Fresh Air

Our Favorite Outdoor Dining Destinations

Covid-19 has made outdoor dining more popular than ever. Here are our favorite destinations for an al fresco feast.

By Cooper Levey-Baker Published in the September-October 2020 issue of Sarasota Magazine

C'est La Vie in downtown Sarasota

C'est La Vie in downtown Sarasota

Image: Chad Spencer


Editor's note: We recommend checking with each restaurant to make sure they remain open and still offer in-person dining.

Lido Key

The Old Salty Dog

Purists cried foul when the MTV show Siesta Key featured the City Island Old Salty Dog rather than the Siesta Key location, but we can’t blame producers for choosing to feature the northern iteration. The wooden deck offers views of blue-green water, sailboats and seabirds. 1601 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 388-4311, $


Star Fish Co.

Pelicans flock to this Cortez outpost for the same reason tourists and locals do: fresh fish, straight off the boat. But while the birds rely on handouts from the commercial fishermen next door, human diners queue up to fork over cash on a covered dock that seats dozens at well-worn picnic tables. 12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez, (941) 794-1243, $$


Pier 22

According to local lore, this riverfront restaurant is haunted, but don’t let that scare you away from booking dinner on the water-facing patio. Strung with farmhouse lights and blessed with views of the Green Bridge, it’s an ideal spot to enjoy Pier 22’s fine cuisine. 1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 748-8087, $$

Downtown Sarasota

The Breakfast House

Dining in the small back lot at this Gillespie Park bungalow is like eating in a friend’s back yard, with trellises and drapes that provide a chummy, sheltered vibe. We’re suckers for the “island cakes,” loaded with coconut, grilled pineapple and macadamia nuts. 1817 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 366-6860, $

Café Epicure

On a weekend night, few Sarasota corners are more bustling than the one at Palm Avenue and Main Street. The crowds come for the killer Montepulciano and impeccable Negronis, thin-crusted pizzas and al dente pastas, and they linger over sweets and espresso. 1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5648, $$

C’est La Vie!

Baguette- and butter-craving diners flock to this café’s streetside collection of tables. Sit outside, but don’t forget to peruse the pastry case inside for goodies to take home. (A second location near the University Town Center mall is also excellent but lacks the downtown café’s Parisian sidewalk charm.) 1553 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 906-9575, $


Clásico pulls in a younger crowd with live music and dancing, as well as comfy outdoor seating. We love the quiet two-tops next to the restaurant’s vine-covered western wall, where you can split a bottle of white and a tableful of happy-hour snacks while soaking up the street scene. 1341 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 957-0700, $$


Dinner at Indigenous is more fun than formal, thanks to the setting: a vintage Florida cottage with a relaxed front porch and side patio. Sit there on a starry night, and you’ll share both belly laughs and intimate whispers. 239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740, $$$

Jack Dusty

Offering vistas of a narrow urban inlet, The Ritz-Carlton’s restaurant preps platters of raw shellfish and fish, along with favorites like cioppino and a ribeye. Casual enough for shorts and a T-shirt but swanky enough for a dinner date. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, (941) 309-2266, $$$

Mandeville Beer Garden

With a wide expanse of fake grass, hands-on games and fortified fencing, this Rosemary District beer garden has become a meeting spot for local households headed by parents who enjoy a good brew. Grab a spot at one of Mandeville’s shaded picnic tables and let the kids go wild. 428 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 954-8688, $

Mattison’s City Grille

When the band gets cooking at Mattison’s, the patio space in front of the stage fills up fast, with retirees and tourists shaking a leg to “Mustang Sally” and “Soul Man.” It’s both relaxed and a buzzing center of downtown life. 1 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 330-0440, $$

Nancy’s Bar-B-Q

The tractor that sits at the corner of Pineapple and Ringling is both a beacon for customers hunting for Nancy’s Bar-B-Q and a climbing apparatus for the restaurant’s littlest customers. It’s a fun space for families catching up over trays weighed down by piles of brisket and pulled pork. 301 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-2271, $

Owen’s Fish Camp

The wait for an inside table can take forever, but we’ll never complain, because a long delay means more time to hang out in the back yard. A hipster bluegrass band sets the scene, while kids and date-nighting adults swoop around on the tire swing. 516 Burns Court, Sarasota, (941) 951-6936, $$

Station 400

Even on the steamiest summer mornings, the patio at this downtown brunch institution stays pleasant. A wide awning and well-placed trees keep it cool, while you enjoy superb breakfast and lunch fare. The restaurant has two other locations, one in Lakewood Ranch and one on the South Trail, but the setting here keeps us coming back. 400 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 906-1400, $

Anna Maria Island

Beach House

With a gigantic outdoor bar and beachfront deck, this Anna Maria Island favorite has transparent vinyl curtains and overhead heaters and misters that ensure you can enjoy fresh-air dining no matter the weather. The food fits the view, with a menu built around Gulf-harvested seafood. 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 779-2222, $$

Longboat Key

Dry Dock Waterfront Grill

This gem is attached to the Boathouse on Longboat, where speedboats are stored in racks and dunked in the water when the weather’s nice for a cruise around the bay. The second-story dining room offers splendid water views, but to really enjoy the marine vibe, head to the dockside patio. 412 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 383-0102, $$

Siesta Key

Sun Garden Café

Sun-worshipping tourists and island dwellers alike wake up at this Siesta Key mainstay, which serves sweet potato pancakes, chicken and waffles and omelets on a charming patio surrounded by bright tropical greenery and flowers. 210 Avenida Madera, Sarasota, (941) 346-7170, $

St. Armands Circle

Blu Kouzina

Blu Kouzina’s blue-walled, St. Armands-fronting patio can be lively and bustling one minute and languid and romantic the next—an ideal setting for the restaurant’s focused, delicious dishes, from grilled calamari and octopus to platters of lamb and whole fish. 25 N. Boulevard of Presidents, Sarasota, (941) 388-2619, $$$

Crab & Fin

This St. Armands Circle eatery is known for its so-fresh-it-was-just-swimming seafood and pick of excellent wines, but it’s the sidewalk seating that makes it so popular. 420 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-3964, $$$


With its hip midcentury design, this upstairs hideaway offers a cool respite. The cozy front patio provides primo people watching; it’s the perfect place to imbibe creative cocktails and infused boozes. (Shore’s second location, on Longboat Key, is also an excellent destination for outdoor eating.) 465 John Ringling Blvd., #200, Sarasota, (941) 296-0301, $$$

East Sarasota

Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse

The kids can enjoy the sprawling sandlot and the cornhole boards; the parents can enjoy the huge chickee hut lit up like Christmas. Stottlemyer’s is better known for its brisket and other smoked items, but the fried chicken here is the star. 19 East Road, Sarasota, (941) 312-5969, $


Evie’s at Spanish Point

This bayfront favorite is dominated by a large chickee structure, with plenty of room for kids to roam, a grassy area down by the water and a dock that’s good for a stroll. It’s a great place for locals to pretend they’re on vacation. 131 Bayview Drive, Osprey, (941) 218-6114, $


Sharky’s on the Pier

Connected to Venice beach’s long pier, with direct access to slopes of white sand, Sharky’s indoor restaurant, outdoor patio and tiki bar have made it a go-to sunset dinner destination for decades. 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice, (941) 999-3467, $$

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