My friend Gayle's internal thermostat runs hotter than most peoples'-she wears T-shirts in sweater weather, drinking iced tea while I'm huddled over a steaming cup of chamomile. When we go to restaurants, I always know her answer when the host asks "Indoors or out?" In summer months, she's the queen of the patio crawl-we've gone on countless citywide jags, chasing the sun from place to place, searching for the primo vantage point to watch the sunset. Though the food's not always been the best, together we've managed to sit, eat and drink on virtually every patio and outdoor area in town. Here are our top spots for whiling away a sunny summer day:
Gayle's favorite hair of the dog is a salty dog cocktail, and where better to imbibe than at Shelter Island's Red Sails Inn (2614 Shelter Island Drive), where two-legged salty dogs-fishermen and various boat folk-hang out on the back patio adjacent to the marina and munch on generous portions of greasy yet satisfying breakfasts like broiled fish and eggs, huevos rancheros and french toast. Breakfast is served until 2 p.m. every day, so grab a table at noon and feel less guilty about having a Bloody Mary with your eggs.
The Beach House in Cardiff (2530 South Highway 101) is a sunset stop if we need refueling in North County. The decor is a little tired-think Miami Beach circa The Golden Girls years-but the water's-edge location alongside the 101 highway can't be beat. Find a perch in the upstairs patio and indulge in the daily happy hour-with deals on oyster shooters, fish tacos and steamed clams-or head out to the main ocean-level patio, where you're close enough to feel a sea spray as you sip on a mango mojito and slurp clam chowder out of a hollowed-out sourdough round.
When Gayle first dragged me to the Barefoot Bar in the Paradise Point Resort (1404 Vacation Road, Mission Beach), I thought it sounded a little cheesy-and it absolutely is. There's a koi pond, a tiki bar and an Astroturfed stage where mildly painful music is sometimes performed. We came seeking refuge from the typical Pacific Beach party bars, though, so for a perfect bayside view and comfortable patio seating, we can put up with a couple Hawaiian shirts. At a place like this, eating shrimp cocktail and drinking fruity, paper-umbrella-topped drinks seems appropriately delicious. Bonus: There's a little dock in front so you can kayak or boat right up to the bar.
Yes, Bertrand at Mister A's (2550 Fifth Ave., Bankers Hill) is a fussy, grownup kind of place, but if you keep your head down and beat a path for the doors that lead out to the awesome top-floor patio, they might not make you put on a tie. The view is incomparable any time of day or night, but the most spectacular sight is watching planes make their descent as the sun is setting.
The patio menu offers a taste of what people are eating in the fancy indoor dining room. Gayle knows that I go weak in the knees for any kind of french fry, so she always agrees to share the parmesan-truffle fries and lets me eat most of them. Stay for dessert to see all the lights come on in the city and settle in with a spiked coffee drink and ice-cream-filled, chocolate-sauced profiteroles.