This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of San Diego Magazine. It has been updated to reflect current operations.
San Diego has beachy, laid-back, and "coastal chic" in spades, but "sexy" is sometimes lacking. Thankfully, this Little Italy restaurant has brought sexy back. Their sleek rooftop has indoor and outdoor seating areas, plus a bar and swinging daybeds. Yes, it’s a scene, but in the best possible way.
2001 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Little Italy can sometimes feel frenetic, but that all slips away on the second-floor patio of this stylish, serene wine bar. The Lompoc-based vintners specialize in pinot noirs and chardonnays, with some bold reds to sample, too. You can even take your vino in a growler to go.
2130 India Street, Little Italy
While we never thought dining and car dealerships could mix, Vintana proves us wrong. This fine dining spot has panoramic city and mountain views atop Escondido’s Lexus Centre, and the menu is as luxurious as the sedans below. Decadent items include filet mignon and lobster mac ’n’ cheese, and their Tuesday date night special includes two entrées and a bottle of wine for $50.
1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido
Some downtown rooftops can be, ahem, cheesy. Not so at this refined space atop the Courtyard San Diego Gaslamp. Enter through a dedicated, non-hotel doorway and head up to the 14th floor for views of downtown and the bay. The menu is mostly small bites, and the cocktails focus on barrel-aged and throwback concoctions.
453 Sixth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter
Superfoods, ocean views, and yoga sound like a winning La Jolla trifecta, and that’s what you’ll get at this rooftop vegan and organic café that shares a space with a yoga studio. While dining on grain bowls, smoothies, and vegan nachos, you can scope out their cool aerial yoga classes. They also host virtual events for breath work and reiki training.
7650 Girard Avenue, La Jolla
This second-floor space has the buzz of Pacific Beach’s bar scene with a little extra polish. The patio offers ocean views, a fire pit, four private cabanas, and a retractable awning for shade. Depending on your hunger pang, you can choose from weekday breakfast or weekend brunch, a gourmet snack section that includes bourbon-bacon popcorn and Korean beef tacos, a “light menu” of salads, or classic American fare, like mini Chicago dogs.
722 Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach
Take in the Gaslamp action from the comfort of this hip, open-air deck outfitted in rose gold seats, life-size animal topiaries, and market lights. The rooftop has its own menu, with shareables like poke tostadas and firecracker shrimp. They’re well-known for their old-school tipples and craft cocktail shots.
535 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter
The perch 350 feet above sea level means you’ll be dining at eye level with incoming planes—plus skyline and bay views. The restaurant is known for its five-star plates of prime beef selections and seafood, but you should definitely order the truffle mac ’n’ cheese to start.
2550 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
Housed in an early–1900s building near Petco Park, this brewpub has a charming roof deck with a robust menu and plenty of beers brewed in–house. The pretzel bites and fried goat cheese with Sriracha aioli are crowd-pleasers; then move on to juicy burgers and red-ale-braised pork belly.
903 Island Avenue, Gaslamp Quarter
The rooftop at this Oceanside seafood spot has all the beautiful ocean views without the stuffy, fine dining vibe (flip-flops are welcome). It’s an expansive space with picnic-style seating, where diners feast on fish tacos, oysters, and margaritas.
211 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
In terms of outdoor dining, the top of Del Mar Plaza is a golden standard. Il Fornaio offers formal dining on its own (closed-in) patio, but for informal drinking and eating, snag a couch on the Plaza terrace. Pasta, pizzas, and a lengthy gluten-free menu are popular.
1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
It’s not a view; it’s the view. The Mexican American restaurant has a massive outdoor deck that overlooks the bay, harbor, and downtown, and is a popular spot for sunset viewing, preferably with a Deb’s Coconut Margarita in hand, and chips and fresh guacamole made tableside. Plus, a location by the airport means it’s the perfect stop for hungry out-of-towners—hello, holiday visitors!—who’ve just landed.
880 Harbor Island Drive, Harbor Island
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to catch the sunset. This Ocean Beach pub is famous for their amazing ocean view and daily "sunset toast," a complimentary shot of the bartender’s choice. Enjoy taco specials and $5 margaritas on Wednesdays, half-off mussels and oysters on Mondays, and other happy hour specials the rest of the week.
