Santa Monica is an obvious and popular destination for hanging out with friends or someone special. It’s got lots of great restaurants, the beach, and it’s relatively walkable. Here are some of my favorite date ideas in Santa Monica.
1. The Proper Hotel / Calabra Rooftop Restaurant and Bar
My new pick for the #1 date spot in Santa Monica is the amazing Calabra Rooftop Restaurant at the brand new Proper Hotel on Wilshire and 7th Street.
This hotel consists of a renovated Art Deco building with a new taller building that surrounds it. The hotel itself has a great Mediterranean vibe.
Start out with drinks at Palma, the hotel’s ground-floor bar. The styling is more like that of a home than a public restaurant.
Then, take the elevator to Calabra, for some of the best views in town. Any time around sunset would be ideal. The Mediterranean menu has a variety of small plates, Meze, and large plates. This place is uber-romantic and quiet enough for date conversation.
If you or your date is a foodie, you might consider the other ground-floor restaurant, Onda, featuring the handiwork of chefs Gabriela Cámara of Cala in San Francisco and Jessica Koslow of Sqirl. However, be aware that this restaurant (like so many in L.A.) is very loud and not ideal for quiet conversation. Advance reservations are a “must” since this place is quite popular at the moment.
2. Dinner and Drinks on Ocean Avenue
Ocean Avenue is a very popular spot for locals and tourists alike in Santa Monica.
Some of my favorite restaurants on Ocean Avenue are Herringbone, Blue Plate Taco, and Blue Plate Oysterette. For more details see my list of Best Restaurants and Bars on Ocean Avenue. Some of these restaurants are high-end chains, but they all have good food and ambiance.
Ocean Avenue has some of the hippest and most popular bars in Santa Monica. My favorites are The Veranda (at the Georgian Hotel), ONYX (the rooftop bar at the Hotel Shangri-La, with an amazing view), and The Bungalow (the ultra-popular outdoor bar at the Miramar Hotel). Yes, the common thread here is that these are all hotel bars, but they all have a charming vintage ambiance. Note, Suite 700 and the Bungalow can get really crowded with singles later at night.
3. Palisades Park
After dinner and drinks on Ocean Avenue, cross the street to stroll along the cliffs at Palisades Park. There’s a great view of the ocean and pier, especially if you catch it during sunset.
If you’re there during the day, check out the Camera Obscura on Ocean near Arizona. It’s a pinhole camera that you can pan 360 degrees. It’s nothing to get too excited about, but it has some old-school charm, and hey, it’s free and it’s a chance to cozy up to your date inside a dark room!
Or, go on a jogging date up and down Palisades Park!
4. Third Street Promenade and Surrounding Area
Third Street Promenade is an obvious date destination with lots of interesting shops, restaurants, and street performers, ideal for an after-dinner stroll. At the end of the promenade is the Main Place Mall, with more window-shopping opportunities. While it’s definitely touristy, it’s also a great place to walk around on a date after dinner.
There are tons of restaurants to choose from right on the Promenade, and many are just fine (like Locanda del Lago), but during peak periods they can be crowded with tourists and noisy – maybe not ideal for a quiet date. I’d like to recommend a few that one or two blocks away from the Promenade:
Some people say that Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa has the best sushi in Santa Monica, and I would agree. Their signature is the warm sushi rice. If you hate deciding, you can choose a set menu of sushi chosen by the chef. Note, however, that Sugarfish does not have California Rolls, chicken teriyaki, miso soup, or other common Japanese restaurant dishes. This is an authentic sushi place! Sugarfish is located on 2nd Street north of Santa Monica Boulevard.
If you are looking for a very high-end, quietly romantic dinner experience, check out Michael’s, which is famous for its sublime patio dining area. It’s very pricey, and portions are small, but if you need something formal near the Promenade, this fits the bill.
For a really classy upscale bar/lounge date, check out Bar Chloe on 2nd Street. It’s got a great vibe and is quiet enough for good conversation. There’s a limited but good menu of burgers and cheese plates.
Finally, for a fun communal dining experience, I like Wally’s wine bar Santa Monica. Their first location was in Beverly Hills, and they now have a location on Wilshire and 2nd Street. This place is great for a group, but could also be fun on a date if you’re into wine.
5. The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market
I think farmer’s markets are a great daytime date idea if you’re into food. The Santa Monica Farmers Market on Saturday and Wednesday mornings on Arizona avenue is one of the best in L.A., after the Hollywood farmer’s market.
6. The Santa Monica Pier / Beach
The Santa Monica Pier is touristy but can be fun. You’ll pass the vintage merry-go-round, the new Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and carnival games. Be sure to walk to the very end and look back towards land to see a great view of Santa Monica and Malibu.
Generally, I don’t eat at the restaurants on the pier, because they are crowded with tourists and noisy, and there are much better options nearby.
If you want some really quiet time, walk down from the pier to the beach. It’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of walking along the beach with someone special.
As great as the beach is during the day, it’s more romantic at night. Bring a towel and blanket, find a spot, and listen to the waves. There’s usually not as many people there at after dark, making it a perfect place for an after-dinner stroll.
