Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens
Orange County’s best al fresco finds for destination dining in the sun and shade.
Orange County is known for its 42 miles of beautiful beaches, coves and bays. In recent years the number of premier patios, rooftops, decks and outdoor dining spaces has improved exponentially. Here are some of the best spaces, both by the shore and in OC’s cities, to enjoy the Southern California sunshine.
Perhaps the best restaurant with an expansive ocean view in all of California is Studio at Montage Resort. The stunning restaurant is set on a bluff above the beach, but fewer know that it has a lovely patio that gets one even closer to the ocean. Enjoy the sunset under the twin iconic palm trees while trying one of Chef Craig Strong’s signature prix fixe menus. Just a few miles from the Montage is OC’s original oceanfront luxury resort, The Ritz–Carlton, Laguna Niguel. The resort’s 180blũ restaurant and lounge is named for the expansive coastal view from the chic setting that is entirely outdoors. Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure Park is one of the newest restaurants at Anaheim’s Disney Resort District, and one of it’s most acclaimed. There are a number of patios on the second floor offering a great place to dine in style and catch World of Color show (reserve seats especially for this) and fireworks in the night sky over nearby Disneyland.
While the Oak Grill in Newport Beach doesn’t have a view of the ocean, the vibrant restaurant’s sprawling patio at The Island Hotel is the center of the action at the resort, which is across the street from Fashion Island and near the Orange County Museum of Art. The shaded deck area is a power spot in the city, and offers a taste of cool and casual luxury in Orange County.
Access to the Arts
Oak Grill isn’t the only OC restaurant with easy access to the arts and an outdoor space from which to appreciate it. Tangata Restaurant offers lunch on its two outdoor patios overlooking the Bowers Museum’s historic Mission-style courtyard. Las Brisas is a seaside cantina next door to Laguna Museum of Art that is much-loved by locals and visitors its ocean view patio. Silver Trumpet Restaurant and Bar is immediately adjacent to Segerstrom Center for the Arts, one of the premier performing arts campuses in the country. From the Silver Trumpet patio guests have a perfect view of Richard Serra’s monumental steel sculpture, the 66-foot tall “Connector,” as well as architect Cesar Pelli’s stunning stainless steel skyscraper Plaza Tower. On the other side of Segerstrom Center for the Arts campus is Vaca, celebrity chef Amar Santana’s restaurant dedicated to the cuisine and wine of Spain. Its outdoor space is also surrounded by large sculptures and outdoor spaces, and is an easy walk to nationally renowned South Coast Repertory Theatre and South Coast Plaza.
South Coast Plaza
The luxury destination draws a discerning audience from across the globe to its beautiful indoor shopping experience featuring the world’s best brands. Insiders know about cool outdoor spaces, too, including Quattro Caffe Ristorante’s quaint hidden patio. Located through the back of the restaurant, it’s where one spots international clientele, brand leaders and an occasional tech billionaire enjoying a glass of wine in the Southern California sunshine. Another nearly secret spot at South Coast Plaza is Ruscello, the now full service restaurant located within the center’s recently remodeled Nordstrom. Formerly a fast casual favorite, it’s now a full service restaurant with a full bar and a bright design, and a patio that offers a perfect spot to take a break from power shopping. Across the street from South Coast Plaza is the stunning new Water Grill. Offering the best seafood in the region, the new restaurant includes a 2,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor patio at the entrance to the restaurant that includes two fireplaces and its own bar.
