Miller)

4) étoile

Fine dining on the grounds of Domaine Chandon Winery is notable thanks to Chef Perry Hoffman's inspired dishes at étoile Restaurant.

The View: Eat outside on the idyllic grounds soothed by the oaks, ponds and bridges around the estate. 

Eat & Drink: The menu changes often, but you might dine on Spanish octopus partnered with heirloom melon or Persian cucumbers and watermelon radish ($23) - all paired with Chandon sparkling, of course.

Insider Tip: Lunch is the best way to take in the inspiring nature. There's a a $95 four-course tasting menu or à la carte dishes ($17-$36) like Pacific sea urchin fettuccine enlivened with the citrus punch of yuzu and kumquats.

1 California Dr., Yountville; 707-944-8844 x 2

5) El Techo de Lolinda

There is no rooftop bar in the city quite as hot as El Techo. There's a doorman and swarming crowds, but when you ride that elevator to the top, you're glad you did.

The View: From a Mission vantage point, this is one of the inspiring urban views in SF, taking in Downtown lights and Twin Peaks hills at a glance.

Eat & Drink: Alongside solid tequila and pisco cocktails, it's all about the roasted pork shoulder (half-lb. $14, 1 lb. $21, 1.5 lbs $32), which tastes like the real-deal chicharrones de carne we've had roadside in Peru: falling apart, with a crisp exterior dusted in cayenne and sugar. Wrap it up in accompanying tortillas and give it a squeeze of lime.

Insider Tip: Beat the crowds by getting there just before opening time of 4 PM on weekdays or 11 AM on weekends.

2518 Mission St.; 415-550-6970

6) Murray Circle

This elegantly renovated army officers' house at Fort Baker houses Cavallo Point Lodge, Murray Circle restaurant and cozy-elegant Farley Bar.

The View: Tucked in a cove on the Bay facing Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, Cavallo Point is a magical place facing an unreal city and waterscape view.

Eat & Drink: At lunch, try quinoa mac 'n' cheese ($9) or a Hobbs pastrami sandwich ($15).

Insider Tip: It's all about wrapping yourself in a blanket on the cozy couches lining the front porch. But with limited seating, these seats fills up quickly. Go during off times like weekday lunch or even on foggy days when the setting is still inspiring, even without the sunshine.

601 Murray Circle, Sausalito; 415-339-4750

The Ramp (photo source: The Ramp website)

7) The Ramp

It may not be so much about the food, but it is about the festive, island-party feel every day at The Ramp, a divey SF institution since 1950.

The View: The deck is like one big beach party looking out at the Bay, surrounded by docked boats and ships.

Eat & Drink: From the drink shacks lined up around the space, order mimosas or Bloody Marys with brunch. Steamed clams ($14.50) and fish 'n' chips ($15) are both solid bets.

Insider Tip: From May through October, The Ramp turns into a spontaneous dance party with live salsa and Brazilian music.

855 Terry A Francois Blvd.; 415-621-2378

8) Bar Agricole

It's that gorgeous covered patio at Bar Agricole that does it. A restaurant already known for its unusual, modern design, the food and sophisticated cocktails rarely disappoint.

The View: Dine on the covered front patio surrounded by a mini-garden. Its herbs and produce are used in the restaurant's food and drink. Soothing sounds of a corner fountain add to the charm of it all.

Eat & Drink: At brunch, French toast ($16) is lush in pistachio butter, while at dinner you may snack on flatbread covered in mashed peas, za'atar spices and yogurt ($13).

Insider Tip: Agricole is known for its balanced hand with classic and classically inspired cocktails ($11 each). Many of the bartenders can also perfectly craft all versions of a classic daiquiri using French/Martinique-style agricole rum, if you so desire.

355 11th St.; 415-355-9400

9) Beach and Park Chalet

At brewery and longtime restaurant Beach Chalet, you can look out at Ocean Beach and watch the Pacific waves roll in.

The View: The only restaurant on the flat stretch of Ocean Beach/Highway 1 in the city (the famed Cliff House is up the hill), Beach Chalet draws crowds all day for its upstairs ocean views, while Park Chalet in the back is one ongoing lawn party. 

Eat & Drink: It remains pretty mediocre on the food front, but house-brewed beer gratifies and you can't go wrong with s'mores made with butterscotch sauce for dessert.

Insider Tip: Locals go straight for the back lawn. There's no ocean view, but it's one big gathering place for families, friends and those looking to soak up some sun with Beach Chalet beers and twice weekly live music in the summer.

1000 Great Hwy.; 415-386-8439

10) Jones

You wouldn't know Jones is there from the street. Enter through the side into a low-ceilinged, dim, sprawling space that opens out onto an even larger patio.

The View: The massive indoor and outdoor industrial-tinged space is one of the coolest outdoor spots in town, looking down over busy Geary Street below.

Eat & Drink: Not a food lovers' destination so much as a "see and be seen" drinking spot, it's best to stick with simple cocktails like a dark & stormy (rum, ginger beer and lime).

Insider Tip: As it's a drink and bites hot spot, brunch is our secret time for soaking up the sun on the Jones rooftop without the mobs. Think huevos rancheros or hazelnut chocolate-stuffed French toast.

620 Jones St.; 415-496-6858

outdoor dining
summer dining