From steaks to burgers, pizza and tacos, everything tastes better on the patio. Here’s our list of the best outdoor dining in San Diego, from George’s at the Cove in La Jolla to Little Italy’s Crack Shack, Oceanside’s Hello Betty to Balboa Park’s The Prado.
Outdoor living is integral to San Diego’s DNA, which is why countless restaurants feature patio dining with views as delicious as the food they serve.
From steaks to burgers, pizza to pasta, sushi to tacos, everything tastes better outside. No matter if they’re lusciously landscaped or bejeweled with twinkling lights, comfy and cozy or large and luxurious, whether the vista is of the downtown skyline or the streetscape, the bay or the ocean, restaurant patios are the place to be in the summer.
In the interest of honesty, though, I’ll admit that when given a choice, I don’t always opt to sit outside. The enveloping experience you get in some restaurant dining rooms is just too pleasing to pass up (I’m thinking specifically of Addison, Born & Raised, Jeune et Jolie and Fort Oak). I also confess to being a weather wimp. If there’s a chill in the air and a patio isn’t heated like Palm Springs in July, I want to be inside. Blankets are a nice touch, but the only thing I want wrapped like a burrito in public is a burrito.
Here are our picks for eateries with the most fun and festive patios, decks and terraces around San Diego County — and a special salute to the Patio Hall of Fame. The quality of the food you’re served was also a key factor in a restaurant earning a spot in this roundup, because if I had an appetite for so-so eats in a pretty setting, I’d just hang out on my own patio.
Buona Forchetta: Is the wait for a table at this South Park trattoria worth the wait? Ask the legions of fans who want nothing more than that pizza on that patio. Patio pro tip: Craving pasta but don’t want to pass up on the 30-plus pizza varieties? Try the pizza in a jar appetizer, with fried dough, burrata, tomato and basil. 3001 Beech St., South Park. (619) 381-4844. buonaforchettasd.com
Campfire: Gourmet glamping at one of the best restaurants in the county, complete with a campfire and s’mores. Patio pro tip: This campfire is made for gathering ‘round — family-style brunch and dinner menus for eight to 14 people are just $25 and $40, respectively. Each features the restaurant’s greatest hits to choose from. 2725 State St., Carlsbad. (760) 637-512. thisiscampfire.com
Caroline’s Seaside Café: A must-visit spot with dramatic ocean views and chef Giuseppe Ciuffa’s breakfast, lunch and brunch specialties at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Patio pro tip: The Cove Burger, with sweet onion marmalade, smoked gouda and chipotle aioli, brings waves of flavor. 8610 Charles F. Kennel Way, La Jolla. (858) 202-0569. carolinesseasidecafe.com
Carruth Cellars Wine Garden: An urban winery with a secluded urban oasis of greenery in Little Italy. Patio pro tip: A new wood-fired pizza oven turns out six varieties of crispy pies every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. Pair them with a white or red flight of four polished wines, then pick up some to-go cans of 2018 sparkling rosé ($12; each can serves two glasses). 2215 Kettner Blvd. Little Italy. (858) 847-9463. carruthcellars.com
Catania: Coastal Italian cuisine in one this coastal town’s finest settings, the rooftop of the whitewashed La Plaza center, made all the lovelier by panoramic ocean views and cozy banquettes. Patio pro tip: Pizza and pasta? You bet. But we’re partial to the creative appetizers, which include a soufflé-like spring garlic and parmesan sformato and wood-roasted cauliflower with whipped ricotta salata. 7863 Girard Ave., La Jolla. (858) 551-5105. cataniasd.com
Cesarina: One our new favorite restaurants sports excellent Italian food and a charming brick patio with warm wood furniture and hanging globe string lights. Patio pro tip: Breakfast isn’t an Italian thing, but it’s a Cesarina thing. Egg skillets, Benedicts, bowls, frittatas and dessert-sweet waffles, French toasts and bombolones (doughnuts filled with Nutella, jam or custard!) are all on the menu, 4161 Voltaire St., Point Loma. (619) 226-6222. cesarinarestaurant.com
