San Francisco summers are a lot better than people make them out to be. It might not be the same drastic change that happens when other cities thaw after long winters, but we’re finally able to go to Dolores or walk around the Richmond and actually enjoy the weather once June rolls around - just maybe with an emergency sweater available. These are our all-time favorite places for eating and drinking outside, and they’re the best places in SF to enjoy the weather when you realize that the fake Mark Twain quote is just a lie.
the outdoor spots
El Techo is pretty much the perfect San Francisco rooftop bar: there are umbrellas in case it’s too bright, heaters for when it’s too cold, and margaritas that’ll make you not really care about either. On top of that, the views from this spot in the Mission are basically unbeatable, and if staring off into the distance makes you feel hungry for some reason, the carnitas here are great too.
Zazie is one of the best breakfast spots in the city. We’d wait outside in a freezing nuclear winter for their gingerbread pancakes and eggs benedicts, but coming here when it’s warm out means that we can spend some time on their amazing back patio. On nicer days, they take the awning off and you can have your breakfast under the blue sky. But even if they have it covered, enjoying what you can of the outside is a great way to start the day.
Now that the weather doesn’t suck, you want to use your carshare account for something other than Costco runs and telling people how much time you’re going to start spending in Napa. And you can still do those things, but you should also be taking in the incredible bay views from Bar Bocce in Marin. Even though it’s located just across the bridge, a trip here feels like a full vacation, and it’s a great place to come with a few people when the second best thing you can think of is sitting on some beach chairs on your suspect roof. Play some cornhole and maybe bet to see who will be the DD to drive back. If you lose, it’s no big deal, just keep looking out over the water and make them pay for the pizza you’re going to order.
If you’re checking out Ocean Beach, Beach Chalet is a good place to have in your back pocket for a ton of reasons. But if it’s a nice day outside, grab a spot in the grass with some friends and proclaim it as your temporary backyard after you’re over getting sand in everything you own. Drink your way through all of the beers they make while you meet all the surrounding dogs and debate with your group the merits of a game of hide and seek in Golden Gate Park.
The graveled backyard at Zeitgeist feels like it could be on the other side of The Sandlot ballfield, with graffiti and random signs everywhere, but instead of a mythic giant dog, there are picnic tables you can sit at. Whenever we have big plans to do absolutely nothing, this is where you’ll find us. Grab a pitcher of one of the craft beers they have on tap and settle in for an afternoon of slowly letting your phone die in your pocket while not caring because you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
We would eat at Nyum Bai if it was hailing angry cats outside, so when the weather is great, you can count on us crossing the Bay Bridge regularly to go to this Cambodian spot in Fruitvale. Part of the restaurant is outside, so if you’re desperate for some sunlight, you can sit out here, but you’ll end up waiting out there for a table anyway. Everything you order will be great, but we like the crispy catfish, pork belly koh, and the banana leaf salad that will cool you off faster than sitting on a bag of ice.
There’s always a line to get up to Charmaine’s at night, but we also like to come here in the afternoon to see the amazing view from atop the Proper Hotel. And since it’s always windier than a Mariah Carey/Shakira crossover music video up here, at least during the day you’ve got the sun to help you stay warm. If you’re set on getting cocktails here at night though, the firepits are nice to sit around and they have blankets too.
Summer Saturdays are the best excuse to start scraping the bottom of the friend barrel for someone whose birthday it is, just so you can have a valid reason to day drink and bar hop around the city. And after you find out that someone has no birthday plans and you selflessly volunteer to strategize for them, you should start at Palm House. Their open-air front porch on Union Street is the best place to get a feel for what’s going on in the rest of the neighborhood, all while you drink boozy slushies and plan the next stop so you don’t spend the whole day in one place.
Backyard barbecues are as synonymous with summer as painful coming-of-age romcoms. But thanks to San Francisco, your landlord doesn’t allow you to grill on your roof, even though it seems totally sane on your end. That’s when we head to 4505. They make some of our favorite BBQ in the city, and if going in on a few pounds of brisket isn’t your idea of fun, they also make an excellent burger. Pair that with their only-outdoor seating and the only thing missing from this ideal “backyard” party is a slip ’n slide.
