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 very walkable.
Here are some of my favorite date ideas in Santa Monica.
1. Calabra Rooftop Restaurant and Bar at the Proper Hotel
My pick for the #1 date spot in Santa Monica is Calabra Rooftop Restaurant at the 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.
2. Elephante Beach House
The rooftop Elephante Beach House restaurant on Second Street is definitely one of the hottest restaurants in Santa Monica. Reservations and stylish attire are recommended. The food is “light coastal Italian”. The view and atmosphere are top-notch. If you want to impress with ambiance and hipness, this is the place to go.
3. The Penthouse Restaurant 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 an electrifying 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!
Tartine started as a bakery in the Bay Area, famous for its croissants, morning buns, pastries, and bread. They’ve added a location right here in Santa Monica! You’d never guess that this English Tudor building, seemingly perfect for a bakery, was formerly a funeral home. But, it’s been totally renovated and there’s usually a line out the door most mornings. It’s one of the most charming spots for an outdoor daytime coffee date with someone special!
5. Restaurants on Main Street
Main Street in Santa Monica has cleaned up in recent years and is now a 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 really charming back patio, a perfect hideaway to hang out with someone special. Although you order at a register, servers bring your order to your table – ideal for a date!
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 are 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! And, it just earned a Michelin Star, if you’re a foodie who follows such things.
As you can see, Main Street in Santa Monica offers a lot of great restaurant choices!
6. The Brothers Sushi
The original Brothers Sushi is in Woodland Hills, and the name sounds like a fast-food sushi joint to me, but make no mistake, The Brothers Sushi in Santa Monica is probably the most authentic sushi restaurant on the West Side.
Many of the servers are from Japan. They recommend not using soy sauce on their sushi, and eating with your hands (not chopsticks); they give you a wet towel before the sushi comes out to clean your hands.
The Brothers Sushi specializes in dry aged fish for their sushi, resulting in a stronger flavor and more “umami”. Don’t worry – the fish isn’t dry like beef jerky, it looks like regular sushi fish. You can view the fish aging on the way to the restroom!
We had the Omikase (chef’s choice) menu for $200 per person consisting of three starters, ten sushi, miso soup with fish, and dessert. Each item was outstanding, but I probably could have eaten more. It’s also an expensive option, as you get the most high-end items on the menu. If you order a-la carte, you can probably get away with spending significantly less per person for more food.
Also, each course in the Omikase menu comes out one at a time, with lots of time in between, so it’s not a fast dinner option.
The interior is very nice – clean and minimalist. There’s a glass display window in the floor showcasing a collection of antique knives, which is really cool. The noise level was good earlier in the evening but as more diners showed up it became pretty noisy because there is very little acoustic dampening in the dining room.
But overall, if you’re looking for an authentic high-end sushi restaurant to impress a date, check out The Brothers Sushi on Montana!
7. 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.
8. Dinner and Drinks on Ocean Avenue (except on crowded weekends)
Ocean Avenue used to be my top date destination recommendation in Santa Monica, but it has gotten very crowded and touristy in recent years, detracting from its charm and causing real logistical problems (parking, traffic, etc.) It’s still a good date destination but I would recommend avoiding it on weekends or you’ll have to contend with massive crowds and traffic jams.
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 each have a charming vintage ambiance. Note, ONYX and the Bungalow can get really crowded with singles later at night, so go earlier if you’re seeking a more private date experience.
9. Palisades Park (caution on crowded weekends)
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. During Friday and Saturday nights, stay as far north as possible to avoid the crowds and have a more quiet, romantic setting.
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!
10. The Santa Monica Pier / Beach
The Santa Monica Pier is touristy but can be fun if you’re okay with the crowds (I would avoid it like the plague on weekends). Explore the vintage merry-go-round, new Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and carnival games. Be sure to walk to the very end and look back towards the shore 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 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 are usually not as many people there after dark, making it a perfect place for an after-dinner stroll.
11. Montana Avenue
If you are looking to avoid the crowds and craziness of Ocean Avenue and the Pier, check out the much quieter and more sublime Montana Avenue, which runs parallel to Wilshire, four blocks north. It’s a charming street with lots of restaurants, upscale boutiques, and stores.
There are lots of great options for coffee on Montana. My favorite place the bright and airy La La Land Kind Cafe – perfect for a coffee date. We also love Go Get ’em Tiger and Bardonna. Across from Go Get ’em Tiger is Caffe Luxxe. I like the open-space vibe at Cafe Primo Passo Coffee, though it’s at the very west end of the commercial part of Montana.
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!
For the most charming ambiance, make a reservation at Courtyard Kitchen for lunch or brunch. They are open for dinner only on Tuesday nights.
