Navigating Summer in San Francisco
Summer can be a tricky season in San Francisco, since the fog likes to roll in around 4:30pm and linger until well after 10am. As Mark Twain famously said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Twain is also known for saying “If you don’t like the weather in New England, now, just wait a few minutes.” Talk to any San Franciscan, and they’d adamantly say the former quote applies to San Francisco, too.
But there are exceptions to the rule and San Franciscans live for those rare days. Whether it’s actually sunny and warm outside, or whether it’s just wishful thinking and fog covered, here’s a list of seven al fresco spots accompanied with a suggested ideal time to visit—contingent on fog, of course—for fresh air, drinks or a meal, and maybe even a little sunshine.
Waterbar is a waterfront gem along the Embarcadero in SOMA with unparalleled Bay Bridge views and an inviting patio that gets a fair amount of sun in the early afternoon. Come for a late lunch when you can enjoy the optimal sunshine-to-wind ratio (check out Waterbar’s lobster rolls for Friday lunch) or take advantage of heavy-duty heat lamps and admire the Bay Bridge Lights after sunset.
Ideal time: 1pm to 4pm
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
The best meal at La Mar is lunch on their waterfront patio at Pier 1.5. Pretty much the entire menu is available and perhaps most importantly, the ceviche in all seven different preparations is offered. The Clásico ceviche never disappoints and neither do the empanadas, and the lomo saltado is a must-order for meat lovers. Dine and watch the happenings on the bay all the way out to Treasure Island.
Ideal time: Noon to 2pm
With enough beer, this glorified parking lot turned German-inspired beer garden in the heart of Hayes Valley is warm from open to close. At Biergarten, they pour by the liter and half-liter and serve burgers, sausages, and pretzels for sustenance. When the weather’s good, expect the already-long line to snake beyond the chain-link fence—and don’t forget the SPF.
Ideal time: 3pm (or 1pm Sundays) until sunset
Gioia is a neighborhood restaurant in Russian Hill with four sidewalk tables lining the sunny side of Polk Street. The tables are at their sunniest at midday during lunch. The simple daytime menu includes a few salads and a wide range of pizzas by the slice, with some specialty dishes like their meatballs, chicken parm sando, and 5 Dot burger. Since weekday hours run all day, lingering at the tables in the afternoon with a few drinks is encouraged.
Ideal time: Noon until sunset (closed Mondays)
This Cow Hollow brasserie has sidewalk seating on two sides. It’s hard to find a bad open-air seat at Belga, but the more coveted spots are tucked away on the Union Street side under the awning. There’s not a lot of direct sun there, but there’s heat lamps at the ready. Opt for a chilled bucket of champagne or a 750ml bottle of their best Belgian ale and enjoy a sun-filled afternoon.
Ideal time: 11am until sunset
El Techo de Lolinda
Perched on the rooftop of a five-story building in the sunny Mission, El Techo is a landmark outdoor spot that specializes in Argentinean-style grilled meats and strong cocktails with a weekday happy hour from 4pm-6pm. Much of the space is tent-covered and equipped with serious heat lamps to account for the standard chilly nights in SF, but on the perimeter are some uncovered tables to accommodate a welcome summer-like situation.
Ideal time: 4pm (opening time) until sunset
Aside from the daily sandwich specials and chilled rosé, a weekday lunch at Salumeria in the Mission has a lot of things going for it. A handful of tables are situated next to the building on the sidewalk. Expect a lot of direct sunlight there, which could be ideal if the rest of the day is spent indoors behind a computer. You can also opt for the breezy, yet covered option inside Central Kitchen.
Ideal time: Noon to 4pm
Photo credit: Nicole Abalde