The Bay Area is known for its intemperate summers and wild temperature swings that leave tourists shivering by the wharf and sweltering inland. But evenings turn balmy in late summer and early fall -- and al fresco dining becomes a lovely thing.
These are a dozen of our favorite spots for dining outdoors, restaurants that range from the sleek and chic to the charmingly casual, with glorious patios, terraces and decks. Most of them are fairly new -- open just a few months or a year or two. Two are classics, but they've remade themselves so completely -- from patio to menu -- they're irresistible.
-- Jackie Burrell, Staff
El Techo de Lolinda
The scene: It's been a year since San Francisco's most famous -- and only? -- rooftop bar, atop the former restaurant Medjool, transformed into a sophisticated, Latin street-food fiesta. The sister bar to Lolinda, the buttoned-up Argentine steakhouse downstairs, El Techo is all about fun in the sun and fog: handcrafted, citrus-based mezcal and tequila "coctel" ($8-$12), by-the-pound chicharrones de carne ($14-$32), mix-and-match skewers, or chuzos ($7-$35) and a selection of small plates ($8-$13), from sopes to quesadillas, that will make you swoon for more.
Eye candy: Speaking of swooning: 360 degrees of San Francisco, a lime-tiled bar, cornflower blue umbrellas, adorable, manicured cactus gardens, wooden two-tops with metal stools, and yellow twinkling lights to fall in love under. Equally fabulous for a first date or girls-day brunch.
Sip & nosh: Empanadas de carne ($8) and ceviche de camarones ($13) are musts. The moist empanadas have a thin, flaky crust that elevates this classic combination of ground beef, potato, egg and raisin from the hard, doughy versions of yesterday. Roasted tomato, red onion, cucumber, avocado and what looked like slivers of radish gave the shrimp ceviche a zesty, addictive bite. For cocktails, we loved the complexity of the Margarita del Techo, with ocho plata, fidencio, mezcal, combiner, napoleon mandarin and lime (single, $13; pitcher, $45) and the La Paloma ($10; $34) made with tequila, grapefruit, lime, agave and soda.
Details: Open for dinner daily, brunch on weekends. 2518 Mission St., S.F. eltechosf.com.
-- Jessica Yadegaran, Staff
The Scene: If you're a local, you might not give the clubby, four-star Stanford Park Hotel a second thought -- unless you had friends visiting for a Cardinal football game or colleagues in town on business. But its restaurant, the Menlo Grill, is worth discovering. (And if you're a solo diner, you'll be pleased with the hotel-guest-type treatment you receive.) Executive chef Erik Romme, here just more than a year, has a Peninsula pedigree (Marche, Madera) and a flair with fresh produce, so summer's a great time to try his seasonal dishes.
Eye Candy: This cool, spacious, tree- and umbrella-shaded courtyard offers cushy rattan couches (one next to a fire pit) for lounging and noshing as well as tables more suited to a full meal. Service is professional but leisurely; you're invited to linger. "I don't want to go home," we overheard a diner tell her spouse on one of those perfect Bay Area evenings.
Sip & nosh: Order off the long libations menu or bring a bottle (no corkage fee!) while you nibble on grilled flatbread with prosciutto and fresh figs ($13) or a cheese plate ($10). As for entrees, Romme has a nice way with pork, as in the cider-brined Berkshire chop atop sauteed plums, roasted cippollini onions and artichoke hearts ($22), and with day-boat scallops, accompanied by a grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad ($29). For dessert, try the made-to-order beignets ($8) or the stone fruit crumble ($8) topped with Loard's ice cream from the East Bay. Could that be a friendly nod to Cal fans?
Details: Breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night dessert. 100 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; www.menlogrill.com.
-- Linda Zavoral, Staff
The scene: Between the eclectic art and quirky bar decor -- bizarre dioramas in antique snake cases, people -- it's hard to believe this cool and stylish Walnut Creek gastropub was ever stuffy Bing's. The San Francisco trio that launched it in 2012 pulled out last year; these days, Gavin Schmidt (Coi, Campton Place and Aqua) heads the kitchen, offering up a farm-to-fork menu of house-cured charcuterie, fresh local produce, grilled meats and some very tasty seafood.
Eye candy: On hot summer nights, the entire front of the restaurant rolls up to create an inside-outside terrace. It's the perfect place to perch after a long day of Broadway Plaza shopping.
