Sure, the North Bay has plenty of lovely patios, but how about an amazing view and great food to boot? Not quite as easy. We’ve culled through our favorites and created a carefully curated list of spots where you can dole out some serious cheddar (that’s seriously worth it) or just bundle up with a plate of tacos by the bay. In Wine Country, you don’t necessarily have to spend a mint for a million dollar view.
The Birds Café, Bodega Bay: This tiny eatery, perched above the harbor, serves only a handful of items — fish and chips, salads, clam chowder, shrimp tacos — but may be one of my favorite places on the coast. Order at the counter, then walk up the stairs (there’s also a handy ramp) to the concrete patio for a lovely view and a picnic-style meal for under $15. 1407 California Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, (707) 875-2900.
Gourmet Au Bay, Bodega Bay: Owners Bob and Sissy Blanchard recently moved and expanded their longtime wine tasting shop from Bodega Highway to the last available waterfront property in Bodega Bay. Hidden away in a tiny cove in Bodega Harbor, the revamped Gourmet Au Bay is more than twice the size, and now has a wood-fired oven and full menu Thursday through Monday (the kitchen is closed Tuesday and Wednesday, though tasting is daily). One of the best views of the bay, hands down. 1412 Bay Flat Rd., Bodega Bay, (707) 875-9875.
Fishetarian, Bodega Bay: Okay, maybe this isn’t the view of a lifetime, but you can get a decent view of the Bodega Bay from the outdoor tables at this stellar fish market and café. Lines can be long, but we suggest taking some chowder and a crab sandwich, maybe some grilled fish tacos, and head to your favorite spot for a picnic. You can also grab a parking spot or just walk around and soak up the sea air. 599 Hwy. 1, Bodega Bay, 875-9092.
Spud Point Crab Co., Bodega Bay (1910 Westshore, Bodega Bay, 875-9472, and Fisherman’s Cove (1850 Bay Flat Rd., Bodega Bay, 377-4238) just because they’re no-frills, watch the boats come in kind of spots that are reasonably priced, with honest local seafood and friendly folks.
River’s End, Jenner: This romantic Californian seafood restaurant is the perfect dinner place to end a day on the Sonoma Coast. The bistro has large windows overlooking the Jenner beaches and waters from a bird’s eye view, along with a deck to enjoy the sound of waves and ocean air. We’ve got to say, this spot’s sunset views mixed with the fresh-out-of-the-ocean seafood is a dinner you’ll remember. 11048 Hwy. 1, Jenner, 865-2484.
Nick’s Cove, Marshall: Besides the amazing waterfront views (maybe the best on the Bay), there’s a new reason to head out to Marshall for oysters. Chef Joshua Seibert of San Francisco’s wildly popular Mission Beach Cafe has landed in the kitchen, bringing with him several new dishes and a new enthusiasm to the Tomales Bay restaurant. Many of the favorites will remain on the menu, including Dungeness Mac & Cheese and Deviled Duck Eggs, but they’ll get some minor tweaks and join several new items on the menu. Seibert has been working with the property’s Garden Manager, Brendan Thomas to grow fresh produce for the restaurant year-round. 23240 Highway One, Marshall, (415) 663-1033.
John Ash & Co., Santa Rosa: At the gateway to the Russian River Valley appellation, this historic restaurant pays homage to godfather of Wine Country cuisine, Chef John Ash. The restaurant is nestled among acres of vineyards, with stunning views from just about every angle. Twinkling lights and a lovely patio make it a perfect sunset spot. 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 527-7687.
Nectar Restaurant & Lounge, Santa Rosa: You can see for miles from the casual outdoor patio, with a view into the heart of Sonoma County. Here you can enjoy a Sunday morning eggs Benedict or a sunset cocktail with the vineyards of Wine Country stretching out before you. 3555 Round Barn Blvd., Santa Rosa, 569-5525.
Restaurant at Russian River Vineyards, Forestville: This Forestville gem has always been a great spot to sit outside among grape vines and redwoods, ponder the Wine Country lifestyle. A new chef is bringing a new POV to the menu, making it worth another visit. 5700 CA-116, Forestville, 887-3344.