On the Waterfront
Seeing it from offshore is the best way to experience the stunning beauty of Newport Harbor. Luckily, many of the restaurants that line the harbor offer docking for the small electric Duffy boats that locals love and visitors can rent. The best outdoor spaces from which to enjoy the bay views include Bluewater Grill, Sol Cocina, The Cannery, The Winery, A&O Kitchen + Bar at Balboa Bay Resort and new must-see spots Zinqué and Nobu at the perfectly re-imagined Lido Village
Some of OC’s most authentic al fresco hot spots are in inland neighborhoods with no ocean views. Habana is a Cuban café with a large patio that’s popular at all hours, but especially on hot summer nights
and Sunday fun day brunches. Habana is in The Lab, an influential retail and restaurant development set in a reclaimed and re-imagined industrial complex in Costa Mesa. The Lab and the hipster and foodie-friendly The Camp across the street incorporate the best of indoor/outdoor design with several patios and decks to enjoy, including Seabirds Kitchen, Gypsy Den and Old Vine Café. Ramos House Café is an all-outdoor breakfast and lunch restaurant that’s in the center of Orange County’s oldest neighborhood, the quaint and historic Los Rios District. Ramos House sits on the railroad tracks across from San Juan Capistrano Depot, and is within walking distance of the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Food Hall Finds
A few miles away from the Disney resort is the Anaheim Packing House, a contemporary food hall with some 20 foodie favorite restaurants with numerous outdoor spaces, the best of which is the patio and outdoor bar for Ecco. Try Indian street food at Adya and contemporary Mexican at Urbana, as well as wine, beer and cocktail bars. It’s all set in a historic citrus packinghouse built in 1918. For those who want a taste of the “real” OC, there are few better places than this. Orange County’s food hall craze got its start at SoCo in Costa Mesa. Several of Orange County’s most critically acclaimed chefs have restaurants around the design center’s outdoor central plaza, including Arc and Taco Rosa. The latter is rated the best restaurant in OC by several publications, and has it’s own cozy little patio. Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market is the food hall that has helped advance the culinary credentials of OC’s county seat, adding a daily gathering space for the city’s diverse youth culture. Grab a sandwich at Alta Baja Market and a coffee from Portola, and then look for outdoor seating on the rear patio, which features giant murals honoring the area’s Latino heritage.
Surf City Chic
Huntington Beach has been easy to overlook for those seeking an upscale dining and shopping experience. That’s no longer so since the debut of the beautiful new Pacific City, which is one of the best centers in California in taking advantage of it’s oceanfront setting. Ten or more of its restaurants have outdoor patios, decks and courtyards, most with second-floor views of the Huntington Beach pier and Surf City waves. Favorites include Bear Flag Fish Co., The American Dream and the cool and beachy Bungalow patio, one of the top see-and-be-seen spots in OC.
Just next door to Pacific City is OC’s coolest new hotel, Pasea Hotel and Resort. A hot spot within the resort is the Treehouse Bar at Tanner’s, a cool rooftop patio bar serving specialty cocktails and small bites that’s quickly become one of the most sought-after patio parties in SoCal. One would think restaurants on rooftops would have long been common in Orange County. But the Rooftop Lounge at Laguna’s historic La Casa del Camino hotel had to take on city hall a few years back in a fight to keep its popular rooftop deck open. Now, its been joined by Skyloft, also in Laguna Beach, offering fresh seafood and smokehouse meats, plus live music seven days a week.
Peak-a-Boo Laguna Views
Despite being one of the most picturesque beach towns in California, many of the arts enclave’s prettiest patios at top restaurants don’t come with a stunning view. Sapphire Laguna offers international cuisine and tasty cocktails on its patio. It’s a lovely space that offers a bit of an ocean view over the cars on Pacific Coast Highway, as the restaurant is on the inland side of the highway. If that’s not close enough, Sapphire has a gourmet takeaway shop next door that’s perfect to pick up supplies for beach picnics. Selanne Steak Tavern is a chicly designed restaurant co-owned by hockey star Teemu Selanne. While the indoor spaces are beautiful, the restaurant includes an outdoor patio in front of the restaurant that’s a surprisingly intimate place to dine, plus a small upstairs patio that seats 16. Neither have an ocean view, but it doesn’t seem to matter as the place is generally packed. Zinc Café and Market is where locals come to enjoy fresh and healthy vegetarian breakfast and lunch. Located a block and a half from the beach, the majority of Zinc’s seats are on the patio, which make for great people watching.
Perfect produce, artisan meats and craft cocktails are on the menu at OC’s most prominent spots highlighting sustainably sourced dishes in lovely outdoor spaces. Cathy Pavlos, the chef/owner at Provenance in Newport Beach, grows herbs and vegetables on the 1,300-square-foot organic raised-bed garden on her restaurant’s patio. Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens offers a sustainable field-to-fork dining experience in a rustic indoor/outdoor space within the oasis that is Rogers Gardens, a 7-acre nursery, home and garden store in the heart of Newport Beach. In the same city, Café Gratitude serves incredible vegetarian fare and artisan craft cocktails at its inland location along Newport’s chic shopping destination of Westcliff Drive.