Sip & nosh: When the air turns balmy and soft, it's hard to go wrong with a dish of fried snap peas ($6), ale-battered flounder with shishito peppers ($23) and a glass of prosecco or a Jimi Hendricks' Purple Haze ($12), with Hendricks gin, blueberries, lavender bitters and lime. And the three-course prix fixe dinners on weeknights ($30) may be the best deal in town.
Details: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch on Sundays. 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek; cornerstavern.com.
-- J. Burrell
The scene: In May, the Palomar Hotel's Fifth Floor restaurant reopened as Dirty Habit, a dramatic, film noir-inspired restaurant with a heated patio hideaway that's been all the rage this summer. Fifth Floor alum David Bazirgan prepares inventive seasonal dishes, such as seared duck liver and pork croquettes, to pair with bar manager Brian Means' creative craft cocktails. Means is into rare brown spirits, which is fitting for this edgy, dimly lit dining room. It's only when you step out onto that deluxe patio that you feel like Don Draper did each time he traveled to Santa Monica.
Eye candy: From the tattooed staff to the smartly dressed finance types, beautiful people are the first thing you'll notice inside the high, manicured green hedges. We loved the trio of spherical fountains gurgling water into pebble-stone ponds and the cozy, red-accented gray couches. A community table sits under twinkling lights. The design is sexy. Prepare to see and be seen.
Sip & nosh: Means' cocktail menu is up-to-the-minute on trends and broken down by seasonal and shaken, stirred and sipped, punches to share, barrel-aged cocktails and aperitif goodies. Everyone was sipping the Lovable Trixter ($13), a balanced blend of Plymouth Gin, fresh lime juice, blackberries, lemon peel and sage. We nursed the stronger Sherry Cobbler ($13), a mix of Lustau "Papirusa" Manzanilla Sherry, Pineapple Gum and Orange served in a mint julep cup. To soak up the alcohol, opt for the clever "Up in Smoke" fondue ($14) with roasted seasonal vegetables and brioche croutons as well as the most addictive, thick-cut fries ($6) in recent memory. The accompanying harissa dip was gone faster than you can say "aioli."
Details: Dinner daily except Sunday. Palomar Hotel, 12 Market St., S.F.; www.dirtyhabitsf.com
-- J. Yadegaran
The scene: Scott's always had a nice view of downtown San Jose from its sixth-floor spot. Two years ago it became a glorious al fresco view, thanks to an ingenious idea to knock down an exterior wall and transform the parking garage on the other side. The result is a large rooftop patio with seating for about 90, including 16 counter bar seats that face outward, toward the Tech Museum, Plaza de Cesar Chavez and the beautiful foothills beyond.
Eye candy: As the sun sets and twilight hits, the supercool aqua lights along the perimeter bar seats turn on. Below is palm tree-lined Park Avenue. These are the premium seats to grab early; the high-top tables with good views go quickly, too. And there's a long fire pit to keep diners toasty.
Sip & nosh: Start with fresh oysters (raw or barbecued and a deal during happy hour) or, if you're here with a crowd, order the large sampler of fried calamari, lump crab cakes and wrapped jumbo prawns ($39). If you like your jambalaya heavy on seafood instead of rice, this version is packed with prawns, fresh fish and large scallops ($27). Warm evenings put customers in a tropical drink mood -- the Lychee Fresh cocktail and minty Mango-Passionfruit Mojito (both $11) are popular.
Details: Lunch weekdays, dinner nightly. 185 Park Ave., San Jose; www.scottsseafoodsj.com.
-- L. Zavoral
The scene: Chef-owner Erin Andrews' new digs on Railroad Avenue combine the cozy, neighborhood vibe of the original downtown cafe with a cool, shabby-chic design-savvy -- and a patio that combines Provence with a heap of NorCal. The kitchen still specializes in American comfort classics using local, organic and sustainable ingredients whenever possible, as well as a solid lineup of fresh-baked pastries and house-made coolers perfect for summer sipping.
Eye candy: The restaurant spills out into a massive rear patio with community benches and bright tiled tables, shabby chic blankets for chilly nights, a modern, babbling wall fountain and a cold cart filled with ice cream sandwiches (hello, childhood joy). It's al fresco -- elevated.
Sip & nosh: Sideboard's soft-shell crab sandwich ($14.75) is legendary, as is its gruyere-and-white-cheddar macaroni and cheese ($10.75). If you want something on the lighter side, try a fluffy homemade English muffin ($4). But, before summer's end, make sure to try the watermelon mint cooler ($3.25) with a splash of lemonade. It's the epitome of refreshment.
