Downtown Los Angeles is an ideal date destination with great restaurants, bars, and attractions, many of which are within walking distance.
Traffic and parking can be difficult in downtown L.A., so park your car in a good central location (like Pershing Square) and walk to the attractions. Or, take the Metro if you can.
Here is my list of favorite things to do in downtown L.A. with someone special!
1. 71 Above
71 Above is my pick for the best date destination in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s a fine dining restaurant located on the 71st floor of the First Interstate building. Needless to say, the views are incredible, because you’re towering over almost every other building in the area.
Often, when a restaurant has a gimmick like a good view, the food suffers. Not the case here. The three-course Prix-Fixe dinner is top-notch and will not disappoint!
This is the place to go if you want to impress someone special!
Perch is an amazing rooftop restaurant and lounge overlooking Pershing square. This place has a lot of buzz these days, but for good reason. The view is amazing and the food is good. Later at night the bar gets packed and is practically impossible to get into.
So, the first rule is to make reservations if you want to have dinner! Plan far in advance, as it gets booked up quickly.
Second, this place is best on a warm summer night. There is indoor seating, but much of the seating is outdoors (and that is where the view is best). There are covered areas and heat lamps, but you’re pretty high up. Bring a light jacket or sweater, regardless of the temperature during the day.
The cuisine is French-inspired. I had the scallops, which were great! There is live entertainment (usually jazz) on some nights.
There is no dedicated parking, so park at one of the pay lots nearby. The entrance on Hill Street is a bit hard to find, so look for the small sign.
3. The Cicada Club / Restaurant
Even if you haven’t heard of the Cicada, you’ve seen it in movies like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. Stepping inside this amazing art-deco space is like traveling in a time machine back to 1930. Formerly a men’s clothing store, it’s now a restaurant, featuring Italian and American dishes. On the top floor is a bar serving cool vintage drinks.
On certain nights (about once a week), the restaurant turns into “The Cicada Club”, featuring vintage 1920’s and 30’s bands with Swing dancing in the front floor. On these nights, there is a cover charge, but it’s waived if you have dinner there. There are also package Prix fix deals that include dinner and admission. There is a dress code on these nights. Men must wear a suit and tie. Women, cocktail dress or suit. There is no dance lesson, so brush up in your East Coast Swing beforehand.
Parking is valet. There are nearby underground parking garages, but for something this formal, you should probably utilize the valet.
LA Weekly named the Cicada Club one of the top ten places in Los Angeles for a first date. I don’t know if I would take a first date here because it is super pricey, but it’s definitely a place to take someone special.
4. The Walt Disney Concert Hall / The Music Center
It’s hard to think of a more classy place for a date than the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Home to the L.A. Philharmonic, they also have concerts from other performers and bands. Every New Year’s Eve there is a great show by Pink Martini which I highly recommend.
There’s convenient (and relatively inexpensive) underground parking off of Second Street. When the show ends though, there is a traffic jam to get out, just be aware. I personally prefer to park in one of the surface lots a few blocks away (for example, across from Grand Central Market)
One tip: on nights where it’s not reserved, you can go up to the outdoor courtyard on the upper level of the building. Take the stairs close to the Broad museum and explore!
If you want to catch a play or other type of performance, the rest of the Music Center is next door (technically, these are all part of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County). The venues there include the Ahmanson Theatre which often features Broadway plays, The Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, which hosts the L.A. Opera, and the Mark Taper Forum which features plays and other performances.
On a budget? Look for free and low-cost events in the Music Center Plaza like A Taste of Dance, where you can get super low-cost dance lessons in a variety of styles. During the summer, there are free dance concerts here on Friday evenings called Dance Downtown.
5. The Broad Museum / MOCA / Otium
I was not crazy about the new Broad museum exterior (located next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall) when I first saw it; the walls reminded me of the backside of a cheese grater. But, I’m a big fan of the Broad now that I’ve visited. This unusual white building houses much of the modern art that was at LACMA plus more. The main collection is free and well worth seeing, but I really like the special exhibits like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room and Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.
For best results, get your tickets online in advance. Special exhibits might require going early and standing in line, or might not be free, but these are usually worth it.
