AL FRESCO DINING ACROSS THE COUNTRY
A great restaurant offers more than just amazing food — it provides a stunning setting and inviting ambiance where you can unwind. And what better place to dine and relax than a beautiful patio. From enjoying beautiful views over oceans or lakes to charming open air hideaways in the middle of the city, these are some of the best restaurant patios in America to eat or drink away the evening.
HEN OF THE WOOD
Hen of the Wood is a casual yet committed farm-to-table restaurant housed in a 19th century grain mill with a idyllic patio overlooking a babbling granite creek — in other words, exactly what you'd hope for in Vermont. The menu makes it easy to split small plates such as the calamari ($13) and ham-wrapped rabbit loin ($13), or opt for something larger like the fried rabbit ($24) or duck breast for two ($66).
THE BROKEN SHAKER
There's more to do than sit at the lush outdoor patio of Miami Beach's Broken Shaker at the Freehand hotel, where diners can also enjoy the pool, hammock, ping pong table, or bocce court while sampling coconut shrimp ceviche ($12), cheap beers, and drink specials like their $60 cocktail pitcher ideal for sharing in a group.
RAY'S CAFÉ AND BOATHOUSE
A few miles northwest of downtown Seattle, Ray's Café and Boathouse has two levels of indoor and outdoor dining, offering a peaceful view of Puget Sound, stunning sunsets and, on a clear day, the Olympic Mountains on the other side. Both restaurants have food and drink specials during their daily happy hours, but the Café on the second level is more casual and thus generally cheaper, offering specialties like $16 salmon burgers.
Newport Beach, California
Crystal Cove State Park is a well-preserved trail system of the Newport Coast ecosystem, and The Beachcomber sits on its coastal edge. It's the perfect spot to take in the ocean breeze on their shore-side patio before or after a hike. Breakfast, lunch and dinner each have their respective, reasonably priced highlights — the only difficulty can be with getting a reservation, so be sure to plan ahead.
THE PINK PONY
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Guests dine on a deck right over the lake water at The Pink Pony, one of Mackinac Island's most popular and diverse restaurants. The restaurant also hosts live music and other entertainment amidst the signature pink umbrellas of their patio. Don't leave without trying their locally caught specialties, particularly the island-famous smoked whitefish dip.
CAFÉ DU MONDE
Some clichés are clichés for good reason. Café du Monde is one of them, a New Orleans landmark drawing long lines of tourists and locals seeking to sip their café au lait ($2.73 for small) and eat their fried beignets ($2.73 for three) caked with powdered sugar. Much of their seating is in a covered area outdoors, between the Mississippi River and the lively hub of the French Quarter that is Jackson Square.
For a more complete outdoor meal in New Orleans, try Café Amelie, a French Quarter carriage house with an immaculate courtyard patio of iron furniture and bubbling fountains. Creole specialties abound on each of their menus, but the weekend brunch boasts some of Amelie's best, like the crawfish linguine ($26), chicken and waffle ($19), or blackened catfish sandwich ($16).
Rolling hills of vineyards span out in all directions from Leoness Cellars, a Temecula winery with indoor tastings and Mediterranean-style outdoor dining on weekends. Diners can listen to live music or stroll through the vines to a cavernous barrel room while waiting for their food. Some highlights include the chorizo mussels ($24) and truffle fries ($13).
This rooftop food truck sits just north of downtown Denver, offering skyline views beside an old-school neon sign as well as irresistible fusion concoctions like yellowfin tacos ($14) and Colorado lamb kabob ($13). Visit Linger for the evening skies and $6 cocktails during their weekday happy hours from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
Fort Worth, Texas
There are menus for diners and their dogs at this riverside barbeque restaurant in Fort Worth, where fans are equipped to help keep cool on especially hot days. Parking at Woodshed Smokehouse is known to be difficult at night, almost necessitating valet, so come earlier for brisket, cheese fondue, and whitefish dip, all house-smoked with various woods by chef Tim Love.
Bridgewater Bistro is a former cannery in the far northwest of Oregon, in the shadow of a bridge crossing the Columbia River as it widens into the ocean. Sitting on the patio docks on a sunny day, diners can hear jazz and swing music select evenings in summer while enjoying wines by the glass and seared salmon, calamari, or Willapa Bay oysters.
THE LOBSTER SHACK
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
No list of America's best outdoor dining would be complete without an iconic Maine lobster shack. Appropriately named, The Lobster Shack in Cape Elizabeth has a tankful of shellfish boiled fresh to order for whole servings or as lobster rolls, both of which can be enjoyed in their lighthouse-adjacent seaside picnic area.
Portland's Roadside Attraction is a welcoming kind of dive bar with a homey covered patio with strung-up knickknacks, wooden picnic tables and loadable fire pits. The ornate interior is worth dining in too, though both areas offer the same menu of drinks, small bites and selections from the grill like their mixed plate of steak, prawns, chicken, sausage, and teriyaki veggies.
PSYCHO SUZI'S MOTOR LOUNGE
A tiki bar in a climate that could definitely use some tropical atmosphere, Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge is known for its colorful cocktails and off-color humor. On a nice day, sip Mai Tais and split hand-tossed pizza pies with Thai or Hawaiian toppings from the riverside patio, overlooking the fertile banks of the Mississippi.
CHICKEN SCRATCH AND THE FOUNDRY
Essentially a bar and new American eatery rolled into one, Chicken Scratch and The Foundry share a picnic patio with hanging lights and a stage made of old wood pallets hosting live music regularly. Drink micro-brewed beers and play ping-pong at The Foundry and nosh on buttermilk chicken biscuits from Chicken Scratch all in one evening.