Details: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 90 Railroad Ave., Danville; www.facebook.com/SideboardDanville
-- J. Yadegaran
The scene: Pit-master Brenden Scanlon learned his craft as part of Atlanta's competitive barbecue circuit. It's been two years, and Sauce's homage to American carnivore culture -- from St. Louis-cut spareribs and Carolina pulled pork to Texan beef brisket and Kansas City-style sauce -- continues to draw fans. Sports lovers also relish the multiple TVs (we lost count at six), but don't be fooled. With the sweet smell of smoked hickory and apple wood and woodsy-chic decor, Sauced is much too hip to be considered just a sports bar. But you can call them a brewing company. They make and serve six craft brews under the Sauced label. Deuce Pigalow IPA, anyone?
Eye candy: Sauced's two large patios dominate this newly swanked-out stretch of First Street. Sit at one of the dozen or so weathered barn-wood tables closer to the restaurant's entrance, and you can still watch the game on two conveniently located flat-screen TVs. Opt for the umbrella-covered patio overlooking the Bankhead Theater's fountain and enjoy dappled sun and modern metal chairs. Just be warned: If that metal chair isn't in the shade, it may barbecue you.
Sip & nosh: Share the three-meat combo ($25.99) with two sides so you can sample multiple items of deliciousness. The burnt ends, a surprisingly tender Kansas City delicacy of fleshed out, smoked whole brisket, is a must, as are the drippy St. Louis spareribs. Sauced's smoked baked beans are outrageously delicious, especially when paired with a Piggystyle light golden ale. Don't miss the sweet potato casserole, a simple puree with a delightful, buttery, walnut crunch.
Details: Lunch and dinner daily. 2300 First St., Suite 120, Livermore. http://saucedbbqandspirits.com
-- J. Yadegaran
The Scene: This relative newcomer adds Latin flavor and a festive atmosphere to downtown Campbell's already robust restaurant culture. Chef Ricardo Ramirez's extensive menu features Central and South American influences, from the molés of Oaxaca to the ceviches of Peru. The bold flavors are matched by the bright, modern décor with walls painted yellow, red and electric blue.
Much of the action centers on the large bar in the middle of the restaurant, which serves classic Latin libations like pisco sours and riffs on the margarita theme in addition to several South American wines.
Eye Candy: The sidewalk tables along Campbell Avenue might be the most pleasant place to dine in the entire restaurant. Large, flower-filled terra cotta planters buffer diners from the busy street without hampering its people-watching potential. If you can't score a seat on the patio, don't fret, a wall of doors folds open to give the front of the dining area a decidedly al fresco feel, too.
Sip & nosh: Ciano's house sangria ($10 glass/$40 liter) is downright delicious, so take a friend and order a pitcher with appetizers. The beef empanada ($11) with its tender pastry and savory filling is the perfect accompaniment, as is the trio of dips ($9) -- guacamole, an addictive black bean hummus and a salsa of roasted tomatoes that's so good it should be bottled and sold. If you're really hungry, the juicy double cut pork chop ($27) could feed a small army, but it's good enough to ensure there won't be leftovers.
Details: Lunch and dinner daily; plus happy hour from 2 to 6 p.m. every day. 280 E. Campbell, Campbell; www.cianosmodernlatin.com
-- J. Graue, Correspondent
The scene: This industrial chic bistro in Richmond's old Ford Motor assembly plant boasts some of the most jaw-dropping views around, from San Francisco's iconic skyline to UC Berkeley's Campanile. Inside, Chez Panisse and Cesar alums Maggie Pond and Richard Mazzera, who opened Assemble last year, have crafted a New American take on classic Americana, from Frito pie and chicken pot pie to fish and chips with radishes, fresh herbs and edible flowers straight from the restaurant's Victory Garden. It's a theme. The assembly plant churned out warships during World War II, and the Rosie the Riveter Visitor's Center lies just across the sidewalk.
Eye candy: The al fresco terrace includes not just patio tables, but comfy lounge chairs from which to ponder the Bay with a craft brew or Aviation cocktail ($10) in hand. Stretch your legs afterward with a stroll along the waterfront.
Sip & nosh: They do grilled beef filet ($25) and trout almandine ($22), but those sandwiches -- a grilled tri-tip with chile aioli, say, or the Midnight Cuban with house-made pickles ($14 each, including hand-cut fries) -- are tough to resist. Ditto on the fresh, crisp fish and chips ($16), which come with a tart tartar sauce and zippy slaw. As for brunch: hello, Eggs Hussarde ($13), a riff on the Benedict theme, accompanied by watermelon salad.