I also like the Broad because it’s open relatively late – until 8 PM on most nights, so you can still see it after work!
There is convenient parking in the underground garage for $12. If you want dinner before or afterward without driving, check out Otium (reservations recommended) next door, or Pez Cantina about a block away (note that Pez is closed for dinner on Sundays). Both have great outdoor dining.
If you are really into modern art, check out the Museum of Contemporary Art, located across the street from the Broad, and the Geffen Contemporary, located in Little Tokyo. $12 admission gets you into both museums.
In one sentence, I would describe Clifton’s as a multi-level vintage bar crossed with the museum of natural history, complete with real taxidermied animals (a bison and lion among others)! It’s a great place to go for drinks, Swing dancing (on Friday and Saturday nights on the third floor), regular DJ dancing on the second floor.
For a great make-out spot, check out the Stone Chapel on the second floor – an intimate cave-like make-out space with a forest diorama in front of you. Knock before entering!
There’s affordable parking at the converted office-building parking garage across the street, above the Burlington Coat Factory.
7. The Edison
Located in a former electrical generator station built circa 1910, the Edison is LA’s steampunk heaven. Much of the original heavy generator equipment remains. Silent movies play on the walls, and most nights they have a live band or performance of some kind. The menu is small but what they do offer is good (tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, yum!)
The entrance is located on an alley off of 2nd street called Harlem Place, but it is practically impossible to identify from the street, so look at a map beforehand. There is a convenient parking garage across the alley with an entrance on South Spring Street, but, like many downtown parking garages, it’s pretty dingy. Just warning you.
During the week, there is no cover, but they started having a $10 cover on Fridays and Saturdays. If you go early or on an off-night, there is usually no line to get in. But later in the evening, especially on weekends, there might be a line.
Refreshingly, there is very little attitude at the door, but there is a mild dress code: no athletic wear of any kind including sneakers. Men must wear dress shoes and collared shirts. But, you’ll have the best time if you dress up even more and go full vintage or formal – that’s part of the fun!
8. Grand Central Market
Grand Central Market is a really cool indoor farmer’s market-type of area with lots of great ethnic food options. It opened in 1917 and has been in continuous operation since. The selection ranges from a Jewish deli to kickass Mexican food to sticky rice. It’s a great place to stop for a meal, coffee, or beer while in downtown during the day.
If you’re craving fried chicken, check out Lucky Bird, which features some of the crispiest fried chicken I’ve found.
The Grand Central Market parking structure costs $5 for the first 90 minutes and $2 for every 15 minutes afterward. For longer stays, park in the outdoor lot across the street to the east. It has some of the lowest parking rates that I’ve found in downtown LA. This is a great launch point for further adventures in downtown L.A!
9. Angels Flight Railway
After your meal at Grand Central Market, spend a dollar to ride Angels Flight – the worlds’ shortest train ride. Opening in 1901 to transport rich shoppers from their mansions to the stores in downtown LA, this railway has been meticulously restored to its former glory. Cost is only a dollar (fifty cents if you show your Tap or Metro card). I like riding it in the evening when it’s all lit up. Or, recreate the scene from La La Land. Afterward, you can easily walk down the stairs if you want to save a few bucks.
While I wouldn’t make a trip to downtown L.A. just to on this one-minute “ride”, it’s definitely a fun thing to do if you’re in the area already.
10. The Ace Hotel Restaurant and Rooftop Bar
The Ace Hotel is one of my favorite destinations for an evening out in downtown L.A. Start off with dinner at the hotel’s restaurant on the first floor, Best Girl, headed by chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence fame. It can be a bit crowded and a bit noisy on weekends, but you’ll have no problem having intimate conversation nonetheless. Be sure to make reservations though.
After dinner, take the elevator to the rooftop bar, Upstairs, which features amazing views of L.A. a large jacuzzi, and a towering cathedral-like structure above you. On weekends they sometimes have bands or a DJ. There’s always a good crowd, so go before 9 PM or so, or else there will be a line.
11. The Last Bookstore
If you’re into books, The Last Bookstore is an awesome place, but even if you’re not, it’s worth a stop if you’re nearby.