Lounge around on sleek communal furniture overlooking blue waters and white sands at San Diego's rooftop sushi bar Cannonball. The menu of this Mission Beach restaurant incorporates flavors from throughout the Pacific Rim, like Chilean sea bass and Japanese lobster fritters, alongside the standard rolls and nigiri.
LOS POBLANOS HISTORIC INN & ORGANIC FARM
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
Guests to this creekside inn and eatery can play bocce and stroll the farm in search of animals like their rare albino peacock before eating, provided you can score a reservation. The menu at Los Poblanos is chock full of seasonal dishes made from onsite ingredients, including artisanal cheese plates, spring vegetable salads, and achiote grilled ribeye.
Every seat at River Roast, indoor and out, affords a view of the Chicago River and the many high-rise buildings built on its banks. From here diners order cocktail infusions, Midwestern microbrews, and meat, fish and veggies dishes, which are smoked and carved tableside. On Sundays Chef John Hogan curates a brunch menu complemented by live blues from local artists.
BOAT HOUSE WATERFRONT DINING
Tiverton, Rhode Island
Guests arrive by car or by boat at the dockside Boat House in Tiverton, famous throughout the small state for its al fresco dining on the Sakonnet River as well as its menu's focus on the fresh and local. Reservations are often necessary to dine on high-end cocktails and seafood like pan-seared scallops.
HUGGO'S ON THE ROCKS
The sand between your toes at Huggo's On the Rocks isn't actual beach -- just a balcony built over the Pacific waves crashing against volcanic tidepools along the Big Island's Kona coast. Island musicians play to casual crowds at the bar and tables nearly every night. On the menu, don't miss guava mojitos or their many sandwiches and entrees made with grass-fed, island-grown beef.
LA FONDA ON MAIN
San Antonio's oldest Mexican restaurant may still be its best, particularly for its private patio dining complete with overhanging trees, fountain and stone fireplace. Reservations at La Fonda on Main are required, but the menu remains deliciously unpretentious, built around Tex-Mex classics like cheesy enchiladas ($14) and interior Mexican specialties like shredded duck tacos ($16) alike.
OLD STEIN INN
This family-owned beer hall is as famous for its award-winning Munster cheese & crab soup as for its cold German brews. Whether for Oktoberfest or just during weekend musical performances, the tree-lined and light-strewn patio of Old Stein Inn is a lively place to drink and eat hearty old world specialties with modern mid-Atlantic twists like pork belly hash ($12) and braised pork shank and spätzle ($30).
BAXTER'S LAKESIDE GRILL
Lake Ozark, Missouri
Check Baxter's website for sunset times, then head over to enjoy the lights dimming over lush Lake Ozark from the restaurant's covered patio. Better yet, stop by for the daily happy hours, from 3 p.m. to 6, for special pricing on cocktails and discounts on their seafood and traditional American fare like Maryland crab cakes and chicken wings.
An old-fashioned log cabin in the heart of the Yellowstone-adjacent hamlet Jackson Hole, Café Genevieve lets guests try home-cooked seasonal meals from the South on a wooden deck from which they can watch tourists and horse-drawn carriages clopping by. Sample the pork entrees from nearby Snake River Farms, and don't leave without buying the pig candy, available to eat here or to-go.
Chefs cook Californian ingredients in tasty European- and Asian-influence preparations at Bridges Restaurant & Bar, an East Bay fixture recognizable as a crucial setting in the film "Mrs. Doubtfire." Diners on the patio can enjoy shady trees and the bubbling of a granite waterfall while partaking of house specialties like the Mexican prawns in Thai red curry sauce ($29).
BROOKS' BAR & DECK
This Lake Tahoe restaurant is so close to the California state line that diners could skip rocks across it from the shaded alpine-style patio. A golf pub and part of the Edgewood Hotel, Brooks' Bar & Deck is one of the best places around to watch the sun set over the lake, or to imbibe a few local IPAs followed by some salmon fish and chips ($18).
DUKE'S CHOWDER HOUSE
Sitting on its own dock at the southern end of Puget Sound, Duke's Chowder House is an old-fashioned American dining destination with a modern, sustainable approach to its menu of seafoods from Alaska and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The titular, award-winning chowder is a must, as are the pricier plates made from wild-caught Copper River salmon, starting at $28.
Manayunk, home to Philadelphia's largest al fresco dining area, overlooks the wooded banks of the Schuylkill River and regularly hosts events taking advantage of their prime location — including live bands and kayak tours. Diners can come any time to try diverse comfort food like cheesesteak dumplings ($11) and Manayunk's own microbrews, but stop from 12 – 2 p.m. on Saturday for a free brewery tour to precede lunch.
Brooklyn, New York
It's far from the cheapest pizza found in Brooklyn, but Roberta's fluffy personal pies are among the borough's best for unique topping combinations like the Lil' Stinker ($17) with parmesan, double garlic, pecorino, and onion. The pizzeria is marked by a bright red entrance and offers guests an industrial yet welcoming patio with garden botanicals and views of the surrounding buildings.
FRED & FUZZY'S WATERFRONT BAR & GRILL
Sister Bay, Wisconsin
Watch storms or sunsets across Little Sister Bay while sipping a fresh cherry juice margarita at Fred & Fuzzy's, a lakeside summer hangout hosting live music and fish fries all summer long. The food is straightforward, delicious and affordable, with highlights including the grilled bratwurst ($8.20) and whitefish bay fillet sandwich ($13.20).