Enjoy California’s golden sun while dining al fresco along waterfronts, on rooftops and in national parks; this destination seriously knows their food. Innovative chefs sprinkled with Michelin stars work with local farms and artisanal food purveyors to use hyper-fresh ingredients to create magic on a plate – and the views aren’t bad either. California is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing from an array of dining hangouts, and we’ve discovered the best al fresco dining spots in the state:

1. Sip and Savour by the Vineyards: Rustic, Sonoma County 

The Lowdown: Rustic is a beautiful winery set against the rolling hills of the Alexander Valley, with the cuisine embracing both international and traditional Italian dishes. Watch the sunset and relax in the casual surroundings of the onsite restaurant by film director, Francis Ford Coppola. Drawing on a life that has taken him around the world, Coppola shares his personal favourite dishes on the menu with emphasis on family-style cooking and fresh, seasonal ingredients, with authentic, Neapolitan-style pizzas also a specialty. For those in full-relaxation mode, there’s The Pool Café including casual pizzas and gelatos with a full cocktail menu.

Where: 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, CA 95441, USA

2. For Dining with Nature: Shadowbrook, Santa Cruz

The Lowdown: With miles of pacific coastline and beautiful redwood forests, you’re never too far from a monumental view in Santa Cruz County. Shadowbrook is a restaurant enveloped by nature; to reach the log cabin inspired resturant, you have to descend through a lush jungle-of-a-garden via a petite cable car or meandering path rippling with creeks and waterfalls. Along the way, you also pass a scenic herb garden where the chefs pluck seasonal greens for the dishes. Inside, the views aren’t so bad either; a dramatic stone hearth rises up out of the main dining room and the massive picture windows blur the lines between inside and out.

Where: 1750 Wharf Rd, Capitola, CA 95010, USA

3. For Cocktails and Sunsets: George’s at the Cove, San Diego

The Lowdown: George’s at the Cove is a three-storey cocktail bar and restaurant in La Jolla with magnificent views of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and the Pacific Ocean. There’s loads on the food and drink menu which features unique San Diegan neighbourhood inspired cocktails like the famous San Ysidro and Balboa Park tipples, and delicious Cali-Baja inspired dishes, fusing fresh coriander ingredients with a Mexican kick.

Where: 1250 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA

4. For Dining in the Mountains: Rush Creek Lodge, Yosemite Tuolumne County

The Lowdown: Rush Creek Lodge, in the heart of Yosemite’s Tuolumne County, is a 143-room lodge which offers a quintessential High Sierra dining experience on the spacious outdoor terrace, where you can take in the beauty of the surrounding forest and glorious sunsets to accompany your evening meals. Serving hearty Californian mountain lodge cuisine, the menu is influenced by its surroundings and offers all-day-dining options with fresh ingredients.

Where: 34001 CA-120, Groveland, CA 95321, USA

Photo Credit: Kim Carroll

5. For Sky High Views: Catch LA, West Hollywood 

The Lowdown: Perched above the streets of the stylish West Hollywood Design District on the corner of Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Blvd, Catch LA is the West Coast outpost of acclaimed New York restaurant CATCH, serving globally influenced seafood and cleverly designed cocktails. Eating in the main area beneath the retractable roof offers a beautiful indigo sky view; alternatively you can step outside to the surrounding outdoor patio which offers incredible views of Downtown LA and the Hollywood Hills.

Where: 8715 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069, USA

6. For a Picnic in the Vineyards: Old Sugar Mill, Sacramento

The Lowdown: Located 15 minutes from downtown Sacramento, the Old Sugar Mill is surrounded by vineyards and is home to 15 unique tasting rooms, offering varietals from the region. Complete with picnic grounds to bring your own food, you can choose your  preferred bottle from the selection of the best local wines to pair with your pre-packed picnic.

Where: 35265 Willow Ave, Clarksburg, CA 95612, USA

7. For Elegance and Ocean Views: Studio, Orange County 

The Lowdown: The views, the architecture and the food: it all comes together at Studio, perched atop an oceanfront bluff above the Orange County coast at Montage Laguna Beach resort. Walk into this modern craftsman-style beach cottage, with its elegant wood details, vaulted ceiling and windows opening to the Pacific Ocean. Catch of the day seafood is the star here, but Chef Craig Strong also highlights organic produce from local farms as well as the restaurant’s own fruit trees and kitchen gardens, creating California-inspired, modern French cuisine as spectacular as Studio’s setting.

Where: 30801 South Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA

8. For a Beachside Eatery: Lakeside Beach House, South Lake Tahoe

The Lowdown: Lakeside Beach House Grill is an outdoor restaurant right on Lakeside Beach overlooking Lake Tahoe. The historic location offers breath-taking views of majestic mountains, spectacular sunsets and the peaceful water. The Santa Maria style menu is a light, fresh version of California’s culinary heritage, and regional beers and local wines provide the perfect accompaniment to the scenery you can soak up from the restaurant.

Where: 4081 Lakeshore Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA

9. For Docking and Dining: Newport Beach

The Lowdown: With beautiful water views, cool ocean breezes, friendly service and great flavours, sailors can navigate their way to some dockside dining at its very best at Newport Beach. Valet your vessel and have breakfast at Newport Dunes Resort & Marina, dinner at Back Bay Bistro or Woody’s Wharf, not forgetting fresh seafood at Bluewater grill, then finish the day with some cocktails at Billy’s At the Beach.

Where: Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663, USA

10. For Outdoor Dining: SO•PA, Greater Palm Springs

The Lowdown: The desert’s most distinctive gourmet restaurant and cocktail lounge, SO•PA, is a fully outdoors restaurant with a refined and intimate setting enhanced by the starry desert sky. Led by Michelin-starred chef, Chris Anderson, SO•PA offers a unique al fresco dining experience at L’Horizon Hotel and Spa. Finished with fire pits, fountains, and Lindsey Adelman chandeliers – breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at the Pool Bar and through in-room dining only to registered hotel guests.

Where: 1050 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264, USA

One for luck… 

11. For Fire Pit Dining: Sealegs at the Beach, Huntington Beach

The Lowdown: Sealegs at the Beach was founded by Alicia Whitney, a female entrepreneur, with seven eateries in Huntington Beach, including a beachfront outpost at Bolsa Chica State Beach. Complete with its own fire pit for you to sit around and enjoy the evening with cocktails and s’mores, the menu includes beach food, such as Baja ceviche, poke nachos and woodfire BBQ’d meats.

Where: Huntington Beach Bike Trail, Huntington Beach, CA 92649, USA