The bottom floor looks like a regular book store with a pretty good selection of vinyl.
But, venture to the top floor to see a cool maze of bookshelves, a “book tunnel” and a Horror Vault.
The Last Bookstore has a quirky vibe that is so rare these days. It’s an ideal place to stop by for an after-dinner stroll. Checking out books just might spur some interesting conversation.
12. The Standard
The Rooftop at the Standard is a hot hangout for hipsters in their 20’s and 30’s and features an amazing view of the city. In addition to a bar, there is a swimming pool and nightly DJ’d music or live music on occasion.
Also on the roof is the Standard Biergarten, featuring German classics like weiners, pretzels and strudels, and of course, beer.
In addition to these attractions, there is also a ping pong club called “Spin Standard” on the mezzanine level. There are players of all levels, so don’t be afraid to try.
For all of these, go early in the evening or on a non-weekend night to be guaranteed entry. Otherwise, you risk not being able to get in. This place is very popular on weekend nights.
13. Staples Center and LA Live
I am not a huge sports fan, but I was impressed by the amenities of the Staples Center when I went to see the L.A. Kings play there recently. The food was a bit better than what you’d expect at a sports stadium, and even the nosebleed seats had a pretty good view.
Next door, LA Live offers lots of casual restaurant options, fine for grabbing a bite before a game or before a concert at the Nokia Theater. It can get quite crowded and tourist-heavy at times, just keep in mind.
14. The City Hall Observation Deck
This is a great FREE attraction that is open during weekdays from 8 AM to 5 PM. The City Hall Observation Deck offers spectacular views of Downtown L.A. in every direction.
The public entrance is on S. Main Street. There is no dedicated public parking for City Hall, but I was able to find some metered parking on S. Main Street a few blocks to the southeast.
You’ll pass through metal detectors, then take an express elevator to the 22nd floor, then another elevator to the 26th floor, then stairs to the deck.
The whole place has a cool old-school feel to it, with lots of marble finishes, portraits of previous mayors, and so forth. Be sure to take an Instagram selfie at the podium with the flags on each site.
We got there at about 4:45 PM, but they let us stay there way past closing, which was great!
15. The Bona Vista Lounge at the Bonaventure Hotel
You can’t miss the distinctive glass cylindrical buildings in the heart of downtown LA that are the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. Admittedly, the style is very 80’s, and arguably past its prime, but don’t dismiss it just yet. If 71 Above is booked up (as it often is), the Bonaventure can be your backup.
The Bona Vista Lounge on the 34th floor of the center “cylinder” is a rotating bar that gives you an unparalleled panoramic view of the city. Because this place is not exactly “hot” right now, it’s unusually not that crowded and you can get a booth or table with no problem. Get past the 80’s décor and it can be very romantic. It is quiet and good for deep conversation while slowly rotating in the middle of the city.
Yes, the novelty drinks are expensive, but the view makes up for it.
If you want dinner, go to the LA Prime steakhouse, one floor up. It doesn’t rotate, but you can always go to the Bona Vista lounge afterward. The food is top-notch.
There is valet parking inside the hotel and a parking garage across the street. These are rather pricey parking options, but kind of worth it to not have to walk around in this particular area of downtown, which is abandoned and a bit spooky at night.
16. The Downtown Central Library
Okay, going to a library on a date may seem kind of geeky, but I know a lot of book lovers who would be into this. The Downtown Central Library is a great place to relax and check out some books for free. But first, you should explore the wonderful interiors and grounds.
They also have an art gallery and a good gift shop with gifts for book-lovers.
17. Orsa & Winston
If you want to impress a foodie, make a reservation and order the five-course tasting menu at Orsa & Winston. At $85 per person, it’s actually a good deal.
The restaurant is owned by chef Josef Centeno, who named it after his two dogs. The cuisine is Italian and Japanese inspired.
Afterward, you can get dessert at Grand Central Market, or even see a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, both within walking distance.
18. Le Petite Paris
I love restaurants with great ambiance, and Le Petite Paris definitely has that. You’ll be transported to 1930’s Paris in this super romantic French restaurant in the heart of downtown. The food is good too, with four stars on Yelp.