Charles + Dinorah: Break out the Ray-Ban Wayfarers for this hip, mid-century-styled poolside patio eatery at The Pearl Hotel. Patio pro tip: This retro restaurant has an utterly modern menu punctuated by cheekily-named and sublime cocktails, like the bourbon-based Barrel Aged Beatnick and Winter’s Coming. 1410 Rosecrans St., Point Loma. (619) 226-6100. thepearlsd.com/dining
The Crack Shack: An open-air playground with a bar, fire pit and bocce court in a happening culinary corner of Little Italy. Patio pro tip: As addictive as the fried chicken — so good we never even sauce it — are the mini biscuits with miso butter. We’ve been known to order extra to bring home for breakfast. 2266 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 795-3299. crackshack.com
Cucina Enoteca Del Mar: An eclectic, chic see-and-be-seen rooftop patio, where if you want to live the dream, everything, from the tables to the light fixtures, is for sale. Patio pro tip: On Sundays, there’s no corkage fee if you buy a bottle at the excellent, Italian-centric wine shop downstairs. The rest of week, drink in the bargain wholesale prices. 2730 Via De La Valle, Del Mar. (858) 704-4500. urbankitchengroup.com/cucina-enoteca-del-mar
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse: A stunning and swanky steakhouse with patios on two levels and views overlooking San Diego Bay and Lane Field. Patio pro tip: The Prime Pair fixed-price menu on Sundays is a relative deal: $69 per person for a salad, side dish and an entrée paired with a jumbo lump crab cake. At the InterContinental San Diego, 901 Bayfront Court, downtown San Diego. (619) 272-5060. delfriscos.com/steakhouse/sandiego
El Jardín: A little bit of the Mexican countryside at Liberty Station, complete with pillows, blankets, textiles and other items sourced from superchef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins’ travels. Patio pro tip: Pair the superlative regional Mexican cuisine with wines from Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe, including the refreshing Lomita Cursi grenache rosé. 2885 Perry Road, Liberty Station. (619) 795-2322. eljardinrestaurantbar.com
Fireside by The Patio: When fireside and patio are in the name, you know this has to be one seriously gorgeous outdoor dining spot. Fireside is sprawling, yet cozy, with twinkling lights and comfy seating. Patio pro tip: Anything wood-fired or charcoal grilled is a must, from the smoked pork ribs to the wood-fired mussels, the grilled octopus to the smoked brisket and bleu flatbread. 2855 Perry Road, Liberty Station. (619) 432-2100. firesidesd.com
George’s Ocean Terrace: Don’t just wait to take out of town visitors here, impress yourself by nabbing a table at one of the best places to dine by the Pacific. More casual than its sister restaurant, George’s California Modern, the food is still made with care. Patio patio tip: The tasty tacos are served on heirloom corn tortillas made fresh daily by chef Trey Foshee’s Galaxy Taco. 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla. (858) 454-4244. georgesatthecove.com/ocean-terrace
Gravity Heights: This modern, buzzing brewery and restaurant in sort-of-sterile Sorrento Mesa has a large, lushly landscaped, 5,000-square-foot patio beer garden and open-air dining room. Patio pro tip: The food is no brewpub afterthought; it’s by the team behind La Jolla’s revered Whiskenladle. So expect elevated eats, like roasted bone marrow and Moroccan vegetable tagine. 9920 Pacific Heights Blvd., San Diego. (858) 283-8206. gravityheights.com
The Grill at Torrey Pines: Open-fire, wood-burning cooking on a patio set on the Torrey Pines Golf Course, with ocean views. It doesn’t get more civilized than that. Patio pro tip: Get a taste of the great outdoors with hot smoked salmon with melted eggplant and Ruby brook trout amandine, prepared in browned butter, with lemon and almonds. At The Lodge at Torrey Pines, 11480 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla. (858) 777-6641. lodgetorreypines.com/the-grill
