Learn  about facility hours and city services during COVID-19

COVID Outdoor Dining

covid outdoor dining

Who decides what when it comes to what is allowed?

COVID tier for Marin County (shelter in place order, purple, red, etc.)State of California
Whether restaurants are allowed to operate indoors, outdoor only, or takeout onlyMarin County Public Health (based on State COVID tier)
Reopening guidelines for businesses and Site Specific Protection PlanMarin County Public Health
Whether your restaurant's open windows, retractable roof, etc. qualify as "outdoor dining"Marin County Public Health
Guidelines for operating in the public sidewalk, parking spaces, etc.City of San Rafael
Design guidelines for construction of any semi-permanent outdoor dining spacesCity of San Rafael


Free, temporary permits to use the sidewalk or parking lane for business operations, like seating, dining, or personal care services.

All approved permits are valid through November 30, 2022.

All businesses are required to post a Site-Specific Protection Plan and adhere to the industry-specific requirements outlined in the Marin County public health orders.

Public property outdoor area - sidewalk or parking lane

Businesses are responsible for costs of construction of all semi-permanent structures in the parking lane. Exception: The City will provide and place simple metal barricades as well as two water-filled orange barricades at the end of the dining area in the direction of oncoming traffic and reflective plastic delineators along the outer edge of the area.

To apply for the installation of a semi-permanent structures in the parking lane, fill out application form below. You must upload a proposed construction design/rendering in “Site Plan” as a part of your application. Use this template: COVID Outdoor Dining Site Plan.

Private property outdoor area - private parking lots, mall parking lots, etc.

You must confirm your landlord (the property owner) has agreed. City approval of the temporary outdoor dining/retail on private property does not replace or supersede any private lease or contractual agreements between your business and the property owner.

When is a Building Permit also required?

Any outdoor dining area in the parking lane with a constructed overhead roof or trellis must also apply for a City of San Rafael Building Permit. This building permit will have no fees associated with it.  Engineered or architectural plans for the overhead structure must be submitted in order for the permit to be processed.

The Building department has now added a special type of permit for restaurants seeking to apply for their overhead roof/trellis structure: "Temporary Outdoor Dining Area (Commercial Parklet)". To apply, visit the Building Permits webpage, watch the How to Apply for a Building Permit Online video, then click on the link for "Temp. Outdoor Dining Area (Commercial Parklet)" permits.

Restaurants are free to set up tents <400 sq ft or canopies <700 sq ft without any additional permit.

Requirements for your outdoor area

GeneralBusinesses may request to utilize any parking spaces fully or partially within their store frontage.


  • Air flow must be maintained
  • A minimum, unobstructed width of 4' must be permanently maintained for public pedestrian passage on the sidewalk
  • Maintain access to all street and sidewalk ground utilities  (e.g. manholes)
  • A 1 buffer from edge of the parking lane dining area and the adjacent traffic lane must be maintained at all times
  • Do not block visibility for required street signs, crosswalks, and intersections.  Dining area including walls and/or tent overheads should not block view of traffic from 200’ away (about ½ a block) 
  • All building exits and exit pathways must be kept clear
  • Access to building fire protection equipment (PIV, FDC, Riser) and sidewalk fire hydrants must be kept clear.  A fire extinguisher inside the building must be quickly accessible.  15’ clearance from either side of a fire hydrant must be maintained in the parking lane
  • Movable racks and furniture must be adequately secured, so that they do not roll or are easily tipped over
  • No stacking of furnishings in outdoor areas
  • For dining areas set up on private property (e.g. mall parking lots), all fire lane drive aisles should be kept clear.  Also safe drive aisles and pedestrian access to and from the building should be maintained.
  • For salons, the use of a tent, canopy, or sun shade is required, with no more than one side closed (or two parallel sides closed)


  • Restaurants must maintain at least one sidewalk seating, or one of the seatings in the parking space for ADA access. Parking space ADA seatings must include the installation of a temporary ramp from the curb to the parking space
  • Retail must offer associate assistance to ADA customers for any retail on display in the parking space
In the Parking Lane only: BaseUsing the street surface as the base 

  • Surface must be accessible by an ADA ramp from curb (maximum slop of 8.3% & raised side rails) or establishment must maintain an ADA accessible table on the sidewalk at all times 
  • ADA guidance on curb ramps 
  • Plan for how rain may flow in the gutter along your space

Constructing a platform as the base 

  • Platform base should not be higher than 30” from street surface 
  • Platform base must be flush with curb, gap must not be >½ or a vertical separation >¼  
  • Platforms should allow for curbside drainage flow: a 6 x 6 minimum clear gutter space must be provided along the entire length of the platform adjacent to the curb 
  • ADA accessibility: maximum cross slop (perpendicular to sidewalk or curb) cannot exceed 2%. Maximum running slop (parallel to curb) cannot exceed 2% 
In the Parking Lane only: Barriers/WallsSimple barriers 