5083 Santa Monica Avenue, Ocean Beach
Set along the harbor between Shelter and Harbor islands, Jimmy’s balances the calming marina view with a lively atmosphere. The patio promises nautical eye candy—from the boats to the sailors boarding them—and the menu is full of burgers and bloody marys.
4990 North Harbor Drive, Point Loma
At a place named after a water god, ocean views are a must. And this Del Mar restaurant delivers as one of the few places with patio dining right on the beach. Take a break from tanning and sandwiches to feast on fresh seafood plates and tacos instead.
1670 Coast Boulevard, Del Mar
The La Jolla institution is known for many things: a commitment to farm-to-table ethics, an outstanding bar program, and amazing views from its Ocean Terrace rooftop. It’s polished, not pretentious—a happy medium between California Modern’s fine dining on the ground floor and the relaxed second-floor bar, Level2. It’s so popular for golden hour that they update their website every day with sunset times.
1250 Prospect Street, La Jolla
This restaurant at The Lodge at Torrey Pines looks out over the iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course and onto the ocean, but without any of the stuffiness that usually presides at five-star resorts. The menu embraces fire-themed cooking, with dishes like wood-roasted vegetables and the must-try Drugstore Hamburger on a fluffy steamed bun.
11480 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla
Chandler’s at the Cape Rey hotel is one of the few spots in Carlsbad to catch a view of the water. The Pacific is just far enough away to avoid sand in your hair, but close enough to smell the sea salt. The open fireplaces make for a comfortable spot to lounge, dine, and listen to seasonal live music. They also have their bases covered for accommodating kids, including coloring activities and room to roam by the pool, hotel grounds, and lobby.
1 Ponto Road, Carlsbad
Situated on the Pacific Beach boardwalk, this surf-and-turf eatery claims one of the city’s best ocean views. You’re going to spot the water no matter where you sit, but the most impressive seats are along the railing facing the ocean. Time it right, and you can be sipping on a Surfside Margarita while taking in the sunset.
711 Pacific Beach Drive, Pacific Beach
While we’ll always come back for the food, it’s the view at their Embarcadero waterfront location that seals the deal. The counter service and no-frills modern decor create a relaxed happy hour environment to sip on a cocktail or two, order some carnitas tacos, and watch the cruise ships go by.
1004 North Harbor Drive, Embarcadero
Now that summer’s over, it’s socially acceptable to slurp ramen again, and UnderBelly’s chic North Park patio is the perfect spot to mix sipping with sidewalk seating. New menu items for fall include yakitori grilled oysters with yuzu butter and a Japanese Scotch egg.
3000 Upas Street, North Park
The Neapolitan pizza pros’ original South Park location has the liveliness, twinkly lights, and friendly Italian servers with those velvety accents who first won our hungry hearts. It’s no longer a secret, so be prepared for hour-ish wait times unless you have a reservation for a party of six or more. The good news? Stylish vegan restaurant Kindred across the street has a sidewalk patio for a pre-dinner tipple.
3001 Beech Street, South Park
This bakery offers a charming respite from the bustling bars and restaurants of downtown. All pastries, including the pillow-soft almond chocolate croissant, are made in house, and they also serve heartier fare like quiches and granola bowls. The petite patio overlooks G Street, a good spot to take in the Gaslamp revelers—with a cappuccino and macaron in hand.
555 G Street, Gaslamp Quarter
This popular Encinitas bar and restaurant comes with a 1920s theme, complete with contemporaneous antiques and old-school cocktails. Take a seat on the charming patio for a menu that runs the gamut from healthy (salads and fig crostini) to indulgent (a cheesy falafel burger and gnocchi carbonara). Check their site for live music events.
517 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
We feel totally transported to France every time we take a seat on this charming patio in South Park. Though best known for serving Illy coffee and piping-hot croissants—get ’em fresh from the oven when they open at 7 a.m.—they also serve savory crepes, quiches, and panini. You’ll see a mix of neighborhood regulars reading the paper solo, young families, and couples with four-legged friends.
2248 30th Street, South Park
Just look for the expansive patio decked out in dinghies and buoys. Beerfish is perched on a prime corner in Normal Heights, so the people-watching is almost as good as the high-quality seafood and beer. The decor and delicious fish and chips burrito give it an East Coast feel, but there are also fish tacos and Cotija and Tajin-dusted corn that bring you right back to SoCal.