7. Main Street
Main Street in Santa Monica has cleaned up in recent years and is now a really great area to bring a date. There are tons of excellent restaurants to choose from. Here are some of my favorites going from North to South on Main.
One of the best date spots for coffee or dessert is Urth Caffe on Main. They’ve got a super charming back patio, a perfect hideaway to hang out with someone special.
Across the street and down one block is JINYA Ramen Bar. It’s a casual dinner spot, but has some of the best ramen in town, as evidenced by the long line to get in. Tip: go on Yelp and reserve your spot online before you got!
Right next door is Little Prince, a small but charming spot featuring farm-to-table New American cuisine.
Another super charming restaurant is Manchego, a Tapas and wine bar, perfect for a dinner date!
For drinks, walk further down Main Street to the Victorian, a vintage “home” with several bars (it’s sometimes closed for special events though). If the Victorian is rented out, go to the back and enter the Basement Tavern for drinks and occasional live music. Note these venues get pretty crowded on weekend nights with young single people, so those times may not be ideal for a quiet date.
If you’re looking for classic Italian food, La Vecchia is the perfect spot on Main.
If you’re a fan of Wolfgang Puck, there’s his venerable Chinois on Main, featuring his take on Chinese and French fusion cuisine. Reservations highly recommended!
For dessert, there’s Sweet Rose Creamery. They’re open late, so stop by after dinner for a scoop or two!
Another restaurant with a unique vintage vibe is Pasjoli French bistro. Pronounced “Pah-joh-li”, it’s yet another perfect date restaurant on Main, with a really romantic ambiance!
As you can see, Main Street in Santa Monica offers a lot of great restaurant choices!
8. Citrin and Melisse
Chef Josiah Citrin’s Melisse has been one of the finest restaurants in Santa Monica for twenty years, having been voted Zagat’s number one restaurant in Los Angeles. But, it recently underwent a major renovation and split in two to form Citrin and Melisse.
In practice, it’s almost like three restaurants in one:
- Melisse is the original uber-high-end establishment with its set tasting menu. Think expensive, formal, special occasions.
- Citrin is more accessible. It has a brighter and less formal ambiance, with a-la-carte meals.
- Although part of Citrin, Citrin’s bar is almost like a separate restaurant. It hosts happy hour from 5-7PM, which is a great deal! When we went, we found this to be the most lively area of the restaurant. The plates are small, some only one or two bites, but you get to try a lot of different dishes. The burger, though, is full-sized, and is fantastic!
Regardless of which you choose, you can’t go wrong with Melisse or Citrin! Oh, and by the way, the desserts at Citrin were excellent. We vowed to return just for dessert sometime!
Coming in at number 7 on LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold’s list of 101 best restaurants is Cassia. Foodies will appreciate the French-Asian mashup which works splendidly. Last time I went, I had the Cold Sesame Noodles, Beef Rendang, and Grilled Chinese broccoli, all of which were excellent. The ambiance is very open and hip. My only complaint is that gets very noisy inside when at maximum capacity, so try to book a less-popular time if you want quieter conversation, or opt for an outdoor table if the weather allows.
Right next door is Esters Wine Shop & Bar, if you want a drink with a slight change of atmosphere.
After dinner, walk four blocks to Third Street Promenade and burn off some of the calories while window-shopping.
10. Fia Restaurant
Formerly “The Wilshire”, Fia offers Italian-inspired cuisine by chef Brendan Collins (Melisse) in a re-imagined venue. The charming outdoor dining area is like a wooded oasis with plenty of trees and overhead bistro lights.
This is an ideal date restaurant – quiet enough for easy conversation, dishes that will satisfy a foodie, and a romantic ambiance that is totally unexpected on Wilshire Blvd.
Favorite dishes include the Spicy Salmon Tartare Cones (ala Spago), the Table Side Italian Chopped salad (prepared at your table), the Lobster Bolognese, Crab Ravioli, Grilled Corn with Truffled Mascarpone (a must!), and the Hazelnut Whipped Ganache Valrohna Chocolate Brownie for dessert!
11. Bergamot Station Art Galleries
If you’re into art, check out Bergamot Station, a large complex of art galleries located right next to the 26th Street exit of the Expo Line. Parking is free. There is no admission charge, but certain galleries are by-appointment-only at certain times, although most are open to everyone without appointment from Tuesday through Saturday. There are over twenty galleries to browse, but check out their special open house events. Grab a bite at their cafe, then take the train to Third Street Promenade for further adventures.
12. The Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel
For amazing views of Santa Monica and many miles beyond, check out the Penthouse at the Huntley Hotel. The restaurant features new American cuisine, friendly staff, and amazing ambiance, especially around sunset.
Later on in the night, the restaurant has a rowdier dance-club atmosphere, but it’s perfectly fine for a quiet dinner before then.
After dinner, it’s only a short walk to Third Street Promenade or Ocean Avenue. The penthouse at the Huntley is great for those special-occasion dates!
13. The Strand, then Cha Cha Chicken
How about a low-cost daytime date idea? Santa Monica is well-known for the Strand, the beach pathway where you can jog, bike, or Rollerblade all the way down to Venice.
