Why the Downtown LA Arts District is An Amazing Date Destination

Updated on Jun 1, 2024

The Arts District is one of the most vibrant and hip areas of the city.

Located east of Downtown Los Angeles, the Arts District is one of my favorite daytime date destinations in the entire LA area! It’s undergone an amazing revitalization with cool galleries, breweries, restaurants, and hipster bars. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon or evening with someone special.

Getting There & Parking

The Downtown LA Arts District is located east of Alameda between 1st and 7th Streets, with most of the cool walkable areas at the north end of this map.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to include Smorgasburg and the Row (in the lower left corner of the map) as part of the Arts District.

There is street parking, but it can be hard to find. I parked in a centrally-located lot at E. 3rd Street and Hewett St. The sign said “$3 parking” but that was misleading because it was $3 per hour with a $15 max. But, I paid anyway because I didn’t have time to look for scarce street parking. Some of the restaurants have valet parking.

The last time I went, I did find free street parking on Santa Fe Ave under the 1st Street overpass. We only had to walk a few blocks from there.

If you’re coming from the Pasadena area, you can take the Metro Red Line to the Little Tokyo / Arts District Station. It’s only a ten-minute walk to the Arts District from there.

And now, on to my list of things to do and see in the DTLA Arts District!

1. Hauser & Wirth Art Complex

For me, the centerpiece of the Arts District is the Hauser & Wirth art complex, located at 901 East 3rd Street. It’s a massive former industrial space from the 1890’s (the Globe Mills complex) which was restored into a cool art and restaurant complex in 2016. The industrial bare brick and massive iron doors have been preserved, creating a really unique vintage factory feel.

The art gallery contains about five or so large rooms which can accommodate massive installations or exhibits. When I went, they were featuring really cool installations by Jason Rhoades (I won’t spoil it by telling you what all of the neon words mean, but maybe you can figure it out. Hint: it’s X-rated).

This type of art may not be everyone’s cup of tea (definitely not for kids due to the language and imagery), but at the very least it’s interesting for adults! The installations change every few months, so check their website to see what they have now. Here’s a newer installation from 2021:

There is an open-air courtyard in the center, with a garden on one side where they grow herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. There are even live chickens!

2. Manuela (at Hauser & Wirth)

Manuela is the on-site restaurant at Hauser & Wirth but it’s a worthy destination in itself, apart from the museum.

Serving New American cuisine, Manuela has an amazing indoor/outdoor ambiance featuring vintage styling with modern artwork. It’s a great date idea, and unlike most L.A. restaurants, it’s quiet enough for normal dinner conversation!

We really enjoyed the small plates and salad. The cornbread is a “must try”. The mains were good too, but the vegetable dishes seemed to be intended to be entrees, rather than sides, and were pretty rich with cream sauces. Next time, we’d probably order more of the small plates and only one entree. But everything was flavorful, including the “chocolate shroom” dessert, which was outstanding.

Tip: they have seating at a bar that looks into the kitchen. I like this type of seating for casual dates because you get to watch the chefs at work!

There is valet parking, or if you get (very) lucky, you might find street parking.

3. Girl & the Goat

Chef Stephanie Izard’s L.A. version of her classic Chicago restaurant is one of the hottest spots in town, and one of my personal favorite restaurants, both in terms of food and ambiance. We had brunch there and it was easily one of the best brunches I’ve ever had, and definitely the most creative. When we went for dinner, the food was flawless, as was the service.

The huge former warehouse space is adorned with plants and is bright and airy. The Girl & the Goat is probably my favorite restaurant in the Arts District. Although the music was a tad loud for both brunch and dinner, it’s an amazing place to bring a date!

The dishes are New American, but with some strong Asian influences (chili sauce, spices). There are some really innovative combinations going on, but more importantly, every dish we tried was delicious. The menu is designed for sharing.

Getting reservations is NOT easy. I’d recommend checking Yelp! frequently and just reserving a time that works, even if you don’t have someone to bring yet. Any foodie will want to try it out with you!

4. ROW DTLA

Just outside the official boundaries of the Arts District, at the former site of American Apparel on Alameda St., is ROW DTLA, a cool marketplace of restaurants and shops in an industrial setting.

The vibe is like a lot of the Arts District: retro, yet brand new.

