It Took a Pandemic for L.A. to Create an Outdoor Dining Scene

Los Angeles, for its near-perfect weather, beautiful beaches, and amazing scenery, has never encapsulated the outdoor dining scene like most other major cities.

As a former Chicago native who grew up in the suburbs and went to school in the city, I always loved to find the city neighborhoods full of outdoor patios, beer gardens, and rooftop hangouts. When I moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago, however, I felt it was so awkward and somewhat disappointing to see the lack of outdoor facilities and dining options the city had to offer. Being a restaurant enthusiast and investor in a small handful of restaurants over the years, I’ve certainly seen a fair amount of evolution in the L.A. dining scene. 

I’m seeing that restaurants that would normally close early in L.A., compared to any other major city, are now staying open for business until midnight.

In general, L.A. wasn’t much of a food scene when I first moved here. Since then, more and more renowned chefs have moved to the city to open their visionary restaurants—but most lack an outdoor dining experience, considering the near-perfect climate that allows them to do so. I used to go to the same brunch spot almost every week for a full year, and would sit at one of the only tables outside during the 60-degree February weather.

We are certainly living in a paradox world in 2020. If you drive around Los Angeles now, you will see more outdoor dining setups than ever before. These outdoor spaces are now sprawling stomping grounds filled with fun light fixtures, tents, and decorations, as well as tables spilling onto the sidewalks and streets. Last week, I was able to listen to a DJ at my socially distanced table, then caught a black-and-white movie on a pop-up projector at a French restaurant the very next night. I’m seeing that restaurants that would normally close early in L.A., compared to any other major city, are now staying open for business until midnight. People generally seem happier and much more appreciative of this new dining experience.

Recently, I had a call with my partners and friends, David Jarrett and Sylvain Bitton of Horse & Carriage Hospitality, who shared similar outlooks on the future of dining in L.A. I think it’s permanently changing the landscape out here,” Jarrett says. “Now, it’s an expectation of outdoor space. We have the best weather in the country, but you can find more patios in the Midwest.” Bitton adds, “It’s a blessing for restaurants to do outdoor dining. Owners need those extra seats to make their money back.”

It is really amazing to see the innovative dining scene L.A. has become. I certainly do miss my travels to Europe and abroad, but now this city is starting to feel like I’m walking the streets of an old-town European city. If you happen to go to Main Street in Santa Monica, or downtown Culver City, they are almost unrecognizable, as the streets are blocked off and the sidewalks are filled with tables. It’s too bad that it has taken a pandemic to push Angelenos to adapt to moving dining outdoors. Though, I’m pleased to hear that the mayor has announced the continuation of outdoor permits from now until the end of the year. I hope they are here to stay much longer than that.