Outdoor Dining Pop-Ups in Northern California

From Sonoma to San Francisco to Big Sur, celebrated restaurants and chefs are reinventing the concept of eating alfresco

Words by KATHRYN ROMEYN with a contribution by ANUSH J. BENLIYAN


California weather is conducive to the atmospheric act of dining outdoors nearly year-round, and many are realizing that now is the time to take this concept even further. Continuing to rise to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurateurs and hoteliers in wine country, San Francisco to Big Sur have devised a slew of new pop-ups that bring the very best of their venues outdoors.

If you find yourself missing date nights, celebratory dinners or casual meetups for drinks, here are some safe ways to wine and dine in Northern California that in many ways are even more special than what was possible before.


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Outdoor seating at FLOWERS VINEYARDS & WINERY in Healdsburg.


No one does experiential dining quite like those in California’s wine country. Acclaimed Sonoma eatery The Girl & The Fig was granted permission to operate a more casual pop-up  (707-933-3000) Thursdays through Sundays on picnic tables in the shade-covered northwest corner of Sonoma Plaza (453 First St. E., Sonoma). In keeping with the laid-back setting, the menu of duck liver mousse, smoked chicken salad, BLAT burger and spicy pork fries is first-come, first served. Don’t forget to also order a refreshing Wicked Slush or Slushtail.


Sonoma’s FARMHOUSE INN offers Progressive Winery Picnics, plus curbside pickup Wednesdays through Saturdays.


Meanwhile, Sonoma’s rustic Farmhouse Inn (7871 River Rd., Forestville, 707-887-3300) has introduced Progressive Winery Picnics ($950/couple), which it plans to make available at least through the fall, serving as very fine replacements for traditional winery hopping. The experience is like a movable feast — a privately chauffeured Volvo XC90 T6 delivers guests to unique outdoor picnic tastings at three wineries, including Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery to sip vino and nibble on Coppinger and Wagon Wheel cheeses; Flowers Vineyards & Winery to enjoy Sea View Ridge pinot noir or Camp Meeting Ridge pinot noir or chardonnay and housemade seasonal bites (menus change biweekly) in the garden; and Lambert Bridge Winery to indulge in a wine pairing featuring macarons from Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods.


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CHATEAU MONTELENA WINERY in Calistoga oozes Old World ambience.


In Napa, Calistoga Ranch, Auberge Resorts Collection, has launched a pair of pop-up experiences (580 Lommel Rd., Calistoga, 844-239-8285) that are delicious, not to mention incredibly private. For the foreseeable future, guests with special occasions to celebrate can book a private tasting journey ($2,500/couple) through Chateau Montelena Winery’s unmatched wines (paired with cheese and charcuterie, naturally), followed by a personalized dinner prepared by resort chef Chris Ludwick at the Lakehouse that might include Spanish octopus carpaccio and a grass-fed Sonoma filet.


CALISTOGA RANCH can arrange a picnic for guests, or book a private tasting at a local winery.


For a daytime delight, there’s the Savoir Terroir experience ($160/person), a partnership with winemaker Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf of Picayune Cellars & Mercantile. This leisurely, wine-paired, four-course lunch is designed for just two, served on the lake house deck, with treats like butter-poached shrimp and heritage pork tenderloin from chef Michael Lewis’ kitchen.


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Three-Michelin-star S.F. restaurant QUINCE is at FRESH RUN FARM through October. Photo by Joseph Weaver.


San Francisco’s beloved Quince (615 Horseshoe Hill Rd., Bolinas) has temporarily closed the doors of its Jackson Square dining room in response to the pandemic. But fret not: Those craving the three-Michelin-star restaurant’s celebrated take on contemporary Californian cuisine can still indulge — at its one-of-a-kind pop-up nestled in Peter Martinelli’s seaside Fresh Run Farm in nearby Bolinas.

Chef Michael Tusk and his wife/partner, Lindsay — who have long worked with Martinelli, the land’s third-generation farmer — relocated Quince to the 20-acre certified-organic farm through October, transforming the grounds with romantic open-air greenhouses in which guests dine. The changing multicourse lunch menu (from $350/person) spotlights the Fresh Run bounty of more than 40 varieties of heirloom vegetables, fruits and flowers, with such coastal-inspired dishes as caviar with butter bean, Meyer lemon, soy and ginger; and freshly dug potatoes with Bolinas allium, ramps and local oysters.

The Quince at the Farm concept, which allows guests to tour the property and even pick their own produce, is an ode to the end of summer, and diners can savor the season’s last moments with a mignardise, a gourmet bite-size dessert for the ride home.


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British street food-inspired delectables at WHITECHAPEL, which has just opened THE BARBICAN cocktail and beer garden.


Whitechapel, San Francisco’s Victorian-styled gin mecca, has turned a parking lot into The Barbican (600 Polk St., S.F., 415-292-5800), a cocktail and beer garden serving poutine and chilaquiles for brunch Thursdays through Sundays. Though significantly sunnier than the vibe inside, the socially distanced picnic tables are still the site of inventive cocktails, such as the Lamplighter’s Story and Nameless Maiden, and all guests receive temperature checks before being seated so that all patrons can enjoy some peace of mind.


Keep an eye on Instagram for the rotating menus for SAN FRANCISCO PROPER HOTEL’s Proper Patio Pop-Up series.

Michelin-starred chef Jason Fox is giving foodies a taste of his travel-inspired cooking with the Proper Patio Pop-Up (1100 Market St., S.F., 415-735-7777), an outdoor dining and cocktail series courtesy of the San Francisco Proper Hotel that will take place around aquamarine tables on Market Street every Friday through October. Every two weeks, a new menu inspired by European and Asian traditions, executed with seasonal ingredients from the Bay Area, will drop via San Francisco Proper Hotel’s Instagram. Be prepared for his creativity to shine through in food that you can easily take to go. Plus, $5 per check will be donated to Larkin Street Youth Services.


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POST RANCH INN’s culinary team sources ingredients from its chef’s garden. Photo by Kodiak Greenwood Photography.  


The legendary Post Ranch Inn is adding a second dining option beyond its beloved Sierra Mar. Slated to open in late September or early October, the planned addition, called The Outpost (47900 CA-1, Big Sur, 831-667-2200), centers around the garden, where a new barbecue, pizza oven and alfresco bar will be situated, and guests will have the option of hand-picking their own veggies for their pizzas and salads. The more casual concept will also include a fire pit for cozy ambience under the stars.


Feature image: FLOWERS VINEYARDS & WINERY in Healdsburg.


Sept. 22, 2020

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