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. Restaurants and Shops on Abbott Kinney
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 is a super-charming avenue with lots of great restaurants, bars, and stores. Park your car and leave it for the evening! Everything is within walking distance.
Probably my favorite high-end restaurant on Abbott Kinney is Felix Trattoria. I had the best focaccia bread there (I think it was fried), and their pastas are all made in-house. 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. For fine seafood, check out Salt Air. If you want a casual, quick but healthful meal, I like Lemonade – and they do serve real food, not just lemonade!
There are lots of vegetarian / vegan options including The Butcher’s Daughter, with an amazing farm-like ambiance.
There are also tons of healthful juice bars around.
For dessert, have amazing ice cream at Salt and Straw. They’re open till 11PM. 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 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.
3. 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. If there’s no street parking, there’s a pay lot right there.
Be sure to be quiet and respectful of the locals inhabiting the neighborhood. Dogs on leash are OK, but no bikes, boards, or blades are allowed. Also, at night, the canals are pretty dark (and not so fun), so I wouldn’t go when it’s pitch dark out. Dawn or dusk is ideal.
4. The Rose Venice (formerly Rose Cafe)
A couple blocks away from Chaya is the The Rose Venice, a huge open-kitchen concept restaurant with a really cool interior. 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 and it’s an ideal breakfast, lunch or dinner date spot!!
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! Or, drive a short distance down Rose for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams!
5. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams / Cafe Gratitude on Rose
Los Angeles has lots of gourmet ice cream places, but Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has some of my all-time favorite flavors. How about Brambleberry Crisp, which has real chunks of oven-toasted oat streusel along with blackberries and blackcurrants? or Whole Orange Sorbet & Sweet Cream, a flavor that tastes like an orange creamsicle with real chunks of orange in it?
I recommend getting the “flight” of ice creams – 3 half-scoops in one plate – so you can try different flavors. Below are the aforementioned favors plus dark chocolate peppermint:
A few doors down the street is Cafe Gratitude, which serves vegetarian and vegan fare, that even a carnivore will enjoy!
This section of Rose Avenue is really charming, with other unique restaurants including Pono Kitchen, Cerveteca, Flake, and Wallflower. Definitely worth checking out!
6. First Fridays on Abbott Kinney
The first Friday of every month a bunch of food trucks descend on Abbott Kinney from about 5PM to 11PM 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 (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.
I’m not sure I’d call this place “romantic”, but the food is great and it can be a fun experience if you know what you’re getting into. 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 mean time, 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 stand-up counter space or an outdoor table and wait for your order to arrive.
The salads, breads, burgers, sandwiches, and burgers are amazing. The desserts are outstanding as well. In spite of the informal atmosphere, this place is pricey though. 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.
8. 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 once in while amidst the bizarre street performers, vendors, shops, and restaurants. It’s dirty, artsy, weird, and crazy at times. That’s Venice Beach! Bring a hat and wear sunscreen.
If you want a bit to eat that’s a bit higher-end than the boardwalk fare, I recommend Dudley Market, just off the boardwalk on Dudley Street. It’s famous for its amazing brunch, but has good food all around.
9. 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 on to Manhattan Beach. It’s a great ride!
10. The Mart Collective
If the idea of going to a furniture store on a date sounds strange, please 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 and 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 after a lunch date.
For some of the best BBQ on the West Side, check out Baby Blues BBQ. It’s casual and messy, but darn good!
For authentic German food, go to Wurstkuche, featuring exotic styles of Bratwurst. Seating is communal, so this is not great for an intimate date but it could be good for a group.
Those are my favorite hangouts in Venice! What are yours? Please leave a comment below! – Brian