There are lots of beach parking lots. I like to park at the one next to Casa del Mar, off Bay Street, since it is a good, central location.
Afterward biking or blading on the Strand, a perfect place for an informal but really good lunch or dinner is Cha Cha Chicken, an outdoor Caribbean joint at 1906 Ocean Ave. south of Pico. It is very reasonably priced and has great Jamaican food (mmm, plantains), and you’ll be fine going there in rollerblading attire. There might be a line, but it goes fast and it’s worth it!!
If you want drinks afterward, Casa del Mar is just one block away!
14. Casa del Mar
For great drinks, amazing ambiance, and a spectacular view of the sunset, go to the vintage lobby lounge at Casa del Mar. This is one of my favorite hangouts in Santa Monica. They sometimes have live music on Friday nights. Although this place is right by the Strand, it is a bit upscale, so if you’re in rollerblading attire you might need to throw something a bit nicer on, though they probably wouldn’t kick you out.
If I’m hungry, I usually just order food in the lounge area, although there is a formal seafood restaurant adjoining.
If you want coffee afterward, take a walk to Main Street where Urth Caffé will satisfy your needs, with a great selection of organic coffees, teas, and awesome pastries! Or, if you’re willing to go for a longer walk, head over to the pier and see the Ferris wheel.
15. Brentwood Country Mart
At the intersection of 26th Street and San Vicente, you’ll find a charming farmhouse-themed shopping area called the Brentwood Country Mart. Stroll the shops or dine in the inner courtyard. For dessert, you must go to Sweet Rose Creamery located there. There’s always a line, so be prepared to wait!
16. Main Street Food Truck Tuesdays
Every Tuesday evening on Main Street, you can choose from about five food trucks that park adjacent to the Victorian from 5 to 9 PM. It’s officially called the California Heritage Museum Food Trucks.
Unlike the insane Venice First Friday food truck night, this food truck event is tranquil and relaxing. There are no long lines, and parking is no worse than usual. Bring a blanket and picnic on the lawn of the Heritage Museum below the lights in the trees. It’s kind of romantic when it gets dark. Or, if it’s too cold out, have your food at the Victorian; they don’t mind as long as you buy drinks. Afterward, walk around Main Street to work off the calories. Or, consume some more at Sweet Rose Creamery, just a few blocks down Main.
17. Montana Avenue / Forma
If you are looking to avoid the crowds and craziness of the Promenade and surrounding area, check out the much quieter and sublime Montana Avenue, which runs parallel to Wilshire, four blocks north. It’s a charming street with lots of restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and stores.
My top date restaurant recommendation on Montana Avenue is Forma, named after its star ingredient, “Formaggio”, cheese. They’re known for preparing their pasta inside of carved-out cheese wheels. If you can get a table nearby, it’s fun to watch!
Other restaurants on Montana that I like are Art’s Table (American), Father’s Office for great burgers and beer (crowded during the weekend though), R&D Kitchen, and Margo’s. For Italian, I like Osteria Bigoli. A charming place for lunch or brunch is the Courtyard Kitchen. For dessert, you can walk to Sweet Lady Jane Bakery.
Afterward, take a stroll down Montana. Most of the stores will be closed at night but you can window-shop. It’s a pleasant walk.
18. Tar & Roses
This unassuming restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd. with a somewhat unappetizing name gets rave reviews from foodies who appreciate the small and medium-sized plates. It’s great for a date because you share and get to try a lot of dishes.
The dining room is small so be sure to make reservations. This place can get noisy if there’s a big party seated that night, just be aware. After dinner, take a short walk to Third Street Promenade to burn off the calories! Tar & Roses serves New American cuisine.
19. Milo + Olive
This neighborhood restaurant specializes in wood-fired pizzas, home-made pasta, and wonderful salads (their steak salad is amazing).
They don’t take reservations and the lines are usually long. But, the food is worth it. Their signature oven-baked garlic knot is a “must-try” (be aware of the 20-minute prep time though).
This place can be crowded and noisy, so I actually recommend sitting side-by-side at the bar, where you can sit closer together and watch the kitchen in action. It’s almost like watching a show. If you’re prepared for the wait, Milo + Olive can be a satisfying casual foodie date destination.
20. Santa Monica Seafood
Santa Monica Seafood on Wilshire is one of our favorite casual “go to” restaurants in the area. If you have a craving for oysters, (or want to give them a try), look no further than this neighborhood restaurant and seafood market, which has some of the freshest catches around. (Their motto is “the freshest seafood in the West”).
The environment is casual and lively. Basically, the restaurant is part of an on-site fish market that actually supplies other local restaurants with seafood. I wouldn’t go here for a formal date, but it’s great if you just want amazing food.
Note, they don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait if you go at peak dinner times. Hint – the bar sometimes has a shorter wait, and you get to watch them shuck the oysters there.
What Are Your Favorites?
Well, there you have it! My picks for cool areas in or near Santa Monica to hang out at. Please leave your ideas and comments below! I’d love to hear about some unknown restaurant or bar that you’ve discovered.