  • Crowd control barricades must be placed between the dining area and adjacent traffic line. Contact Talia.Smith@cityofsanrafael.org or include a request in your application for the City to drop off crowd control barriers for your outdoor dining area. They will be placed by City Maintenance staff free of charge.
  • Sturdy planters at least 36” high may also be used around dining area

Constructed walls 

  • Walls should range between 36-42” tall for side parallel to curb, and 17 minimum for sides perpendicular to curbFull height of structure (including posts or framed open windows) should not be more than 10’ tall 
  • Must maintain an minimum 48” wide entry into dining area 
  • Edges must be marked with high intensity retro-reflective tape (three, 3” strips) or reflectors to be visible at night 

Note: The City will install 2 water wall barriers at the end of the dining area that faces oncoming traffic and reflective plastic delineators along the outer edge of the area.

Overhead Tents or canopies 

  • Tent vs. canopy
    • Tent = closed on 2 sides (no more than 2 sides may be closed) 
    • Canopy = closed on 1 or no sides 
  • permit (from the Fire Department) is only required when tent is >400 sq ft or canopy is >700 sq ft. Establishments may set up tents or canopies above dining area that are below these thresholds without a permit 
  • Tents cannot block exit doors or impede access from adjacent buildings 

Roofs or trellis  overhead

  • All roof and trellis overhead structures will require a building permit application in addition to the Outdoor Dining Area application below. Visit Building Division webpage and watch the "How to Apply for a Building Permit Online" video to get started. The building permit type is a General Permit. The ordinary building permit fee will be waived for on-street dining structure roofs and trellises.
  • Construction of any roof for your semi-permanent outdoor dining area, including temporary, must comply with the Building Code, and require approval by a licensed design professional (engineer or architect) in California 
  • Overhead cross-beams to hold heaters and/or lighting, or trellis-type structures require licensed design professional-approved plans 
  • CA licensed design professional will need to develop plans themselves or write letter that they have approved the plans submitted by the establishment 
Utilities Electrical 

  • Battery operated LEDs or solar powered lighting preferred 
  • Cords must be rated for outdoor use and meet needed amperage 
  • Use a single cord with proper gauge size – do not plug cords together 
  • Plug into GFI receptacles 
  • All cords on the ground must be covered with heavy duty ADA safe cover 
  • Overhead cords must be supported per CA Electrical Code 
  • DO NOT staple or nail anything  


  • CAL FIRE-issued guidance on use of heaters in Temporary Tents & Awnings 
  • For tents and canopies requiring a Fire Department permit, refer to guidance in the permit 
  • For tents and canopies not requiring a Fire Department permit, electrical and propane heaters may be installed without a permitPropane heaters installed must have overhead clearances that conform to the manufacturer’s specifications from combustibles (typically 3 above and on all sides) 
  • No heaters shall be placed in the 1 buffer between the dining area and the driving lane 
  • Unused propane or fuel tanks shall be stored outdoors in a secured area; not stored inside the restaurant 
  • Heaters must be secured and stabilized to prevent tipping over, and must be placed on a flat surface
External links for additional guidance City of San Francisco’s Shared Spaces Design Guidelines 

City of Palo Alto Guidelines 

Jersey City Parklet Guide – utilizes wooden pallets 

Parkcade Guide to Parklets & Streeteries – images for installation of temporary platforms 

New Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Regulatory Relief for Restaurants

ABC’s COVID-19 Temporary Catering Authorization authorizes on-sale privileges to a property that is adjacent to the licensed premises so long as the property is under the control of the licensee, and where bona fide meals are being served and in accordance with state and local health and safety directives. Learn more.

Restaurants that wish to expand their permitted alcohol sales may do so by filing both of the following forms:

These forms may be turned into an ABC office via mail or in person. A check or money order of $100 will be accepted, no credit card payments.

See ABC’s FAQ here and additional guidance by license type here.

DISCLAIMER: The Temporary Outdoor Dining, Retail and Salon permit applications are pilot programs and subject to change or termination at any time in the discretion of the City of San Rafael.  Individual permits may also be revoked by the City if the City determines the applicant is in violation of the permit requirements. The conditional temporary permits authorized by these pilot programs are subject to all provisions of San Rafael Municipal Code Section 11.04.030, including the duty to indemnify the City of San Rafael for injuries to persons or damage to public or private property as set forth in Section

Outdoor Dining Application

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