2933 Adams Avenue, North Park
Enter through the alley on the right side of 30th Street Laundromat and step into a backyard café with succulent decor and a fire pit. The menu is filled with Belgian waffles—both sweet and savory—as well as lemonades and coffee. Try the crowd favorite Number Seven with bacon, avocado, and goat cheese.
3519 30th Street, North Park
This Italian eatery boasts a leafy, tree-filled patio. All the better to enjoy their famous focaccia di Recco appetizer, a Ligurian flatbread stuffed with cheese and topped with oozy honeycomb. Dinner includes pizzas and pastas, but we’re partial to Davanti’s weekend brunch, when they roll out their extensive DIY bloody mary bar, with olives, house-pickled veggies, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, and more than 100 hot sauces.
1655 India Street, Little Italy
It doesn’t get more romantic than this Point Loma landmark. The back patio, a popular spot for private parties, is draped in whites, candles, and market lights. Pastas and pizza keep diners coming back, but don’t miss their lunch special, which includes a half-portion pasta plus salad for $12.
2910 Cañon Street, Point Loma
Dining at this sprawling Escondido outpost feels like you’re reading a fairy tale while drinking a cold one. The outdoor patio is adjacent to the property’s one-acre garden, dotted with fruit trees, herb gardens, and a stone bridge over a running brook. Sustainability is also key, as chefs use mostly local, organic produce and naturally raised meats.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido
The extensive menu of cheesy enchiladas and pollo tamales matches the maximalist decor at this Old Town staple that sports colorful umbrellas and live mariachi music. There’s a candlelit garden room, as well as a courtyard with a 200-year-old pepper tree. During their weekday happy hour, along with their famous "bird bath" margaritas, they dish out a gratis spread of appetizers. Fiesta!
4105 Taylor Street, Old Town
The team behind Blind Lady Alehouse renovated the space next to the San Diego Museum of Art into a stylish, all-outdoors spot for a pre-theater meal or Sunday Funday drinks within Balboa Park. The counter-service menu includes gastropub hallmarks like burgers and charcuterie boards.
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
It’s Parisian glamour in the middle of La Mesa Village. The enclosed and spacious back patio of this popular French bistro feels cozily tucked away on the main drag, with fire pits and twinkly lights, too. The menu includes signatures like BO-beau’s famous roasted Brussels sprouts, but there’s also a kids’ menu with pasta and chicken nuggets.
8384 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
At this all-outdoors space in Carlsbad you can order counter-service barbecue sandwiches, as well as acai bowls, salads, and donuts on the ground floor. Or, head upstairs for a more adult-friendly deck with small plates, wine, and fire pits.
3040 Carlsbad Boulevard, Carlsbad
When you’re located on the campus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, water views are a given. But this charming rooftop also serves up classic breakfast fare, like buttermilk pancakes and egg scrambles, plus sandwiches and salads for lunch. Counter service makes it an easy choice when dining with kids, and you can walk directly down to the beach after your meal.
8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla
A part of Oceanside’s recent cool-ification, Bagby Beer was launched by a former Pizza Port brewmaster and is known for every color of the beer rainbow—IPAs, pilsners, blondes, and German-style lagers. There’s a sidewalk porch, a back patio, and even a rooftop to enjoy the smoked chicken wings and various pizzas.
601 South Coast Highway, Oceanside
This restaurant is the centerpiece of The Headquarters at Seaport Village and the newly-opened Mission Valley location packs the same punch. Their outdoor patio fills up quickly with a mix of families, couples, and small groups who feast on the popular taco trio plates and Parmesan guacamole.
789 West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village
5010 Mission Center Road, Mission Valley
This South Park gastropub is known for burgers, beers, and a half trolley, a nod to the site’s history as a mid-1900s trolley easement station. Daily specials range from beer brats on Sundays to Saturday’s Train Wreck Tots—potato fritters with sloppy joe mix, cheese sauce, and green onions.
2204 Fern Street, South Park
Families and hipsters alike flock to this counter service spot that serves chicken and egg dishes using high-quality proteins. Their fried chicken sandwiches and duck fat fries are popular choices, but save room for the soft serve, which is customizable with unlimited toppings.
407 Encinitas Boulevard, Encinitas
2266 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy