Best Outdoor Dining in San Diego

10 Best Outdoor Dining Options in San Diego

One way to immerse yourself in local culture is to enjoy a leisurely meal outdoors. Most San Diego restaurants take advantage of the excellent weather by offering some sort of patio dining which is great for families, date night or meeting friends out for a drink.

George's Ocean Terrace, the rooftop casual bistro above George's at the Cove in La Jolla, offers guests incredible California cuisine and a panoramic view of the ocean. It's common for residents to take out-of-town guests here to show off the scenery. Dress is casual, umbrellas provide shade on sunny days and there's also an al fresco bar area. Do make a reservation and order the black bean soup.

Craving a margarita in Old Town? Though there are a variety of festive outdoor dining options here, Cafe Coyote, offers fresh tortillas made right on the patio in front of you, a long list of tequila and good Mexican food.

C Level is another popular outdoor dining spot where guests dine on an elevated patio over the water. Watch boats cruise around San Diego bay, enjoy the downtown skyline view with a nice glass of wine and hearty menu (highly recommend the lobster mac and cheese).

Eat like a local and reserve a table at one of San Diego's 10 best outdoor dining restaurants. And, yes, do reserve a table if it's an option, as these spots are hot! 


Cafe Coyote
Photo courtesy of Henri Louis Hirschfeld

From tortillas to tamales to salsa, Coyote Cafe; makes everything from scratch every day, on the premises. Start the day with a Breakfast Margarita, chilaquiles, menudo, or a chile relleno omelette. For lunch, try the chile verde, a quesadilla, tortilla soup, or a taco salad. If your appetite is massive by dinnertime, this is the place to go. Hearty portions of traditional and gringo favorites arrive steaming and flavorful: tamales, tequila-lime shrimp, carnitas, California burritos (huge tortilla stuffed with carne asada, cheese and French fries!), and enchiladas. Good margaritas, a decent selection of tequila, pitchers of sangria, and ice cold cerveza, too.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: If on vacation in San Diego, you'll probably wind up in Old Town so this is a great option.

Katie's expert tip: Whatever you do, order the tortillas which are handmade on a large griddle on the patio. Coyote also has a large selection of tequila and margaritas.

Read more about Cafe Coyote →

Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens is almost an attraction in itself. Sure, it's San Diego's largest craft brewery but there is much more to it than delicious beer. It's family-friendly by day. What kid wouldn't love to wander a beautiful one-acre organic garden (on the pathways and grass only)? And what parent wouldn't want to join with a beer in hand? Food for all ages includes a unique take on comfort food, a kids menu, and other eclectic world-inspired cuisine. Plus, if you don't like beer (there are 36 on tap), there's an extensive wine list to choose from.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The expansive one-acre garden makes a fabulous venue for sipping craft beer.

Katie's expert tip: Check the calendar before your visit for special tasting events and dinners.

Read more about Stone Brewing Co. →

At KITCHEN 1540, an award-winning restaurant located in the L'Auberge Del Mar, a comfortable and simple atmosphere complements an intriguing, eclectic, and extraordinary menu by Chef Brandon Fortune. If you like Southern comfort food, this is where to find it. Try Chicken 'n' Dumplins, Memphis-style ribs and be sure to save room for his amazing baked bread pudding. The restaurant features an open presentation kitchen, tasting table, a private dining room wrapped in wine-encased walls, and a cozy wine bar with 24 wines on tap. Guests can also opt to dine on a lovely outdoor patio, where they can enjoy the ocean breezes, a gurgling waterfall and hanging lanterns to set just the right mood.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Drinks and dinner on the outdoor patio amid ocean breezes (no view, but that's OK) is hard to beat.

Katie's expert tip: The outdoor lounge area has cabanas for private dining. You can definitely enjoy ocean breezes here and dine at one of San Diego's most popular restaurants.

Read more about KITCHEN 1540 →

Pacific Beach

JRDN is beachfront Tower 23 Hotel's 10,000 square foot contemporary oceanfront steak and seafood restaurant that features casually sophisticated cuisine. If you need a hip and trendy place that's less hectic than Gaslamp options, here's your place. Lounge with your companions, listen to live music and enjoy a specialty cocktail along with ocean breezes. JRDN has indoor/outdoor seating right on the Pacific Beach boardwalk which makes for excellent views and people watching. The clean, simple but modern decor includes color-changing lights and a giant water wall. It's probably the hippest place in Pacific Beach to have a drink and you can even bring your laptop because there's WiFi.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The hip JRDN bar area patio is right next to the Pacific Beach boardwalk providing amazing sunsets, craft cocktails and a full menu.

Katie's expert tip: It's much more upscale than the rest of the college student-oriented bars in the area.

Read more about Jordan (JRDN) →

Grab some complimentary coffee and coffee cake and leg out the weekend wait, because the food will be worth it. Recipient of accolades locally and nation-wide, breakfast is what The Cottage--very popular with local La Jollans--is known for. The light, airy interior and outside patio both provide family-friendly, pleasant dining space. Stay for the oatmeal pancakes, grilled vegetable omelet and Baja chicken hash. Take home some baked goods and granola with you, which are for sale inside. Kids receive a menu to color and Wikki Stix, usually. The Cottage is open for dinner seasonally and has a cookbook available, too.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Dine like a local at this favorite spot. There's no view, but it's a fantastic place to have a good meal in sunshine.

Katie's expert tip: Don't swap out the scone that comes as a breakfast side. The baked goods here are to die for. The raspberry-millet muffins are so good, you'll never believe there's a healthy grain inside.

Read more about The Cottage →

There are few better places for al fresco dining than sunny San Diego. Part of seafood restaurant Pacifica Del Mar, this idyllic patio cafe has an unbeatable view. Breakfast is excellent here – enjoy the house smoked salmon benedict, turkey sausage hash, a breakfast burrito (chipotle mashed potatoes, eggs, bacon and spicy chili sauce), cinnamon brioche French toast, a veggie frittata, or a spicy shrimp omelette with jalapeno jack and tomatillos sauce. Lunch standouts include fish tacos and a Thai chicken wrap. It's casual, so you order at the counter and then find yourself a seat in the sunshine with a view.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The casual cafe is on the second floor of Del Mar Plaza with healthy eats and a panoramic ocean view.

Katie's expert tip: They serve local craft beer and wine, too!

Read more about Pacifica Breeze Cafe →

C Level Lounge is the more casual dining area next to Island Prime but has a similar menu. Both are fashionable destinations for dinner or drinks. Island Prime boasts enchanting skyline views, a wealth of trendy cocktails, and flawless service. Start with a classic such as Oysters Rockefeller, or splurge on "A Study in Lobster" – a trio of lobster tostada, lobster-sherry bisque and lobster-fontina grilled cheese. Local celeb chef Debra Scott's deft touch is in evidence with creations like hazelnut-crusted diver scallops with goat cheese and elephant garlic risotto cakes. Perfectly grilled steaks are always a fine choice as well. C Level does not take reservations for happy hour so get there early!

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: The C Level patio is outdoors and on the water with a gorgeous, up-close view of the San Diego Bay.

Katie's expert tip: The C Level patio is outdoors with a gorgeous view of San Diego Bay. Order the ahi stack or lobster mac and cheese. If going for happy hour, get there early to avoid disappointment.

Read more about Island Prime / C Level Lounge →

Prado at Balboa Park

Picturesque Balboa Park, with its museums, lush gardens and performing arts venues, is on every visitor's itinerary. And at the end of a busy day exploring the park's many treasures, there's no better place to relax than Prado, where the eclectic decor blends historic charm with modern flair. The menu is a mix of traditional and modern as well, with options such charred Portobello carpaccio, adobo-braised pork osso bucco, seafood paella, and grilled flat iron steak. Gourmet sandwiches and salads are a great lunch option. The patio is family-friendly for both lunch and dinner and they also have a great happy hour.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: Balboa Park is one of our most popular attractions and this is the best place to eat when there.

Katie's expert tip: The Prado is a family-friendly while still being upscale enough to make parents feel like it's not all about the kids. It's in between museums within Balboa Park so if the kids are tiring you out, perhaps a specialty cocktail might help. Gorgeous patio, where you can see planes flying to and from the airport.

Read more about Prado at Balboa Park →

Dramatically situated on Prospect Street in La Jolla overlooking the blue Pacific, George's at the Cove combines exceptional cuisine and service with spectacular views from every level of the multi-tiered restaurant. Dine in the contemporary restaurant and bar indoors, dubbed California Modern; choose the Ocean Terrace, a great rooftop dining spot; or settle in at George's Bar, a casual dining destination. The menu, which specializes in California cuisine, reflects the use of fresh local ingredients and unique combinations of flavors to create a memorable dining experience. The restaurant also offers a creative, delectable dessert menu. If you can splurge, try Chef Foshee's TBL3, a 12-14 course extravaganza.

Recommended for Outdoor Dining because: George's Ocean Terrace is by far one of the most spectacular places to watch the sunset in San Diego. Plus, the California cuisine is excellent.

Katie's expert tip: Popular orders include fish tacos and black bean soup. Wikki Stix are handed out to kids and they will customize a dish for them, like plain pasta, if there's nothing on the regular menu to please them.

Read more about George's at the Cove →


Meet Katie Dillon

Katie Dillon originally moved to the seaside community of La Jolla to attend UC San Diego. When the opportunity presented itself, she and her husband set off for a 7 year stint overseas as...  More About Katie