By Trevor Felch
Summer around the Bay Area is a Goldilocks-like affair — too foggy and cold on the coast and by the bay or a little too hot inland — but just right in a few “between” spots like the Peninsula. Throughout the pandemic, Bay Area diners have dined alfresco in all kinds of conditions, whether it’s raining or 98 degrees, and now is the prime time of year for savoring the postcard-perfect summer afternoons and mild nights on the best outdoor dining Peninsula patios.
Of course, as we’ve certainly learned for the past 16 months, “outdoor dining” means all kinds of things. There are quirky parklet setups, plazas dotted with tables, sprawling backyards, intimate courtyards, and much more, as long as fresh air is involved (and even then, there are plenty of “outdoor” tents, but we don’t count those as truly outdoor dining). From fried chicken sandwiches in adorable backyards to al pastor burritos in a park, here are some of our favorite spots for a great meal and savoring the wonderful Peninsula weather.
Here’s where we like to eat when we eat outside around the Peninsula
When it comes to Peninsula power patios, this longtime California cuisine stalwart is probably the winner for most deals signed, proposals made and Stanford graduations celebrated. Even though the patio isn’t a garden or a courtyard, it manages to feel like both, and it’s wonderfully quiet from it’s somewhat secluded location away from busy University Avenue. The menu changes pretty frequently and it’s hard to go wrong. There is usually an ahi tartare rendition offered and it’s always a smart way to start dinner on warm summer evenings.
Where to find it: 140 Homer Ave., Palo Alto
Right by the Menlo Park Caltrain station, the weekly collection of OTG food creators each Wednesday (5-9 PM) is always a special event on the Peninsula — and it’s even convenient for people coming to Menlo Park for a weekday-fun day from the South Bay or San Francisco! A half dozen or so creators are on hand for each gathering and offer a fun variety of dinner choices from Fresh Catch Poke’s poke bowls to pork katsu and gyoza courtesy of The Rolling Duck. And since it’s probably 75 degrees or warmer in Menlo Park each summer Wednesday, Jolly’s Old-Fashioned Teas Cream might be on hand to cool you down with a scoop or orange cardamom chai ice cream.
Where to find it: Wednesdays 5-9 PM at 1120 Merrill St., Menlo Park
Calling this Los Altos restaurant’s outdoor dining area a “patio” doesn’t do it justice. It’s really a full-on yard. And it truly is a wonderful setting for the refined but not overly elaborate dishes such as seared smoked duck breast and confit leg, served with raspberry chutney and blood orange compote. Cocktails (nearby craft cocktail bar The Amandine Project is its sibling) and desserts are of particular note and have a devoted following on the Peninsula.
Where to find it: 145 1st St., Los Altos
While many towns closed their streets to cars last summer for the pandemic, California Avenue in Palo Alto is one of the few remaining streets that are still closed and home to restaurant patios extended into the street. There are several great choices among those patios, but let’s also not forget the nearby places that have always been either mostly or entirely all patio settings since before the pandemic. Backyard Brew is a fun, funky shaded craft coffee “shop” that is always popular with digital nomads, Stanford students, friends meeting up, and dogs who can “sign” the dog autographs wall. Meanwhile, Caffé Riace has always been a spacious, enchanting patio-driven restaurant with wonderful Sicilian-cuisine accented by elements of seasonal Californian cooking.
Where to find it: 444 California Ave., Palo Alto; 200 Sheridan Ave. # 102, Palo Alto
After a visit to OTG Menlo Park, a cocktail might be in order, and the leading cocktails in town can be found after a stroll down Santa Cruz Avenue at Camper. Of course, Camper’s high caliber, seasonal cooking is also worth a visit on its own any night. The wraparound sidewalk and parklet setup for Camper is extremely well done — nicely heated, spacious, quiet, charming. The parklet feels as if it’s been around for a decade, not a few months.
Where to find it: 898 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park
Palo Alto’s Michelin-starred destination on the Caltrain end of California Avenue has a stellar sidewalk patio that strikes the perfect balance of sophisticated and relaxing. Indeed, chef/owner Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier/owner Dennis Kelly are protégés of The French Laundry, and that fine dining experience is on full display throughout a meal here, whether opting for the 7-course tasting menu (in the dining room) or à la carte in the lounge or on the patio. Everything on the lounge menu is a must-order and don’t forget about the cocktails, as they’re some of the most impressive libations on the Peninsula.
Where to find it: 250 California Ave., Palo Alto
With its boardwalk along the lagoon in Foster City and over a dozen acres of grass to picnic or play Frisbee in, it’s easy to understand why Leo Ryan Park is a locals’ favorite for spending sunny summer days in. Off the Grid’s creators swing by the park once a week, so it’s the perfect spot for pairing a lagoon walk with dishes like a Mozzeria pizza and some outrageously delicious “Bobcha tots” with bulgogi and kimchi from Korean Bob Cha.
Where to find it: Leo Ryan Park, 650 Shell Blvd., Foster City
If there is a slam dunk “automatic” entry for outdoor dining on the Peninsula, the wonderful Italian destination at the Stanford Barn is it. Pastas, pizzas, Negronis and everything else from chef/owner Rocco Scordella are consistently superb and unique here. The Peninsula has many good Italian restaurants. This is the best one. Plus, there’s that special patio that screams California bliss and history with palm trees and the brick exterior of the Stanford Barn, which surprisingly was originally built as a winery back in the late 1800’s.
Where to find it: 700 Welch Rd. #110, Palo Alto
Alright, as most of us know, the Peninsula sunshine doesn’t always extend to the coast. But we’d still be remiss to not include an oceanfront patio! Everybody loves this laid-back coastal classic, whether it’s adults having a beer and fish tacos; kids ordering chicken nuggets from the Kidz Menu; or the ever popular dog menu where the currency used is listed as “bones.” Plan accordingly and make reservations in advance to not be disappointed — the patio and its view of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is hardly an under-the-radar secret.
Where to find it: 140 Beach Way, Moss Beach
Whether it’s happy hour under the trees or a leisurely evening dinner under twinkling lights, it’s always a fun time at the sidewalk seating of Downtown Redwood City’s terrific Latin cuisine destination. The menu is extensive, so it’s best to divide and conquer with some ceviche and a few tapas like Yucatan-style pork and shrimp meatballs “albondigas al pibil”, then round it out with a few tacos. As the name suggests, both the clever cocktail creations and house renditions of tried-and-true classics are excellent.
Where to find it: 2042 Broadway, Redwood City
The San Carlos family-friendly favorite has always had a quaint, beloved backyard setting for dining outside. Then the adjacent parking lot was transformed into another outdoor dining area because of the pandemic. So, nowadays, there is ample space for enjoying fresh, summery dishes like prosciutto toast with stone fruit and ricotta, plus the always excellent Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich.
Where to find it: 1696 Laurel St., San Carlos