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. DJs often spin on weekends. 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 events pegged to full moons, with sound baths and chakra work.
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, but you can enjoy the same flavors and creations for less during their Sunday–Thursday cocktail hour, when they serve up truffle mac ’n’ cheese and drinks like a tea-infused gin cocktail.
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. Their Sunday brunch includes piña colada fritters and various Benedicts, plus live music.
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, where the ocean view draws crowds for the epic sunsets. Pasta, pizzas, and a lengthy gluten-free menu are popular. The paper kids’ menu, which includes minestrone soup and breaded chicken tenders, has fun activities like drawing Mona Lisa’s infamous smirk.
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
The team behind Tower23’s JRDN and Cannonball opened this two-story eatery last year, bringing a much-needed dose of style and upscale cuisine to San Marcos. The lower-level Dock Bar offers beer, casual plates, and lake breezes, while the upstairs dining room and its outdoor balcony focuses on seafood and meat, like a wood-fired lamb with jalapeño-mint jelly, served in a nautical space festooned in colorful buoys, velvet chairs, and fireplaces.
1035 La Bonita Drive, San Marcos
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 brunch classics like eggs Benedict and huevos rancheros instead. Is it Sunday yet?
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
Located in Coronado, Candela’s serves up great views of the bay and the downtown skyline. Their open-plan layout makes for an ideal spot to unwind and catch the bay breeze while digging into fresh ceviche. Plus, if you’re coming from downtown, the ferry is just a short ride over and lands a few steps away from the restaurant.
1201 First Street, Coronado
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
We love the new Liberty Station spin-off—especially the kid-friendly back patio with a playground—but 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 was recently renovated, and with it comes 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—not to be confused with their newer El Cajon Boulevard location. 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
In the middle of Sorrento Mesa’s high-tech and scientific buzz, Karl Strauss surprises with a lush, Japanese-style garden and patio seats that overlook lily pads and koi fish. And the menu is every bit beer-friendly. Start with duck fat pretzel bites and boneless buffalo wings, before digging into their popular mac ’n’ cheese skillets.
9675 Scranton Road, Sorrento Valley
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
If it’s chic European flair you’re after, head to the back patio of this Normal Heights classic. The outdoor area is framed by lush, well-manicured trees, and the exposed brick of an adjacent building adds just the right contrast. Tables are lined with white tablecloths, but Jaynes is anything but stuffy. Crowds are a mix of young and old who keep coming back for the steak frites and famous Jayne Burger. It feels like a polished Parisian café—string lights included.
4677 30th Street, Normal Heights
Outside at this beer bar, head to the back patio for a communal vibe with more legroom. The food pairs perfectly with beer, with dishes like fried chicken with French toast. And while many beer bars lean carnivorous, there’s even a tofu banh mi on the menu. This year, Tiger! Tiger! is running an Agents of Change campaign: 10 percent of Thursday food sales and 20 percent of meatless pizzas on Mondays are donated to a different charity each month. In October, they’re giving back to Border Angels, which advocates for human rights related to the US-Mexican border.
3025 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
Launched by The Patio Group, the outdoor aficionados behind The Patio on Lamont and The Patio on Goldfinch, this Liberty Station restaurant is all about alfresco. In fact, 80 percent of Fireside’s seating is outside. The menu focuses on wood-fired plates, like charred mussels and nine types of yakitori.
2855 Perry Road, Liberty Station
Both the Carmel Valley and Little Italy locations of this Italian eatery boast leafy, tree-filled patios. 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.
12955 El Camino Real, Carmel Valley; 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. Check out their sister restaurant in North Park, Alexander’s, for the same atmosphere and elegant white-on-white decor.
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 and Tiger! Tiger! 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. Live music plays most nights, and yes, you can take your drinks to the adjacent sculpture garden, where kids can run amok. Lines for ordering food can be lengthy, and the venue is sometimes closed for private events. Check their website for updates.
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
Lines start early—as in, at least 15 minutes before they even open—for this BYOB barbecue spot. Andy Harris—who spent summers eating barbecue in his father’s native Texas—transformed a former auto shop into a kid- and dog-friendly eatery. The bare-bones decor makes it feel like a friend’s backyard party—if your friend made some of the best short ribs and lamb shoulder in town. Previously available only during dinner, the brisket plate is now also served during the day. Sunday is their Argentina Asado.
3302 32nd Street, North 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, and a "Not a Kid’s Menu" for ages 12–16. There’s even a repurposed classic school bus and play area to keep the little ones entertained.
8384 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa
This new, all-outdoors space in Carlsbad is a mix of a food court and an all-ages playground. You can order counter-service barbecue sandwiches, as well as acai bowls, salads, and donuts on the ground floor, which also has cornhole and life-size Connect 4. Or, head upstairs for a more adult-friendly deck with small plates, wine, and fire pits. Bonus: The kids’ menu comes with maze and word search activities to keep them occupied.
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, dog-friendly 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. It’s only $3 to park in the lot, or free on the street.
8610 Kennel Way, La Jolla
Head to the tent-covered, string-light-strewn patio, where this West Coast fish house is all about local and sustainable. Many of the staffers—who’ve honed their craft at Café Japengo, Ritz-Carlton hotels, and other bold-faced venues—double as anglers, and they stick to ethical sourcing. Fish 101 also serves takeout in compostable containers and recycles cooking oil as biofuel. The fish tacos are a must, but don’t miss the fish platters, oysters, and kids’ menu.
1468 North Coast Highway 101, Leucadia
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, with the crowds, energy, and margaritas to prove it. Their outdoor patio fills up quickly with a mix of families, couples, and large groups who feast on the popular taco trio plates and Parmesan guacamole. It’s lovely in the evening, when market lights illuminate the area. Bonus: Kids can expend their energy running around the courtyard in between taco bites. And on Tuesdays from 3 to 10 p.m., tacos are $2.50 each.
789 West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village
Kids need to play and parents need to drink. That’s the idea behind this South Park gastropub, known for burgers, beers, and a very kid-friendly patio with chalkboards 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. The all-outdoors Little Italy location has a bocce ball court, while the new Encinitas outpost has both bocce and a kids’ sand pit.
407 Encinitas Boulevard, Encinitas; 2266 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy