Venice has become one of the hippest areas of the West Side. Here are my top ideas for fun and interesting dates in Venice.
1. Abbott Kinney Blvd / Felix
My favorite date hangout area in Venice is Abbott Kinney Blvd, named “The Coolest Block in America” by GQ magazine. This short, diagonally running street runs from Venice Blvd to Main, and is a super-hip avenue with lots of great restaurants, bars, and stores. Park your car and leave it for the evening! Heck, it’s cool to hang out there during the day as well. Everything is within walking distance.
Probably our favorite high-end restaurant on Abbott Kinney is Felix Trattoria helmed by chef Evan Funke, someone so “maniacal” about pasta that he had a whole documentary movie made about him and this restaurant. A fun date night would be to watch the movie first, then dine at the very restaurant featured in it! When we went, we saw him at work in his central glass-walled pasta workshop!
I had the best focaccia bread there (I think it was fried), and needless to say, their pasta is excellent. Reservations are a “must”, at least a month in advance.
Another very popular restaurant for lunch or dinner on Abbott Kinney is Gjelina (pronounced like “Angelina” without the first “A”), serving modern American cuisine, pizza, and small plates. Be sure to make reservations for dinner, as this place is always crowded. There’s a walk-up counter on the side, and some people actually prefer the food there to the sit-down restaurant.
Another popular spot is The Tasting Kitchen, featuring eclectic Italian and Mediterranean fare in a tree-lined dining room.
There’s also The Butcher’s Daughter, an extremely popular vegetarian restaurant with a cool farm-like ambiance.
There are also tons of healthful juice bars around.
For dessert, have amazing ice cream at Salt and Straw. They’re usually open late. I highly recommend checking out their unusual ice cream flavors!
These are only a small fraction of the restaurants on Abbott Kinney. There are many more that I’m looking forward to trying!
After dinner, walk around and go window shopping. Most of the stores close after dark, but it’s still can be interesting. With so many things to do, Abbott Kinney is an ideal romantic date destination!
2. The Venice Canals
You might dismiss the Venice Canals as a touristy cliché, but at around sunset, it’s actually a pretty charming and romantic place to go for a stroll. Parking can be difficult – you might have to circle the area a few times. I usually park on North or South Venice Blvd near Pacific Avenue, or on Eastern Ct. If there’s no street parking, there’s a pay lot right there.
The last time we went, at about 6 PM, we encountered other couples on date walks, dogs being walked, several Instagram models being photographed, lots of ducks, and more than a few residents having dinner gatherings. It was quite romantic. It’s fun to see all of the different types of homes along the canal; each is unique.
Be sure to be quiet and respectful of the locals inhabiting the neighborhood as you explore. Dogs on leashes are OK, but no bikes, boards, or blades are allowed. Also, at night, the canals are pretty dark and not so fun or safe, so don’t go at night. Just before sunset is ideal.
Allocate about thirty to forty-five minutes at the canals.
Located at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Venice, Ospi Venice is a neighborhood restaurant focusing on Southern Italian cuisine. Chefs Jackson Kalb & Melissa Saka are known for their pasta, which is excellent, but we found their salads to be truly remarkable in their flavors. Definitely try a few selections from their antipasti menu. We loved the kale salad and the Persian cucumbers with spicy eggplant & zucchini!
We’ve also had their brunch menu and everything was awesome. The crab cake Benedict was loaded with large chunks of fresh crab, the lemon ricotta pancakes were slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the shakshuka pizza was flavorful with a slight kick to it.
The interior ambiance is nice and modern. The atmosphere is bustling but not so noisy that you can’t hear the person you’re with. Obvious effort was put into taming the noise level, as evidenced by the acoustic panels added to the walls and ceiling.
Service is very cheerful and fast.
Ospi is not cheap; the aforementioned brunch was $100 after tax and tip.
There is $5 parking in the public lot across the street but be forewarned that you need exact change in cash to put in the dispenser, which is not manned. Neighborhood parking is almost impossible to come by, and there was no valet when we went on a Saturday night. Bring cash!
During the daytime, you can walk to the Venice canals or have a drink at the Erwin hotel after your meal. At night, however, it gets very sketchy in that area. I do not recommend walking around there after dinner. But there are walkable places like Abbott Kinney a short drive away.
Overall, Ospi is a great Venice dinner date restaurant if you’re into fine pasta and salads.
I have a soft spot for restaurants in houses, and that’s exactly what Barrique is. Built in 1908, the yellow house was originally the home of the Venice train conductor. Now it’s an Italian restaurant with a Michelin-star chef, Antonio Mure. So, in addition to a cozy and romantic ambiance, the food is excellent too!
Although the immediate area around the restaurant isn’t that great, the happenin’ part of Abbott Kinney is just a few blocks away!
5. The High Lounge at Hotel Erwin
The High Lounge on the rooftop of the Erwin Hotel has been called one of the best rooftop bars in Los Angeles. It’s got lots of cozy seating areas, it’s right next to the beach, and of course, it’s got great views in every direction.
Usually, it’s pretty happenin’ at night with lots of singles, couples, and groups. It’s an ideal before-or-after-dinner romantic destination on the West Side with a killer view! Note, it can get chilly up there at night, so bring layers.
6. Belles Beach House
Belles is a hip new restaurant from the folks who brought you Elephante with a hip Tiki / Hawaiian vibe. Some reviewers say it reminds them of Tulum, Mexico. This is definitely a local hot spot and turns into more of a singles bar/club as the night goes on. But earlier in the evening, it could be a fine date idea if you’re looking for a place with a beachy vibe.
7. Forma Venice
Compared to the original Forma on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Forma Venice on Main Street is much bigger and features outdoor seating.
Forma is famous for pastas tossed in a cheese wheel (for dinner only). It’s not just a gimmick, the pastas and all of the food here are excellent – even dishes not tossed in a cheese wheel.
We came to this location for lunch and the service was amazingly fast. Serving sizes are pretty small and designed for sharing. But, that means you’ll get to try lots of dishes, even if you’re just a party of two. In spite of the small serving sizes, the prices are pretty reasonable, especially given the quality of the food.
Street parking is tricky but they validate parking in the building’s underground parking garage. Unfortunately, that garage is very dirty, especially the stairs and pedestrian exits. That’s too bad because it detracts from the otherwise wonderful dining experience here.
8. The Rose Venice
The Rose Venice is a huge open-kitchen concept restaurant with a really cool atmosphere. They serve great breakfast, lunch, dinner, pastries, smoothies, you name it. There’s also a full bar. I really like the vibe of this place!
There’s always a wait to get in here, so make reservations if you can. Or, I recommend just eating at one of the bar areas which are first-come-first-serve.
After dinner, you can stroll up Main Street to burn off the calories!
While Pasjole down the street in Santa Monica is probably the best French restaurant on Main, Coucou on the part of Main Street in Venice, is a casual alternative if Pasjole is booked out or just plain too expensive for your budget.
We like the charming ambiance with the vintage front window and bare brick walls. We enjoyed our dishes as well: their signature zucchini beignets, ceviche, bibb lettuce salad, veggie French dip sandwich, grilled Dorade (a white fish), and harissa roasted cauliflower. For dessert, they offer a simple soft serve with chocolate sauce that hardens as you pour it on. Service was fast and efficient.
Noise level can get bad during weekend peak periods. On a Sunday night, it was fine though.
Note there is a 20% service fee on top of your bill, but you are not expected to tip on top of that (we confirmed this with our server).
Afterward you can walk around Main Street Santa Monica, or take a short drive to Abbott Kinney.
10. Wurstküche and Wanderlust
For a very informal but unique and fun date in Venice, check out Wurstküche on Lincoln. They offer a unique beer selection and of course amazing bratwurst and sausages, with your choice of two toppings. If you don’t know what to get, try their Bratwurst. The fries are amazing too.
There is usually ample indoor and outdoor seating. Indoor is largely communal, with large picnic-style tables, and is sometimes kind of loud with music. Outdoor seating is charming with a fireplace going at night. Place your food order at the kitchen next door through the hallway (you’ll see what I mean).
I love this place for a casual date. The only downside is the parking. Usually, you can find a spot about a block away on a residential street.
For dessert, wander next door to Wanderlust Creamery featuring really unique ice cream flavors inspired by cuisine from around the world, especially from Asia.
I personally find their flavors a bit too exotic, but some folks love it. Salt and Straw is not far away in Venice if you prefer other flavors.
