California's Coolest New Outdoor Dining Venues — From Rooftops and Poolsides to Secret Gardens

Outdoor dining setting in the courtyard at Pico 1

Restaurant owners and workers have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic over the past six months. Many venues have closed down completely. Others have maintained at least some business through take-out — adjusting menus, buying packaging, and revising procedures to meet the demand. Still others have invested in new furnishings and moved tables outdoors, carefully separated, if the property and local laws allowed.

Outside areas, rooftops, sidewalks, poolside spaces, gardens, and parking lots have become dining spaces — a welcome idea for restaurants and diners. Complying with evolving health guidelines and ensuring guests’ safety has been a challenge that restaurateurs have faced with energy and creativity.

Rooftop Theater to Tropical Resort in Just Days

An example of a nimble response was the creation of Las Palmas, with menu and decor inspired by the Mexican beach town of Tulum. The breezy rooftop setting, lush greenery, beachy decor, and menu that includes Grilled Lobster Quesadilla and Baja Fish Tacos, transport diners to a resort on the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. Views of the Hollywood Hills are the only reminder of Las Palmas’ location in the former space of Melrose Rooftop Theater, previously an outdoor venue with large screen, cushy bean bag chairs, and wireless headphones.

When COVID restrictions put the popular rooftop theater on hold, Botanical Hospitality Group’s Grant Smillie and David Combes, along with culinary director Monty Koludrovic, launched the limited-time pop-up, marking the first time formal dinner service has been offered on the spacious rooftop. Head Chef Sabel Braganza’s menu features small and shared plates as well as entree options. Cocktails include the Las Palmas Margarita and (my personal favorite), Tulum Nights, with Grey Goose Vodka, Green Chartreuse, lime, and pineapple.

A Nearby Hotel Provides a Rooftop Rescue

Olivetta La Peer rooftop dining in Los Angeles

Marissa and Matt Hermer’s Olivetta on Melrose was short on space to arrange outdoor dining, so she teamed up with her West Hollywood neighbors at LaPeer Hotel to offer Olivetta on Holiday, with dinner and cocktails served poolside and on the hotel’s rooftop. “We wanted to offer our loyal guests a respite from the world — if only for cocktails and dinner — and felt a responsibility to keep our restaurant family employed,” Hermer told Travel + Leisure.  “It’s a delight to be able to take our friends on a little Olivetta holiday at our new al fresco residency. We’re so grateful for our community’s love and support.”

Chef Michael Fiorelli’s signature dishes are featured poolside, and on LaPeer’s private rooftop, guests can enjoy wood-fired gourmet pizzas and specialty cocktails from award-winning mixologist Melina Meza.

A Circular Driveway Becomes An Intimate Dining Area

Outdoor dining setting in the courtyard at Pico 1

The Courtyard at One Pico, a new pop-up outdoor dining concept at Shutters on the Beach anchored by a lantern-lit center tree, was previously the hotel’s elegant entry. The inviting space now provides al fresco dining with landscaped alcoves and a garden atmosphere. Chef David Almany and corporate food and beverage director Franck Savoy (son of three-star Michelin chef Guy Savoy) reimagined the iconic spot, now popular with both locals and hotel guests.

Craft cocktails, wines, and ocean breezes are served along with the new menu and chef Almany’s classics, just steps from the beach in Santa Monica. The current menu includes an exquisite hamachi crudo and Santa Barbara sea urchin saffron linguine. The salted caramel popcorn sundae is not to be missed.

These Rooftops Are for Dining

There’s something refreshing, exciting, and fun about dining under the sky with fresh air, delicious dishes, and panoramic views. And right now, it makes perfect sense. Here are some places to dine above it all.

Terra at Eataly, in Westfield Century City, is a rooftop restaurant featuring a wood-burning Italian grill and expansive views of the Hollywood hills. Seasonal ingredients and earthy flavors pair with cocktails, premium Italian wines, or your own version of their signature gin and tonic.

The Roof Garden, Peninsula Beverly Hills Hotel, an al fresco restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The emphasis is on healthy and fresh produce, and the chef’s rooftop garden produces some of the herbs, peppers, strawberries, and season vegetables for use in the kitchen.

The Highlight Room at the Dream Hollywood Hotel is set on their rooftop along with a pool, cabanas, and breathtaking views of the Los Angeles skyline. From starters like house-made salt and vinegar chips to seafood and steak entrees, dishes are fresh and beautifully presented.

Rooftop at The Wayfarer in DTLA features dishes inspired by Asian and Latin home cooked meals and simple street fare. Favorites include hamachi crudo and tacos with steak picado, tempura fish, or carnitas. Enjoy Tiki-style cocktails and frosé featuring Chateau St. Michelle rosé.

