This Restaurant’s Parking Lot Morphed Into an Urban Oasis During Lockdowns. They Never Went Back.

Gott’s Roadside in Walnut Creek, California was always on the cutting edge of the pandemic response.

They were one of the first places to shift to takeout as lockdowns hit, to implement outdoor ordering, and to require social distancing.

True to form, they were also one of the first restaurants to build an outdoor dining area.

The difference is that Gott’s outdoor dining area is a true urban oasis with more than 20 trees, stunning picnic tables, and plenty of space to stretch out. And unlike many restaurants’ DIY outdoor spaces, Gott’s is still there.

Unpave Parking Lots and Put up a Picnic Spot

It can be hard to remember what the early pandemic was actually like. Many of us are probably trying to actively suppress those memories!

But think back to 2020, and you’ll recall that as many restaurants had to close their indoor dining spaces, they quickly built outdoor dining areas.

Many of these were thoroughly makeshift DIY affairs, consisting of a few tables sprawling onto the sidewalk, perhaps accompanied by some picket fencing and globe lights from Home Depot.

Gott’s took a different approach. Seemingly overnight, they converted a massive private parking lot behind their Walnut Creek restaurant into a cozy oasis.

That’s a pretty big sign of commitment right from the get-go. Parking in Walnut Creek is a valuable commodity, so sacrificing a big chunk of your lot is no small move.

A Long Term Spot

Gott’s also built for the long term. Rather than throwing together some hacked folding tables, the restaurant invested in big, bold red picnic tables made from hefty wood.

They also went beyond the “handful of bushes in a planter” approach and instead brought in more than 20 medium-sized trees in large wooden containers. Gott’s also laid down artificial turf over their former parking lot and put up big traffic barriers that made the outdoor seating area feel safe from confused or wayward motorists.

Gott’s DIY oasis seems to have worked so well that the restaurant never took it down. On a recent visit, I found the lovely urban oasis still standing and still extremely pleasant.

An irrigation system now feeds the trees, and the turf is showing its age. Otherwise, Gott’s parking lot patio looks the same as it did in the early pandemic.

My Visit

I sat down for a lovely meal outdoors under the shade of an umbrella. The picnic table provided plenty of room to munch on some mahi mahi tacos, and the outdoor setting meant I didn’t need to worry when my three kids started to get a bit rowdy.

Gott’s has plenty of indoor tables too. But I like this ersatz outdoor space better. It feels casual and fun, like sitting on a friend’s patio and enjoying a meal.

Staff members and other diners enjoyed their meals there too, giving the space a fun community feel.

Gott’s space is also a reminder that sometimes there are better things to do with urban space than to, paraphrasing Joni Mitchell, “pave it and put up a parking lot.”

If the wait times at Gott’s are any indication, the restaurant doesn’t seem to be losing business from drastically reducing its parking spaces. And instead of another soulless lot, Walnut Creek got a fun and colorful (and tree-filled) outdoor space out of the bargain.

I miss the pandemic trend of restaurants spilling into the streets and gleefully taking over their otherwise boring urban locales. I wish more restaurants would build these kinds of outdoor spaces.

Until they do, I’ll keep coming back to Gott’s, grabbing my tacos, and savoring the fun of a DIY Astroturf-and-picnic-tables urban oasis.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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