Hello Betty Fish House: Say hello to an 180-degree ocean panorama in Oceanside. The downstairs patio offers a birds-eye view of the Oceanside Pier; the second floor deck has a bar and booth seating. Patio pro tip: Baja-style specialties are the way to go, with aguachile, ceviche, Cuervo oyster shooters, Mexican wild shrimp, fish tacos and chicharrónes and salsa. 211 Mission Ave., Oceanside. (760) 722-1008. hellobettyoceanside.com
Il Fornaio Coronado and Del Mar: The Bay Area-based upscale Italian chain scored two of the county’s loveliest locales; you can face the bay and downtown San Diego skyline on Coronado, or gaze at the Pacific from atop Del Mar Plaza. Patio pro tip: Pasta and pizza. Pizza and pasta. It’s all you need, especially the crispy, Cristina pizza, with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, shaved Grana Padano cheese, mushrooms and wild arugula, drizzled with white truffle oil. 1333 First St., Coronado. (619) 437-4911; 1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar. (858) 755-8876. ilfornaio.com
Jaynes Gastropub: The beloved, intimate neighborhood spot has a backyard garden patio overflowing with romance and European sophistication. Patio pro tip: There isn’t a bad dish on the menu so change it up by seeking out the weekly specials, like Tuesday’s classic Jayne Burger and a draft beer for $19.50, or Wednesday’s crazy-good buttermilk fried chicken for $24.50. 4677 30th St., North Park. (619) 563-1011. jaynesgastropub.com
Kettner Exchange: A lively, sexy rooftop patio with rentable cabanas, lounge seating, a full bar and a full-on Little Italy scene. Patio pro tip: Talented executive chef Brian Redzikowski has an arsenal of flavor-packed signature dishes, including the Pig Mac steamed bun, pork tenderbelly bun, big-eye tuna pizza and Sonoma lamb Szechuan noodles. 2001 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 255-2001. kettnerexchange.com
Little Italy Food Hall: It’s people-watching central in one of the most vibrant plazas in San Diego, Little Italy’s Piazza della Famiglia. Patio pro tip: The food hall has something for everyone — cocktails, wine, beer, quality Asian food, lobster rolls, carved meats, Sam The Cooking Guy’s quirky, tasty sandwiches masquerading as tacos, and the dreamy Ambrogio15 pizza. Whatever you choose, a cup of Bobboi Natural Gelato is the only way to end your meal. 550 W Date St., Little Italy. (619) 269-7187. littleitalyfoodhall.com
Mr. A’s: With incomparable city, bay and airport views, this iconic establishment sets the gold standard for patio dining. Patio pro tip: Sure it’s a special place, but it’s not just for special occasions. The craft cocktails and chef Stéphane Voitzwinkler’s refined, contemporary fare can make any meal feel like a milestone event. 2550 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill. (619) 239-1377. asrestaurant.com
Panama 66: Nothing says San Diego like food and drink from the hip and acclaimed Blind Lady Ale House and Tiger! Tiger! Tavern team, enjoyed al fresco in Balboa Park. Patio pro tip: Every sandwich we’ve had, including the fontina-stuffed Käsekrainer sausage, braised barbecued chicken and the grilled portobello with pesto, has been a work of art. At the Sculpture Court at the San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park. (619) 696-1966. panama66.com
Puesto at The Headquarters: The interior of this modern Mexican eatery is a marvel of art and architecture, but it’s the vibrant, sunny orange-hued patio that brings some vibrancy to this corner of downtown San Diego. Patio pro tip: The Puesto Perfect Guacamole and Puesto Perfect Margarita are not exaggerations. 789 West Harbor Drive, downtown San Diego. (619) 233-888. eatpuesto.com/locations/san-diego-tacos
Stake Chophouse & Bar: The best restaurant on Coronado also has a gem of a rooftop patio with firepits, an Orange Avenue perch and a swanky air. Patio pro tip: Don’t miss the happy hour specials, with half-priced appetizers, oysters for $1.25 a pop and $15 glasses of Veuve Clicquot Champagne. 1309 Orange Ave., Coronado. (619) 522-0077. bluebridgehospitality.com/stakechophouse
