Although San Francisco is not a city known for its hot weather, when the temperatures hit 70 degrees, locals flock to the restaurants and bars with coveted outdoor patios for some fun in the sun. From an elegant seafood-centric eatery tucked underneath the Bay Bridge to a surprise expanse in the middle of the bustling Financial District, here are five delectable spots for alfresco dining in The City by the Bay.
With a prime spot on the Embarcadero, Waterbar boasts beautiful views of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and the shimmering bay. The compact patio quickly fills up on warm weekends, so if you know the weather is going to be nice, be sure to make a reservation. Not surprisingly, Waterbar’s specialty is fresh, sustainable seafood from reliable sources. Chef Parke Ulrich excels at all sorts of preparations, be it a sliver of the most melt-in-your mouth hamachi sashimi or a delicious swordfish that’s been slowly poached in olive oil. In the mood for oysters on the half shell and a glass of dry rosé? There’s also an extensive raw bar (with more than 15 different kinds of oysters), a solid wine list and cocktail selections (we love the Southern Hemisphere with Capurro pisco, cherry Heering, Cointreau, pineapple and toasted orange). The space, which was designed by Waterbar owner Pat Kuleto, a local restaurateur known for his grandeur and sophistication, oozes a relaxed elegance.
Over in the Mission sits this San Francisco institution. Opposite of Trou Normand’s approach to nature, the 16-year-old Foreign Cinema’s courtyard patio is front and center. With a black and white silent movie projected onto one of the patio’s high brick walls, the courtyard is the focal point of the restaurant and the first thing you notice upon walking in. The Mediterranean California menu, from the husband-and-wife chef team of Gayle Pirie and John Clark, is likely the second thing to catch your eye. The creamy brandade gratin (perfectly smooth potatoes and salt cod); natural beef tartare with slivered anchovies, a farm fresh egg and waffle chips; and spring green risotto with nettles, roasted porcini mushrooms, fromage blanc and new garlic all steal the show. Everything about Foreign Cinema, from the culinary techniques and pinpoint service to an extensive selection of champagne and sparkling wine, screams celebration. It’s the ideal spot to honor birthdays, a promotion or any other congratulatory occasion under the stars.
Twilight at the Presidio
For a truly unique experience, head to the Presidio between 5 and 9 p.m. on Thursday nights for Twilight at the Presidio. Put on by the wildly successful food-truck based Off the Grid group, Twilight is a relatively new weekly happening that brings together gorgeous views of the Bay, private cabanas with fire pits and Adirondack chairs and some of the city’s top food trucks. You’ll also find a bar, with an assortment of seasonal cocktails and local wine, that allows you to order by text. Once you get a hot toddy on your iPhone, just sit back and enjoy the jazz band. Or, you could always bring in a bottle of your favorite red to go along with your feta- and pickled red onion-topped lamb burger from Fins on the Hoof. If Fins isn’t there, no worries; the family-friendly event features a rotating mix of culinary talents and a new musical act every week. Do note that nights can be chilly, so bring blankets and scarves with you.
When you walk into Trou Normand, with its wide white marble bar, high ceilings, and crowded booths, you might realize that the whole-animal butchery restaurant has a gorgeous patio. However, when you walk past the somewhat-open kitchen and by a large wooden table where knives are busy carving into pigs, you’ll find yourself in the stunning open area. Enclosed by several lemon trees, the area feels like a secret oasis tucked away from the clamor of downtown. Browse the killer drink list — ordering a cocktail is a must as Trou Normand is the creation of Thad Vogler, one of San Francisco’s most illustrious bar owners — and sample some of the housemade charcuterie. There are several types of pâté, fresh ham, French-country-style salami and lardo. If you’re hoping for a more substantial lunch or dinner, executive chef Salvatore Cracco has got you covered. He makes crispy fried arancini with a molten fontina center; a finger-licking pork burger with white cheddar and onion marmalade; and steamed clams with pancetta and fennel in a wildly tasty broth.
Across the street from the Ferry Building, at the sleek, modern Hotel Vitale, rests Americano. The restaurant and bar boasts one of the city’s largest outdoor spaces and, on a warm afternoon, it is the place to see and be seen around happy hour. Crowds of stylish professionals flock here to lounge on the outdoor couches while sipping crisp Chenin blanc and taking in the Bay views at sunset. There are large communal tables essential for groups and plenty of scrumptious, easy-to-share plates — think burrata with strawberry pistachio relish and grilled bread; artichoke and Brussels sprouts fritti; heritage pork and beef meatballs in tomato sauce; and an assortment of crunchy, light pizzas — to make them all happy.