Valley Tavern in Noe Valley has one of the best patios for drinking in the entire city. It’s split between multiple levels, each with its own picnic table, so it feels more like you’re hanging out in a backyard than a bar. But unlike your backyard, the beer here is actually cold. This place doesn’t serve food, but you carry whatever you want in from anywhere in the area.
Red’s Java House is such a classic that when you’re eating here, it feels more like you’re sitting in a movie than participating in real life because places like this don’t really exist anymore. The back patio overlooking a parking structure and the bay is one of the best places in the city to drink a few beers and eat a classic burger. It’s simple and good, but comes on a sourdough roll, which adds something extra to it.
There are always a few Saturdays during the summer when you decide to go to the Ferry Building Farmers Market and get enough fresh produce to feed the production team that makes Ariana Grande possible. Then once you get there, you realize that you don’t actually know how to cook anything and would rather just spend the day outside. To start things off, go to Gott’s Roadside in the Ferry Building. The patio is in the sun for most of the day, there are specials on buckets of beer and the wine list is way better than you’d expect from a burger place, and their burgers are also really good. We like the classic cheeseburger and getting garlic fries to go with it. Afterward, have someone run inside and get soft serve from the Gott’s counter in the main hallway - the line is always shorter there.
Foreign Cinema opened twenty years ago and at this point is an SF classic. Part of that has to do with consistently great food, but it’s also because of their incredible back patio that feels like you’re at a garden party where wearing linen is strongly encouraged. It’s a great spot for families - you’ll see everyone from babies to the guy from Up on the back patio - and at night there are always people celebrating birthdays. There are always old movies being projected on the wall and you can sit there watching them trying to figure out what the actors are saying, or you can order more oysters and actually consider buying a closet full of seersucker like you’ve always wanted.
Even if the weather pulls a classic San Francisco and cools down out of nowhere, you can still drink outside comfortably at Anina. The back patio here is small, so most of the picnic tables are close enough to heaters to keep everyone comfortable. Plus it’s on the ground level and blocked on most sides by walls, so the wind isn’t an issue. Claim a picnic table with your friends and order a few punch bowls for everyone to split while you wonder why more places don’t have punch bowls.
If we had to choose one place in SF for our phones to die, it would probably be The Ramp in Dogpatch. This place is located right next to boat dry-storage, so it feels much more like you’re here as a location scout for Miami Vice than trying to enjoy an afternoon. And on weekends, they have live music, salsa dancing, and food from the grill they fire up outside. It feels way more like you’re on vacation in an old fishing town than at a bar in San Francisco, which makes it a great place to go off the grid for an afternoon - but make sure your phone has enough juice to get you home.
When the weather is good, the shady front patio at Nopalito is one of our favorite places to grab lunch outside and not worry about bringing any zinc oxide with us. Order the totopos con chile and some carnitas to split, and kill some time over margaritas. Even on a colder day, the heaters make this a great place to sit while you eat, even if there are seats open inside.
If one of your friends pops up with the idea to go fishing, but you’d rather jump in a tank with angry barracudas than learn how to bait a hook, try steering them towards Fish in Sausalito instead. This spot serves great seafood that would make even your most territorial friends from New England stop talking about Nantucket for at least five minutes. Go for the chowder, the crab roll, or pretty much anything else and you’ll be set while you look out at the boats that you might have ended up on today if you had lost the argument of what to do.
Nopa has a lot of good restaurants, but not a ton of outdoor options, unless you’re allowed to start counting nearby parks. Ragazza is an Italian place that’s great for pizza, pasta, and salads and a good spot to come with groups, but the best thing about it is the back patio. If you’re planning a low-key birthday, you can also reserve the gazebo, which makes it sort of like having a private garden party, but with way fewer tiny finger sandwiches and a lot more burrata.
Everything at this bar in Hayes Valley is located outside, except for a few shipping containers where the food and beer come from. Otherwise, it’s an empty lot with a ton of picnic tables full of people drinking well-priced Belgian beer and eating sausages and pretzels. While you’re probably not coming here for a full meal, it’s a great place to spend an entire afternoon when you’ve got nothing better to do or they’re fumigating your apartment for the third time. The only thing that’s missing is lights, probably so they can close at night because no one would leave if it were an option.