If you’re in the mood for seafood, I’d recommend the Rappahannock Oyster Bar, the first West Coast location of this venerable East Coast seafood restaurant. The environment is light and airy, and the ingredients are locally sourced.

We love the New York Style pizza at Pizzeria Bianco.

You can also grab coffee at Go Get Em Tiger (look for the sign that says “gget”).

If you want to dine at a Michelin-star restaurant, Kato features a Taiwanese-inspired tasting menu. We went there for our anniversary dinner and really enjoyed it!

If you’re into vintage clothing, check out the monthly Pickwick Vintage Show there. Note, these are typically higher-end vintage items and much more expensive than “thrift-store” vintage. Regular admission is $10 (or $20 for early bird admission)

Or browse various clothing and housewares shops elsewhere in the complex.

Overall, The Row is a really cool space to wander around in. Unless there’s a major event going on (like Smorgasburg below), it can feel pretty empty there; you feel like you have a whole mall to yourself. This can be good if you want a quiet place to chill and talk on a bench or something.

5. Smorgasburg at ROW

Every Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM at ROW DTLA there’s a huge outdoor food marketplace called Smorgasburg featuring tons of gourmet food stands. Food lovers will have a blast here. Some of our favorites include Little Fish, Black Sugar Rib Co., Tacos 1986, and Jolly Oyster. Admission is free!

Obviously, this is a casual date idea, as you’ll probably be eating at an outdoor bench. But, if you love having a wide variety of food to choose from, you’ll love Smorgasburg. Bring a hat on sunny days as there is not much cover.

6. Fine Dining

The Arts District has some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. including two on Jonathan Gold’s top 100 list. In true Arts District form, these restaurants are still casual (i.e., no dress codes) even though the food is top-notch. All of the restaurants below have great ambiance and are perfect for a dinner date.

Our personal favorite restaurant in the Arts District is Girl and the Goat, mentioned above. But these are more than worthy date destinations as well!

Bestia

After Girl and the Goat, Bestia is our second-favorite high-end restaurant in the Arts District. It’s a Jonathan Gold favorite, ranking #17 on his list of top 100 restaurants in Los Angeles, and offers amazing Italian-influenced cuisine.

The atmosphere is what I call Arts District industrial chic, informal but hip. It’s a tad crowded and lively but not insanely loud. Bring a date here and they won’t be disappointed!

Bavel

Bavel is a newer entry by the folks who brought you Bestia specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. I love the ambiance with the open kitchen and plants hanging overhead.

Amazing ambiance at Bavel
Amazing airy ambiance at Bavel

It’s best to order family-style. Everything we had here was amazing, from the duck to the roasted cauliflower to the octopus. But, my favorite was the baba ghanoush and seasoned bread. I’ve never had bread like that before! It’s a solid dinner date destination.

Brera Ristorante

Brera offers Northern Italian-inspired cuisine, but this isn’t your typical Italian restaurant. Here, I shared a $100 plate of risotto with shaved truffles on top with a friend of mine.  Brera comes in at #41 on Jonathan Gold’s list of top 100 restaurants in LA.

Officine Brera
Brera

Brera has an industrial vibe with red brick walls and exposed beams and ducts, and it’s definitely a hip and date-worthy destination for Italian food in the Arts District!

Yangban Society

Drawing from Korean influences, the newly-renovated Yangban has a great date ambiance, with faux trees in the middle of the dining room. It’s dark and quiet enough for good conversation. The highlight dish for us was the fried chicken wings, but many dishes were superb.

Just be aware, as many reviewers have said, the serving sizes are small. On the other hand, this allows a party of two to sample many dishes!

Cost for two was almost $300 when we went, so this place is pricey. This is not a good place to go if you are super hungry, but it’s a great place to take someone you want to impress.

Cha Cha Chá

Cha Cha Chá is a hip rooftop restaurant with really great date ambiance. With its second-story outdoor dining and overhead bistro lights, this place is hard to beat for romantic atmosphere. The Mexican dishes score highly on Yelp, as do their desserts. We prefer the food at Bestia, Bavel, or Girl and the Goat though. But unless you’re a foodie, you should be fine at Cha Cha Cha. Just be sure to make reservations far in advance as this is a hot spot!

Cha Cha Cha in the Arts District
Cha Cha Cha in the Arts District

Camphor

Located in the alley next to Eat Drink Americano and across from Hauser & Wirth, Camphor is a new addition to the Arts District Restaurant scene. They serve French food with Southeast Asian influences.