19. The Millennium Biltmore Hotel
So many of my trips to Downtown LA have included a quick stop at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel for two reasons. One, because it’s centrally located within easy walking distance from many of the attractions in this article. And two, because it has an extravagant main hall and a small photo gallery with pictures from the early Academy Awards. Try to identify early film celebrities such as Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille! It’s worth a stop if you’re anywhere near Pershing Square.
20. The Orpheum Theater
The Orpheum Theater is an amazing venue to see a concert or show. The 1926 interior has been faithfully preserved and is quite breathtaking. But, it’s also a great concert venue because the seating area is very steeply angled – nearly every seat has a good view of the stage.
After the show, go across the street to the Ace Hotel, or down Broadway to Clifton’s.
21. The Wolves
The Wolves is a meticulously-restored vintage bar that offers hand-crafted drinks made from locally-sourced ingredients. It’s a great place for a quiet stop before or after dinner.
22. Walking Tour of LA
Downtown L.A. has some of the most historically significant architecture in Southern California. Going on a walking tour is a great way to see it and a great date idea. Here are a few options:
Art Deco Walking Tour
This popular tour by the Los Angeles Conservancy has been going on every Saturday morning as long as I can remember. The cost is $15.
Downtown L.A. Walking Tour
This tour offers a variety of tours including LA’s Beginnings, Old and New, and Haunted Tales. The cost is $17.
23. Howlin’ Ray’s Nashville Hot Chicken (Chinatown)
Is there any meal in Los Angeles worth waiting five hours in line for? Many would say that Howlin’ Ray’s chicken sandwiches are worth the wait, and there is a line that varies from 45 minutes to five hours long to prove it.
I decided to give it a try. I “only” waited an hour and a half to get my prized “Sando”, along with chicken strips and a good selection of sides. Yes, it tasted awesome, but I’m not sure I’d wait that long in line again.
Needless to say, you should only do this if you know what you’re getting into, and want to do something a little crazy (like wait multiple hours in line for a chicken sandwich). If you’re with a date who’s into it and have lots of stories to tell in line it could be a fun, unique experience. Check their Twitter feed for the line wait times.
Other Nearby Cool Areas: Little Tokyo and the Arts District
If you want even more cool things to do in the area, consider Little Tokyo and the Arts District, adjacent to Downtown LA.
Little Tokyo is a charming area on the outskirts of downtown LA which includes a small outdoor mall and surrounding Japanese-themed restaurants and stores. It is a small but worthy date destination. It’s quite lively on the weekend (there was outdoor karaoke in the courtyard on the Saturday we went), but more reserved during the week.
If you are into ramen or sushi, there are plenty of options. There is always an insane line to get into Sushi Gen, but locals swear by it (call ahead to get on the list). After dinner, walk around and get tea or dessert in one of the many shops. If you want more excitement, walk on over to The Edison a few blocks north for drinks and live music (but beware the dress code).
Just a little further out from Downtown past Little Tokyo is an area known as the Downtown Arts District. It might look rather quiet on the outside, but there are many cool restaurants and attractions there. A few of my favorites are the Hauser & Wirth art complex, and Angel City Brewery.
For details on the Arts District and more fun ideas there, check out my article on the Downtown LA Arts District!
For all of these activities, consider taking one of the LA Metro trains to get into downtown. I’ve taken it from Culver City and it beats rush hour traffic hands down. Cost is just $1.75 each way plus a one time fee of $1 for the Tap card. Subway coverage in downtown L.A. is pretty good, and it will save you the considerable hassle of fighting insane traffic, searching for parking, paying exorbitant rates, and navigating the confusing downtown L.A. streets.
Unless it’s a first date, anniversary, or another special occasion, I think the train is a fun way to get around when on a more casual date. Uber is another good option.
Downtown L.A. itself is very walkable. It would be easy to go to many of the locations on this list in one evening without having to set foot in a car! For example, you can easily walk from The Edison to Little Tokyo to the Arts District. Or, you can walk from the library to Perch. I highly encourage combining these ideas into a grand date itinerary!
What are your favorite hangouts in downtown LA? Please comment below! – Brian