Details: Lunch weekdays, dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays, brunch on weekends. 1414 S. Harbour Way, Richmond; enter by the gate house and go around to the parking lot in back; assemblerestaurant.com.
-- J. Burrell
The scene: This regional Mexican restaurant made major waves when it opened in Berkeley's Arts District two years ago. Chef Matt Gandin (he was at San Francisco's Delfina for nine years before this) continues to draw the crowds with his mix of modern, refined and very fresh fare inspired by Oaxaca and Mexico's coastal regions. Some of that gorgeous produce is very local indeed -- Comal launched an experimental rooftop garden this spring with tomatoes, chiles, epazote and chard. The gorgeous patio and Mexican craft cocktails are a potent draw, too.
Eye candy: Berkeley is not exactly known for its warm evenings, but the enticing patio out back includes heat lamps and a cozy fire pit, essentials when the fog rolls in. We find the mezcal flights are warming, too.
Sip & nosh: Comal offers tempting shareable platters, with a spit-roasted whole chicken or enormous grilled rib-eye, but somehow we always get the same thing. Why mess with perfection? For us, that's a classic Margarita ($9) with Cimarron Blanco, orange-scented agave and lime, or a fiery Jack Satan ($10), Partida Reposado, hibiscus syrup, infierno tincture) with a few small plates, including the beef and pork albondigas ($12) in a deeply red adobo sauce.
Details: Dinner daily. 2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; www.comalberkeley.com.
-- J. Burrell
The Scene: This Michelin-starred restaurant is one of the Peninsula's ultimate destination dining spots. The swanky surrounds make it a great backdrop for business between Silicon Valley types, but if you're off the clock, it's probably even better. A meal at Madera, part of the luxurious Rosewood Sand Hill Resort in Menlo Park, feels like a mini-vacation.
Sure, chef Peter Rudolph's refined cooking, much of it done over a wood-fired grill, is a big draw, as is the jaw-dropping wine list curated by sommelier Paul Mekis, but the five-star views are certainly part of the equation.
Eye Candy: Tables on the outdoor terrace fill up fast in fine weather, thanks to the views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. By day, diners can soak up the sun along with the vistas -- tree-covered ranges in the distance and resort guests lazing on lounge chairs by the aqua blue pool immediately below. In the evening, it's all about the swoon-worthy sunsets and tendrils of fog curling among the forested hills.
Sip & nosh: A glass of bubbly and the lightly fried rock shrimp tempura ($21) are an ideal start for lunch, while brunch practically demands bottomless mimosas ($30 or $14 for one) and eggs Benedict topped with a crab and shrimp cake ($20). For a celebratory night out, it would be hard to go wrong with the oak-grilled beef strip loin ($41).
Details: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Brunch on Sundays. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park; www.maderasandhill.com.
-- J. Graue
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
The Scene: The restaurant at this historic Livermore Valley winery is the epitome of wine country cuisine. The menu features fresh, seasonal produce, much of it grown in Wente's own half-acre organic garden, tended by master gardener Diane Dovholuk and then turned into a glorious, seasonal menu by executive chef Matt Greco. Dishes are influenced by Greco's background in French and Italian cuisine, which he learned in some of New York's most highly esteemed kitchens, including Café Boulud and A Voce.
Eye Candy: Sycamore trees circle the large, sun-dappled patio, with views of golden hills and, of course, the winery's tasting room. The patio was just expanded to include a lounge area, with chairs gathered around gas firepits and its own dedicated all-day menu.
Sip & nosh: Surprisingly, Wente wines don't dominate the award-winning list here. The extensive lineup features other Livermore Valley producers and well beyond. A glass of L'Ecole Semillon from Washington ($11.50) pairs very nicely with Greco's duck liver mousse ($9) with stone fruit preserves, as well as the steamed little neck clams with sweet corn and spicy chorizo ($14). Greco makes the most of the season's produce in a lasagna ($24) layered with more of that delicious corn and chanterelles in a light cream sauce.
Details: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch on Sundays. 5050 Arroyo Road, Livermore; www.wentevineyards.com.
-- J. Graue
We've shared some of our favorite spots for al fresco dining. Now it's your turn. What are your favorite patio or terrace dining options around the Bay, and what makes them special? Send the details to email@example.com or post them on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #EDPalfresco.