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ENCINITAS, Calif. – People now can grab a bite to eat or shop streetside in downtown Encinitas as the city is the latest to roll out an al fresco dining concept along Coast Highway 101.

To accommodate it, downtown parking spaces are being transformed for the outdoor dining experience. It expects to operate similar to other local corridors embracing an outdoor setup including Little Italy and downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter amid concerns of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The idea is so we can have a couple more tables out here and people normally feel more comfortable sitting outside than they do inside,” said Eric Soto, manager of The Encinitas Café.

The goal for the new concept, which is partially funded by a grant from SANDAG, is to help businesses bounce back from the economic fallout caused by pandemic-related closures. In order to make it work, the city authorized converting one lane of traffic in each direction of Highway 101 between D and E streets with the possibility of expanding in the future.

But Soto and his mother think otherwise due to traffic congestion near their establishment.

“I just feel like there’s accidents waiting to happen, so I’m more concerned about the traffic than having outdoor seating,” cafe owner Debbie Zinniger said.

Others such as Maurizio Trattoria Italiana owner Maurizio Carbone favor the concept.

“We can use as much space as we can,” Carbone said. “They can also do some improvement that’s for sure, but I’ll take it. I like it. Personally, I like it. I don’t know about everybody else. I like it.”

The new outdoor experience is not only an opportunity for restaurants to expand, but retail stores as well. The owner of home decor shop Bliss 101 said she appreciates the city’s creativity, but isn’t sure how realistic it is for her business.

“For us, I don’t know how much we’ll utilize it only because it requires another set of eyes to watch it and bring things in and out every night,” Malia Bolen said.