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Once reserved for restaurants able to spend thousands of dollars a year in permitting fees, outdoor dining is now a free option for every San Francisco restaurant — a byproduct of the pandemic that’s sent tables, chairs, and diners onto sidewalks, and repurposed parking spaces and streets.

In some cases, it’s just a rickety table or two, and in other cases, restaurants have completely reformatted their identity to serve folks outdoors. The new development isn’t without its challenges, as it’s also wildfire season, sending smoke into the city’s air, where it mingles with the chilly fog. Meanwhile, patrons struggle to understand mask laws and restaurants struggle to enforce regulations. But still, patrons pack parklets, patios, and lots, seeing them as a safe bit of normalcy in this increasingly surreal world.

Now that indoor dining has been closed down by the city for an unknown period of time, outdoor dining will still be a significant part of the city’s restaurant scene until the end of the year. Already, some restaurants are saying that they’re hoping that these new outdoor venues will remain, at least until the pandemic ends. It’s likely that both the pandemic — and the chance to dine beneath the stars in the most beautiful city in the world — will be with us for many months to come.