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens: The first name in local craft brew offers sprawling, zen-like patio gardens in both Escondido and Liberty Station. Patio pro tip: Consume anything served with the Stone IPA whole grain mustard, like the Medianoche Cuban-ish sandwich and the homemade Imperial Russian Stout Bavarian pretzel. 1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido, (760) 294-7866; 2816 Historic Decatur Road, Liberty Station, (619) 269-2100. stonebrewing.com
Viewpoint Brewing Co.: A waterside brewery with one of the most unique locations in the county, Viewpoint’s over-sized patio has sweeping views of the San Dieguito Lagoon. Patio pro tip: The menu puts a fresh spin on favorite dishes, such as the Mary’s chicken schnitzel, curry fried chicken or cauliflower “naan mi” sandwich and churro French toast for brunch. 2201 San Dieguito Drive, Del Mar. (858) 356-9346. viewpointbrewing.com
The Wine Pub. A charming patio that also happens to be the dog-friendliest neighborhood spot around Patio pro tip: Like the wines on the shelf, the menu here is well-curated, with snacks like Marcona almonds and mixed olive to munch on to well-executed pastas and paninis, hearty homemade meatloaf and appropriately sinful desserts. 2907 Shelter Island Drive, Point Loma. (619) 758-9325. thewinepubsd.com
San Diego Patio Hall of Fame
When compiling this list of San Diego’s best patio dining spots, I immediately thought of The Prado in Balboa Park. And, of course, Coasterra on Harbor Island. And BO-Beau in La Mesa. And Vintana in Escondio. And Sea180º in Imperial Beach. And ...
Then it hit me: What all these exceptional restaurant patios have in common is that they’re all part of the ever-expanding Cohn Restaurant Group. CRG founders David and Lesley Cohn clearly have a knack for selecting primo settings for their eateries and have been committed to providing unique dining experiences long before it was de rigueur to do so.
That’s why those five gorgeously appointed restaurants make up our San Diego Patio Hall of Fame. Providing consistently high-quality food, skilled service and an unrivaled locale should be the goal of every restaurateur. In all three areas, the Cohns have few rivals.
Coasterra Modern Mexican
It’s Hall of Fame worthy because: It has the single most enchanting San Diego skyline and bayfront view from its glamorous dining deck, which accounts for more than half of the restaurant’s seating. 880 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island. (619) 814-1300. cohnrestaurants.com/coasterra
It’s Hall of Fame worthy because: If Balboa Park is San Diego’s jewel, this park patio is its jewel box. If the constellation of sparkling string lights illuminating this verdant, not-so-secret garden doesn’t make you grateful to live here with every twinkle, it’s time to pack up for Peoria. 1549 El Prado, Balboa Park. (619) 557-9441. cohnrestaurants.com/theprado
Sea180º Coastal Tavern
It’s Hall of Fame worthy because: In a beach community, what’s better than sitting directly on the sand? Fire pits, stylish seating and sunset vistas of the Imperial Beach Pier complete this postcard-perfect tableau. 800 Seacoast Drive, Imperial Beach. (619) 631-4949. cohnrestaurants.com/sea180
BO-Beau Kitchen + Garden
It’s Hall of Fame worthy because: It doesn’t just have a delightful, greenery-filled patio, it embodies a community gathering place in the heart of La Mesa village. It pulls off being both family-friendly and date-night perfect. 8384 La Mesa Blvd., La Mesa. (619) 337-3445. cohnrestaurants.com/bobeaukitchengarden
Vintana Wine + Dine
It’s Hall of Fame worthy because: Only the Cohns could envision that the penthouse level of the The Centre at Lexus Escondido could be transformed into an industrial-chic playground so expansive you could invite 1,000 of your closest friends to join you — and still have room. 1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido. (760) 745-7777. cohnrestaurants.com/vintana