Dempsey’s Restaurant & Brewery, Petaluma: Located riverside, this restaurant and brewery gives panoramic views of historic Petaluma. Take a seat at one of the outdoor tables, grab a pint and go for the Cuban sandwich, with slow-cooked brisket. Burgers are also top-notch, and they’ve got a solid roasted chicken perfect for cooler nights. 50 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 765-9694.
Graffiti, Petaluma: Small plates ranging from crab cakes and beet salad to heartier pizzas and burgers make this a popular Petaluma stop. A full bar and a few apps on the outdoor patio are a great way to spend an afternoon watching the river roll by. 101 Second St., Petaluma, 765-4567.
Rustic (Coppola Winery), Geyserville: Before we get to the views, it’s important to say that this is Francis Ford Coppola’s Sonoma winery, so expect plenty of movie memorabilia and Hollywood spectacle at this Wine Country destination. What’s so impressive, besides the sweeping views of the Alexander Valley and Coppola’s vast vineyards is that the food is actually very good. It has to be, because Coppola is a frequent visitor to the dining room (we’ve seen him twice). We love the approachable Italian pastas and pizzas, along with “Francis’s Favorites” like Marrakesh Lamb, brick chicken (Chicken Mattone). Don’t miss the chocolate mousse. Seriously. If you’re up for some fun, check out the weekly “A Tavola” where staff perform a “family style” meal with wacky aunts, cousins, Italian moms and plenty of singing, with dishes simply sent to your table. 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 857-1400.
Angele, Napa: You’ll find some of the prettiest on the Napa riverfront at this classic French brasserie. Grab a table on the patio and toast to la bonne vie. 540 Main St., Napa, (707) 252-8115.
Auberge de Soleil, Rutherford: It’s not hard imagining yourself in the French countryside, with 360 views of the Napa Valley. The famous outdoor patio is perfect for a sunny brunch date, basking in the afternoon sunshine, mimosa in hand, and the classic Napa scenery around you. 180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, 800-348-5406.
Harvest Table, St. Helena: The cozy covered patio (with luxe sofa seats) overlooks a culinary garden and the Harvest Inn’s charming grounds. Well off the main drag, the property is a quiet refuge from the often-bustling Napa Valley traffic. Though this is a Charlie Palmer spot and can be pretty pricey for dinner, the lunch menu, bar bites and “neighbor” dinners ($36 prix fixe on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday) make it an affordable indulgence. One of the prettiest and coziest patios we know. One Main St., St. Helena, (707) 967-4695.
Brix, Napa: Flower and vegetable gardens just off the patio are stunning, making this a popular St. Helena restaurant for visitors. We recommend Sunday brunch buffet to really enjoy the outdoors, with a seafood bar, sourdough walnut pancakes, salads, cheeses and bacon éclairs. 7377 St. Helena Hwy., Napa, 944-2749.
Barrel House Tavern, Sausalito: Located in a former ferry terminal, Barrel House has an award-winning restaurant design with panoramic views of Sausalito and the lights of San Francisco across the bay. A modern menu focused on seafood and seasonal Cal-Italian is perfect for a romantic dinner, yet family-friendly (they have an actual soda jerk). 660 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415-725-9593.
Bar Bocce, Sausalito: Start your Friday night with this casual Italian spot right on the water. With tables and seating just steps away from the beach, customers line up for a pizza, roast chicken wings, homemade meatballs, lasagna and of course, sangria. Best seat in the house is round the fire pit. And, as the name implies, there’s a bocce court for everyone to use. 1250 Bridgeway, Sausalito, (415) 331-0555.
Le Garage, Sausalito: A converted auto garage has become a Sausalito destination for authentic French bistro cuisine. Overlooking the Schoonmaker Point Marina, the views are as good as the Croque Madame, Mussels Mariniere and panisse (chickpea fries). 85 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 109, Sausalito, (415) 332-5625.
Farley Bar, Sausalito: You can actually see the Golden Gate Bridge from this luxe little bar on the grounds of Cavallo Point. Tons of cocktails, and a bar menu from Murray Circle’s executive chef, this is a taste of the good life with one of the best views in the Bay Area. 601 Murray Circle, Fort Baker, Sausalito, 415.339.4750.