It’s September, which in San Francisco means the beginning of Indian Summer and the end of Fogust. As the temperatures climb into the 70’s and 80’s, we channel our inner Elaine Benes and tell everyone to get out – outside, that is. It always feels special to dine al fresco, and while many restaurants offer sidewalk seating, these spots feature honest-to-goodness patios, verandas, and terraces that amp truly amp up the ambience. Of course, most of these top San Francisco Outdoor Dining restaurants also have heat lamps — because Bay Area weather. Read on to find out where to make the most of this special SF season.
This classy French-Vietnamese eatery has a charming and unique patio space. The tiled promenade leading to the restaurant’s entrance is an atrium-like veranda, featuring outdoor seating at tables nestled among palm fronds and banana trees — romantic and evocative of the storied elegance of Vietnam in the 1920’s. The French and Vietnamese chefs offer a menu of classic Vietnamese dishes, such as crispy Saigon crepes and fresh spring rolls, as well as fusion dishes like Pot Au “Pho” with braised oxtail and short ribs in a oxtail bouillon, crispy vermicelli noodles, turnips, pearl onions, and shaved radish served with mushroom bone marrow fondue. Make a reservation at Le Colonial.
Richmond neighborhood Italian joint Fiorella serves up pizzas and pastas, but equally good are the comfort food classics like luscious wood-roasted chicken and Guittard chocolate budino with hazelnuts and Maldon sea salt made from a recipe handed down from the mother of one of the partners (a retired chocolatier). The newly opened back patio is bright and cheery with yellow chairs and a soothing rock garden perimeter with desert plants and cacti giving the space a decidedly SoCal vibe. Make a reservation at Fiorella.
The patio right along the Embarcadero,that fronts Americano is a magnet for après workday libations as well as for business lunches and dinners. The outdoor space is set back from the street but affords a view of the San Francisco Ferry Building, peeking at the Bay Bridge and the bay itself, and yet it’s frontage is swathed with greenery and is the front yard space every apartment dweller wishes he or she had. The California and Mediterranean menu offers pizzas, pasta, and snacks aplenty, including deviled eggs, crispy chickpeas, and feta piquillo dip to nibble on while you enjoy the nature at its urban best. Make a reservation at Americano.
San Francisco isn’t known for roof bars — but there is one notable exception. In the heart of the Mission lies El Techo de Lolinda, a choice spot for cocktails and Latin American street food. It’s also beloved for its lively brunch that showcases Mexican dishes like the chorizo scramble with roasted vegetables, avocado, potatoes, and chipotle or carnitas served with black beans, escabeche, chipotle salsa, and housemade tortillas. Pro tip: Wash it all down with pitchers of margaritas or palomas. Make a reservation at El Techo.
No time for a vacation? You can take a Caribbean staycation without leaving the city, courtesy of Palm House. Chill at this fun spot facing Union Street and savor an eclectic menu under a covered terrace just beyond the sidewalk. Watch the world go by while sipping on a chipotle mango margarita and nibbling on macadamia nut crusted mac and cheese, jerk chicken tacos, and bay scallop ceviche. Make a reservation at Palm House.
This downtown destination, known for creative cocktails and for one of the best in-house charcuterie programs in the city, has a covered and heated patio just behind the restaurant in the courtyard of 140 New Montgomery. Akin to a secret garden in San Francisco’s Financial District, it’s enclosed in a striking steel and glass awning and outfitted with heaters and retractable canvas walls. The patio is weatherproof and available year round making it perfect for private events and parties — but it’s open to lunch and dinner diners as well. Make a reservation at Trou Normand.
This bakery and restaurant way out in the Outer Richmond is cozy with a clean, shabby chic vibe. The outdoor patio was designed by Paxton Gate and offers a backyard garden feel with its fruit trees and herbs. When the sun is shining, it’s where you want to be, in all likelihood eating a tartine open-faced sandwich with tomatoes, onion cream, and greens on savory walnut bread or digging into a plate of French toast with caramelized pink pearl apples and whipped vanilla crème fraîche. Make a reservation at Marla.
One of the best restaurants in the Castro, Starbelly serves California comfort food. In addition to sidewalk seating out front, there’s a very private covered and heated patio out back that’s open until 9PM each night. The rustic space features plants and a mini vegetable and herb garden. Wherever you choose to sit, the housemade chicken liver pâté served with buttered bread, sweet onion marmalade, and whole grain mustard is a signature dish well worth trying. Make a reservation at Starbelly.
Park Chalet is as good for locals playing hooky as it is for travelers to San Francisco. An expansion to the Beach Chalet, the space is actually a brewery with an open-air dining room and a bar with a stone fireplace. It has fully retractable glass doors and ceiling and an indoor-outdoors atmosphere that protects you from the chill of the often foggy beach. Since it’s also a brewery, be sure to knock back some beers with those $1 happy hour oysters and enjoy the ocean view. Make a reservation at Park Chalet.
Located at Pier 39, family-owned Pier Market offers prime views of the waterfront from inside and out. The menu is filled with classic West Coat seafood choices, such as cioppino, shrimp and crab cocktails and salads, clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, and mesquite grilled fish and shrimp. It’s the ideal place to enjoy Fleet Week or take in the colors during the annual Tulipmania. Make a reservation at Pier Market.
Presidio Social Club
Our piece of wilderness in the city is the Presidio. A national park, it’s lush green and chock full of trees. From the classic veranda or the back patio, dining outdoors is almost always an option at Presidio Social Club. The converted 1903 military barracks now serve as a “club with no dues,” where you can find comfort food and expertly mixed cocktails at weekend brunch, lunch, or dinner. The meatloaf and mac and cheese are crowd pleasers — and the brioche beignets? Don’t you dare leave without trying them! Make a reservation at Presidio Social Club.
While the dining room at Foreign Cinema is lovely, it’s the outdoor interior patio that is the real hallmark of this venue. True to the name, at night films are screened on the far wall. During the day there isn’t a more pleasant space for brunch. It’s bustling, festive, friendly, and yet quiet enough that you can still enjoy conversation with your date or the whole family. The shareable caramel pecan sticky bun is a signature dish at brunch, and at dinner you can choose from substantial entrees or “urban picnic” fare such as lavender baked chèvre in a grape leaf, grapes, tapenade, crudité, and baguette toasts or a charcuterie board with duck rillettes, pâté de Maison and duck liver mousse, Dijon mustard, and grilled levain. Make a reservation at Foreign Cinema.
Fog Harbor Fish House
A wonderful seafood choice along the Bay, Fog Harbor offers dramatic vistas of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz in addition to complimentary sourdough bread baked in-house every hour. Located at Pier 39. it was the first restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf to offer 100% sustainable seafood. Try the seasonal specials for the freshest local seafood. Also of note: The cocktail program features many local spirits and the wine list is comprised exclusively of California selections. Make a reservation at Fog Harbor Fish House.
Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.
Photo credits: Aubrie Pick (El Techo); Colin Price (Trou Normand); Mariko Reed (Marla); Pier 39 (Pier Market); Chloe Jackman (Presidio Social Club); Charlie Villyard (Foreign Cinema); Caroline Tudor (Fog Harbor Fish House).