11. Superba Food + Bread
Probably one of the best places in Venice for a brunch or coffee date is Superba on Lincoln. Their baked goods are simply amazing, from their warm cinnamon buns to their selection of freshly baked breads with choice of spreads. They also have a raw bar and serve salads, sandwiches, and burgers.
I love the indoor/outdoor ambiance of this place, where the full-height windows open up to the outside:
Superba is great for an informal “get to know you” first date or a casual brunch. I haven’t been there for dinner yet, but it’s on my list!
12. Cafe Gratitude / Restaurants on Rose
For plant-based food that even a carnivore like me will enjoy, check out Cafe Gratitude. Yes, the dishes have hokey names like “I am Humble”, but they taste great! I could eat the Buffalo Cauliflower all day long.
Other worthy restaurants in this immediate area include Wabi (sushi), Bluestone Lane, Venice Beach Wines, Chulita, Flake (for informal breakfast and lunch), and Wallflower. Any of these could be a great casual date restaurant, and they’re all right next to each other.
Gjusta is an artisanal bakery and restaurant with a vintage warehouse-like vibe. I’d describe the environment as “controlled chaos” – not somewhere you’d want to go for a formal sit-down dinner; in fact, there’s a good chance you’ll end up eating at the stand-up counter during busy hours – this place can get packed!
You order by grabbing a number, deli-style, and waiting for it to be called. In the meantime, go to the drink counter and buy drinks separately. We got number 45 and they were on 14, so we thought it’d take forever, but it went faster than we thought because so many people bailed out. Search for a stand-up counter space or an outdoor table and wait for your order to arrive.
The salads, burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast burritos, are amazing. The desserts are outstanding as well. In spite of the informal atmosphere, this place is pricey. Lunch with drinks cost us over $50. But, we had leftovers to take home. Gjusta can be a fun and tasty experience if you’re not looking for formal sit-down restaurant service. It’s number 92 on Jonathan Gold’s list of top 101 restaurants in LA.
14. The Venice Boardwalk
Locals may think of Venice Beach Boardwalk as somewhat of a tourist trap. But, it can be fun to people-watch on the boardwalk amidst the bizarre street performers, vendors, shops, and restaurants. We enjoyed watching the skateboarders at the skate park the last time we went. It’s dirty, artsy, weird, and crazy at times. That’s Venice Beach! Bring a hat and wear sunscreen.
15. Biking on The Strand
If you’re in the mood for something more active, bring or rent bikes to ride up the strand which runs through Venice Beach. Ride north to Santa Monica or south around Marina del Rey and onto Manhattan Beach. It’s a great ride!
It can get crowded on weekends. What we did is stop at a bike shop and buy bike ringer bells to politely alert folks that we were coming through.
16. First Friday Food Trucks on Abbott Kinney
On the first Friday of every month, food trucks descend on Abbott Kinney from about 5 PM to 11 PM for Abbott Kinney First Fridays. When I went, there must have been around 50 food trucks, but according to their website, they’ve been limited to 17 food trucks now by the LA City Council.
Just a few caveats: Parking is very difficult – you might have to park far away and walk. The crowd is young and densely packed (the crowd reminds me of Coachella or other outdoor concert). Lines are long for the most popular food trucks, so don’t show up starving. There’s also nowhere to sit so you might want to bring beach chairs or a towel. But, if you’re in for some culinary adventures and don’t mind the crowds, First Friday can be a fun outdoor dining adventure. Here are more details of my visit.
17. The Mart Collective
If the idea of going to a furniture store on a date sounds strange, bear with me. The Mart Collective on Lincoln Blvd. is more like a permanent indoor flea market, with many items acquired from estate sales. It has some of the quirkiest and coolest home furnishings around, from a lamp made from a trumpet to sections of jet fighter fuselages with pinup paintings on them. If you’re into vintage, mid-century modern, steampunk, military, or basically any type of decor that is out of the ordinary, you’ll be in heaven at The Mart Collective. I think many people would have fun going here.
18. The Street Taco Stand on Lincoln Outside of Whole Foods
If you want some of the best al pastor tacos in town, look no further than the street taco stand outside of the huge Whole Foods on Lincoln. The video speaks for itself:
Obviously, I wouldn’t go here on a formal date, but if you’re itching for a GREAT authentic al pastor taco, you can’t beat this place. I also love their steak tacos.
Those are my favorite hangouts in Venice! What are yours? Please leave a comment below! – Brian