Unlike the rest of California, San Francisco has a relatively cool annual climate and the coldest days of the year are often in the summer. One of the most infamous quotes about the city (incorrectly attributed to author Mark Twain) states that “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” — an account that was especially true in 2013. But San Franciscans know that if you survive June gloom, gray sky July and Fogust, come autumn, you’ll be rewarded with heat waves and gloriously sunny days during the city’s Indian summer. Here are our favorite picks for savoring San Francisco’s late-summer scene al fresco.
If you have a penchant for good wine, head to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant La Folie. This upscale French gem, from chef Roland Passot, has been charming its Russian Hill neighborhood since 1988. There’s a small patio in front of the restaurant with a trio of wire bistro tables and chairs — the Polk Street location is excellent for people watching — and hungry guests can nosh on the lounge menu, which includes refined bar bites such as truffle deviled eggs with trout roe or crispy duck confit salad.
Traveling with a large group? With its massive bar, extensive outdoor space and sleek wooden seating areas, Jones is your best bet. Although it’s located in the heart of the Tenderloin, this restaurant and nightclub is more scene-y than seedy. The décor is modern industrial with a hint of edgy European flavor — think concrete slabs juxtaposed with ornately patterned iron gates and low, but colorful, lighting. On warm days, Jones is buzzing at happy hour; with an assortment of shareable bites such as pizza, panini and pasta, it’s a great spot for a round of after-work drinks and snacks.
At this Ferry Building restaurant, you’ll find a bustling outdoor area that’s always packed with a mixture of tourists and locals. Admire the breathtaking view of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island and the East Bay from your seat while you sample the city’s most beloved fresh shellfish. The menu is small, but with a selection of raw and baked oysters, tasty salads and arguably San Francisco’s best grilled cheese sandwich, there’s something for everyone. On Mondays and Thursdays, from 5 to 7 p.m., there are beer and wine specials and half-priced oysters on the half shell.
San Francisco’s not known for its plazas, but the heart of downtown is home to Mint Plaza, and here you’ll find 54 Mint. This rustic Italian eatery with ample patio space is open for lunch, happy hour and dinner. The menu features comforting classic Italian dishes such as spaghetti carbonara and gnocchi with smoked pancetta, tomato, onion and pecorino. The all-Italian wine list is an extensive collection of varietals, from sparkling pinot nero rosé to bold barbera d’Asti. 54 Mint’s central location makes the crowd interesting and ripe for people watching — it’s a mixture of tourists, convention-goers, business types and savvy locals.
Speaking of savvy locals, when San Franciscans are thirsty for an artisanal cocktail with a rooftop view, they make a beeline for El Techo de Lolinda. Translated from Spanish, El Techo de Lolinda means the roof of Lolinda, and this hot spot is a sophisticated Argentine-style steakhouse in the hip Mission district. Latin American street food — shrimp ceviche with cucumber, braised beef empanadas and corn on the cob slathered in sour cream and chili — is paired with an assortment of Latin beer and tequila, pisco and cachaça cocktails. The best thing about El Techo is that it’s open early (at 11 a.m.), but closes late (1 a.m.) on weekends.
Photos Courtesy of Becca Henry Photography, Ed Anderson Photography and Wes Rowe