Number 18 - May 2007
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our custom tours and vacations.

Ten Best Places to Dine Outdoors

There's an old saying, "The better the view, the worse the food." There is much truth in this adage, but the Bay Area does have some restaurants that enable you to dine on good food while enjoying the sunshine and beautiful vistas. For this list, I am balancing the quality of the food with the ambience of the setting to come up with ten recommendations for places to dine al fresco. About half of my recommendations are away from the usual tourist haunts.

1. Auberge du Soleil - By far the best place to dine outdoors in the Bay Area is Auberge du Soleil, a lovely hillside resort overlooking the Napa Valley near Rutherford. The restaurant at Auberge is the perfect combination of food, service, and ambience. Life doesn't get much better than dining on the terrace while gazing over the vineyards. The California/French food is terrific and the service is impeccable. Last year Michelin awarded one star to the restaurant at Auberge du Soleil.

2. Fish - Eating the freshest of seafood at picnic tables in the Sausalito yacht harbor on a sunny afternoon is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Fish is a casual joint frequented by locals who enjoy good seafood. Don't come here if you are in a rush. Often there is a line to order, and meals can take a while to be brought to your table. Beverages are given to you when you order, so sit outside and nurse a beer or glass of wine while you wait for the food to be brought to your table. Although the prices are a bit high, every meal I have eaten at Fish has been delicious. Bring cash as Fish does not accept credit cards.

3. Sam's Chowder House - There are very few coastal eateries serving quality food in the Bay Area. Fortunately, Sam's Chowder House serves fresh seafood in pleasant surroundings near Pillar Point Harbor, about 40 minutes south of San Francisco. I've tasted the lobster rolls and crab cakes and believe they are the best in the Bay Area. The menu also includes tasty red and white clam chowder and a wide variety of fried, grilled, and saut?ed seafood. Sam's has indoor and outdoor seating that overlook Half Moon Bay and the Pacific.

4. The Restaurant at Francis Ford Coppola's New Winery - Last year Francis Ford Coppola took over the Souverain property in Geyserville (Sonoma County). He has yet to name the winery or restaurant. Coppola has big plans for the facility, but to date only minor changes have been made to the interior of the restaurant. The food, though, has changed dramatically. The restaurant now serves Italian food that includes superb thin-crust pizzas, house-cured salumis, and delicious pastas. During the dry season, the patio is open so you can lunch while overlooking the vineyards. The restaurant is not open for dinner.

5. Hog Island Oyster Company - Hog Island farms oysters in Tomales Bay, one hour north of San Francisco. The fresh bivalves are brought to the Hog Island Oyster Bar at the San Francisco Ferry Building where you can slurp them down at picnic tables overlooking San Francisco Bay. In addition to raw and cooked oysters, Hog Island serves clams, a couple of salads, and an upscale grilled cheese sandwich. If you don't like clams or oysters, Hog Island isn't the place for you. If you do, enjoy dining outside and pairing your oysters or clams with a nice California Sauvignon Blanc or a French Muscadet or Sancerre. Hog Island is open daily until 8:00 p.m.

6. North Beach - The old Italian section of San Francisco attracts lots of tourists. The restaurants are not gourmet, tending toward typical red sauce and pasta dishes. However, dining outside and watching the world go buy on Columbus Avenue is a San Francisco tradition. Order a good bottle of red Italian wine with your pasta and you're set for a couple of hours. You'll see folks from all over the world pass in front of you. There are dozens of restaurants to choose from. A few of my favorites are Steps of Rome, Calzone's, and Caffe Delucchi. All are on Columbus, between Broadway and Green Street.

7. Belden Place - This one-block alley is home to seven restaurants and one vodka bar. All of the restaurants (except Sam's Grill) offer outdoor seating in the alley. You can dine on Italian, French, Catalan, or Mediterranean cuisine. Walking down the alley you'll be greeted by menu-toting staff trying to get you to come into their respective restaurants. Read over the menus and pick one that looks good to you. I have dined at most of the restaurants on the alley and recommend them all. My favorite is Plouf, a French seafood eatery that specializes in mussels and fries. If you dine outside, you'll enjoy a unique spot in San Francisco. Belden Place runs between Bush and Pine Streets, just east of Kearny Street.

8. Bistro Don Giovanni - Just north of the city of Napa, off Route 29, is Bistro Don Giovanni. This restaurant has been serving Italian food for as long as I can remember. The menu includes antipasti, excellent thin-crust pizzas, pastas, and meats from the grill and wood-burning oven. You can dine inside or on the restaurant's terrace. On a warm, sunny day, you can look out over the vineyards and imagine you are in Tuscany.

9. Park Chalet - Technically the Park Chalet only has indoor dining. However, the restaurant's walls are made of glass on three sides. On a warm day, the restaurant slides open the large doors on the three walls and you will feel like you are dining outside. Located at the west end of Golden Gate Park, Park Chalet offers views of the surrounding garden. The menu consists of large and small plates as well as a few pizzas. The food is ok and the house-made beer is quite tasty. Park Chalet is a nice spot to relax near the ocean and enjoy a beer with a meal.

10. Mountain Home Inn - You go for the view here. The food consists of sandwiches and salads, which are just fine for dining in the sunshine. The Inn - you can stay here as well - sits on a ridge above Muir Woods. From your table on the patio, you'll get a panoramic view of Mill Valley, Mount Tamalpais, and the Bay. The restaurant is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday.

I am sure I have missed some spots. If you have any suggestions to add to my list, drop me an e-mail at I'll post them on my San Francisco blog: Rick's San Francisco Journal.

Last Issue of Rick's Tips

The February 2007 issue of "Rick's Tips" had articles on the monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove and on other natural wonders found on the Monterey Peninsula. You may not have received the issue as the subject line contained a three-letter word starting with "s" and ending with "x;" causing the message to be diverted to some spam folders. If you did not receive the February issue, you may read it by clicking here.

Back issues of "Rick's Tips" are available on the Blue Heron website. More information on travel in and around the Bay Area may be found on my two blogs: Rick's San Francisco Journal and Rick's Wine Country Journal.

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