Spire 73, the tallest rooftop open-air lounge in the western hemisphere, reopened in September as a full-service, reservation-only restaurant featuring a new menu of entrees and cocktails. Socially distanced tables changed its look, but the breathtaking views of Los Angeles will still delight Spire 73’s guests.

Margot at the Platform in Culver City is set on the rooftop of the upscale mall, with coastal Mediterranean cuisine of Spain and Italy highlighting seasonal local ingredients. Brunch, lunch, and dinner are served, as well as cocktails and an extensive selection of wines.

Outdoor dining at Revival at The Sawyer

Revival at the Sawyer, a Kimpton Hotel in Sacramento, offers panoramic views of the city along with a menu created by executive chef Patrick Prager using fresh ingredients from their rooftop garden in both food and drink recipes. Revival is open daily, including weekend brunch.

Las Palmas is open nightly for dinner and drinks from 6 p.m. until midnight, and reservations for parties of four or six guests may be booked for a two-hour experience. Weekend brunch is served from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Olivetta on Holiday at La Peer Hotel offers wood-fired gourmet pizzas and specialty cocktails by award-winning mixologist Melina Meza on the hotel’s private rooftop and chef Michael Fiorelli’s signature coastal Mediterranean dishes on the new poolside dining area. Dining is available Wednesday to Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. and later on the rooftop.

Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs will offer “Dinner Under the Stars” every Wednesday at 6 p.m., with a three-course, prix fixe menu by executive chef Dan Grunbeck. With their other dining venues closed for now, the new weekly dinner is expected to continue through 2020. Reserve through Open Table.

A Tucked Away Garden or Landscaped Lane

The European feel of a table hidden by a flowering trellis or a cozy alley is always a pleasure, but even more so during this time of limited international travel.

Fingers Crossed by chef Evan Funke is set in a piazza adjacent to Hollywood’s Dream Hotel. His menu of “straight up Roman” dishes, the rustic ironwork gates, ivy-wrapped walls, and outdoor lighting will let you imagine yourself in an al fresco Italian cafe.

One Pico at Shutters on the Beach offers pop-up outdoor dining with ocean breezes and a delightful setting. Widely spaced tables surrounding the lantern-lit center tree and landscaped alcoves create privacy and comfort.

Terrazza at Hotel Casa del Mar, steps from the beach in Santa Monica, transports guests to a European piazza with its garden setting. Menu highlights include steamed mussels and gazpacho Andaluz. Terrazza is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch.

Strings of Life on Melrose in West Hollywood moved its all-day (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) casual cafe outdoors to a cheery landscaped backyard-style area with well-spaced tables where guests enjoy the Aussie-style dishes (think freshly baked sausage rolls) of culinary director Monty Koludrovic and head chef Jordan Mathurin. Pastries by Jaci Koludrovic and coffee by Common Room Roasters have made SOL a WeHo favorite.

Olivella at the Ojai Valley Inn offers the traditional and modern Italian cuisine of chef Andrew Foskey using ingredients from local ranches, orchards, farms, and ocean waters. An expansive award-winning wine program includes both California and Italian wines. Guests enjoy mountain views and fresh breezes in an open garden atmosphere.

Casual-fun Poolside Dining

Even if you’re not there to take a dip or swim, a poolside meal is enjoyable for its summery casual atmosphere. It’s like being on vacation without even packing a suitcase.

Veranda at the Hotel Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles provides tropical vibes along with chef Adrian Garcia’s authentic Mexico City-inspired menu. Set among 100-year-old cacti adjacent to the hotel’s iconic coffin-shaped pool, this oasis lets you chill with a street taco menu, cocktails, frozen paletas, and sweet desserts.

Roly China Fusion in Palm Springs offers poolside dining and its popular menu of small plates that include popcorn lobster and five-spice ribs as well as traditional Chinese entrees like kung pao beef and almond chicken. Favorites include miso-glazed seabass, Mongolian beef, and mandarin chicken. Don’t miss their dim-sum and desserts. Open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and take-out.

Dream Inn Santa Cruz features the new Jack’s Patio (Friday to Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.) named after the legendary surfer, wetsuit inventor, and local, Jack O’Neill, where guests dine in open air with live music, umbrellas, and heat lamps. Or enjoy a poolside meal with beach views and cozy fire pits at sunset.

Mercado is Beverly Hilton’s newest poolside casual dining spot, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dine poolside, and sample hand-made pizzas baked in the outdoor oven, artisanal sandwiches, seasonal salads, gelato, and fresh-baked pastries.

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