We liked the open ambiance, and the noise level was decently low compared to so many trendy restaurants in L.A. where you have to shout to your dinner date.

If you want to impress a foodie, take them to Bavel, Bestia, or Girl and the Goat. Otherwise, Camphor is a fine date destination especially if you don’t like spicy food (their flavors are mild). Our service was excellent and the desserts were killer (we’re considering coming here again just to try the bread pudding). Dinner was about $350 for us, so this place is pricey. 20% gratuity is included.

Some other good food options include Zinc Cafe and The Factory Kitchen.

7. Coffee!

There are lots of great non-chain coffee options within walking distance including:

Further to the south, there is Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

8. Breweries

Keeping with the industrial theme that seems to pervade this area, Angel City Brewery is a huge two-level space located in a former cable factory. I really like the vintage industrial ambiance here and the huge space.

Grab drinks at the bar, then find a table to share. Or, play a game of Jenga or beanbags. If you’re hungry, there’s often a food truck outside. What more could you want in a brewery?

Angel City Brewery
Jenga at Angel City Brewery

Another great brewery in the area is the Arts District Brewing Company. Not only do they have a great selection of beer and awesome chicken wings, but they also have Skee-Ball! Need I say more?

Arts District Brewing Co
Arts District Brewing Co

Last but not least, I love the ambiance of the Boomtown Brewery, which has a huge adjoining event space featuring live music and other performances.

Swing dancers dancing to the Hukilau Hotshots at the Boomtown Brewery
Swing dancers dancing to the Hukilau Hotshots at the Boomtown Brewery

9. Casual Dining

Wurstkuche is an informal German restaurant specializing in sausages, Belgian fries, and beer. And oh are they good together! Their most notorious menu item is their rattlesnake and rabbit sausage, but rest assured there are plenty of other more traditional options. Of course, they offer an amazing selection of German and Belgian beers on tap! They have “picnic table” seating, so you may be sharing a table, but it’s all part of the fun. Wurstkuche is definitely not your typical hot dog joint!

Bratwurst and fries at Wurstkuche
Bratwurst and fries at Wurstkuche

Everson Royce is a bar but has amazing food by former Mozza chef Matt Molina. Their burger is one of my all-time favorites. Their back patio space has communal dining but is great if you know what you’re getting into. Of course, they have a huge cocktail menu.

You’ll find the best ramen in the area at Afuri Ramen + Dumplings. Afuri opened its first restaurant outside of Japan in Portland in 2016, and now they are in the Arts District of L.A.! You order at touch screens and they bring the food out pretty quickly. I love the clean, modern, casual vibe.

Some other great informal but really good restaurants in the area include Eat Drink Americano, Zinc Cafe & Market, Bread Lounge, and Cafe Gratitude located at the One Santa Fe complex

If you love ice cream, head over to Salt and Straw for their famous ice cream flavors. There might be a line though!

10. Two Bit Circus (intermittent hours) / EightyTwo

Filled with futuristic video games, VR rooms, an escape room, and various other high-tech amusements, Two Bit Circus is an unusual attraction, perfectly suited for the Arts District.

Bar and games at Two Bit Circus
Bar and games at Two Bit Circus

I went with my brother and we tried the Battlezone VR game. This is a sit-down immersive tank game, similar to the old school Battlezone arcade game, except way updated. It was great, but we left feeling nauseous due to motion sickness. I would recommend the other VR games where you stand rather than the ones where you sit.

Folks on Yelp are now reporting that admission is $50, but that is credited towards games. They’ve also been reporting that a good number of the attractions are broken. Check Yelp before going for the latest scoop. When admission was free (and you paid per game), I think this place was a good deal; at $50, I’m not so sure unless you’re a real game geek!

For more gaming in the Arts District, EightyTwo is a bar that features vintage arcade games from 1978 to 1994 (the golden age), and they still only cost 25 cents to play. There’s even a pinball league on Tuesday nights.

So, Check It Out!

As you can see, there’s tons to see, drink, and eat in and around the Arts District.  The whole area has a cool vintage industrial feel that is really unique. I’d recommend a trip out there when you have a chance!

What are your favorite hangouts in the Downtown L.A. Arts District?  Please leave a comment or question below! – Brian

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