Savida is a brand-new raw seafood bar specializing in ceviches and crudos, with Asian, Latin, and even Middle Eastern influences. We had the Mixed Crudo Platter, Scallops, and Tuna Tacos. Our only dilemma there was not being able to try everything. I enjoyed all of the dishes we had. This place is also really great if you are on a low-carb diet. Prices are reasonable and dinner for two came to about $150 without wine.
The space is small but with a cool ambiance. There’s also outside seating.
Other restaurants on Montana Avenue that I like are Art’s Table (American), Father’s Office for great burgers and beer (crowded during the weekend though), R&D Kitchen (very often crowded and noisy), and Margo’s (vegan).
For dessert, you can walk to Rori’s Artisanal Creamery (usually open until 8:30 or 9PM) or Sweet Lady Jane Bakery (they close at 4 or 5 PM). For some nostalgia, go to Pinkberry; yes, they’re still around and have a strong local following! They close at 9:30PM.
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.
12. Third Street Promenade (and 2nd Street)
Third Street Promenade used to be one of the most popular “date walk” destinations in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, it has been a victim of its own success, with rising rents driving away charming mom-and-pop stores only to be replaced by boring chain stores and an increasing homeless population.
Still, it remains an unusually walkable part of the city and some attractions remain. Unlike some of the other attractions on this list, you should try to go during peak periods like weekends because otherwise, it can be kind of a ghost town.
These are some restaurants in the surrounding area that I recommend:
Some people say that Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa on Second Street has the best sushi in Santa Monica, and I would agree. Their signature is warm sushi rice. If you hate deciding, just get the “Trust Me” – it’s a good value. Sugarfish does not have California Rolls, chicken teriyaki, miso soup, or other common Japanese restaurant dishes. This is an authentic sushi place! They don’t take reservations, so either show up right when they open at 5 PM or be prepared to wait in line. There’s also a location in Brentwood.
If you are looking for a very high-end, quietly romantic dinner experience, check out Michael’s just north of Wilshire on Third, which is famous for its sublime patio dining area, now expanded into an outdoor dining area in front. It’s very pricey, and portions are small, but if you want formal dining near the Promenade, this is it.
For a really classy upscale bar/lounge date, check out Bar Chloe on Second 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.
For a fun communal dining experience, I like Wally’s wine bar on Wilshire near Second Street. Their first location was in Beverly Hills. This place is great for a group, but could also be fun on a date if you’re into wine. Most dishes there are for sharing.
13. Brentwood Country Mart
At the intersection of 26th Street and San Vicente, you’ll find a small but super charming farmhouse-themed shopping area called the Brentwood Country Mart. Dine at Farm Shop or in the inner courtyard, then stroll the posh boutiques or DIESEL, A Bookstore. For dessert, you must go to Sweet Rose Creamery. There’s always a line, so be prepared to wait!
For other restaurant choices, just across the street, there’s Amici Brentwood, serving Italian cuisine in an upscale setting. Less formal but also good is Holy Cow BBQ. Around the corner on San Vicente is the charming A Votre Santé, serving healthy American and Mediterranean food in their outdoor dining areas.
If you’re looking for a quiet and romantic date night, check out the Brentwood Country Mart.
Coming in at number seven 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.
15. Citrin and Melisse
If you want a five-star dining experience (and can afford it), check out Citrin or 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!
Of course, all of this is expensive. Dinner for two can easily set you back $500 or more.
16. Tar & Roses Restaurant
The unusually-named Tar & Roses 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 but has expanded outdoors since the pandemic. 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.
17. Fia / Jonah’s Kitchen
Fia offers Italian-inspired cuisine by chef Brendan Collins (Melisse) in a re-imagined venue. You might not realize it when driving by on Wilshire Boulevard, but 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. You’ll find more locals here rather than tourists.
Favorite dishes include the Spicy Salmon Tartare Cones (ala Spago), the Table Side Italian Chopped salad, the Lobster Bolognese, Crab Ravioli, Grilled Corn with Truffled Mascarpone (a must!), and the Hazelnut Whipped Ganache Valrohna Chocolate Brownie for dessert!
One block east of Fia is the brand-new Jonah’s Kitchen. Chef Jonah Johnson cooks up Latin cuisine, with influences from around the world, especially Asia, and gets rave reviews on Yelp. They bill themselves as “fast-casual”, but that’s really selling themselves short. The ambiance is really charming and perfect for a date.
18. Bagels and Breakfast on Ocean Park
The one-block section of Ocean Park Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets behind John Adams Middle school is a charming oasis in Santa Monica, more like Silverlake in character.
On a weekend morning, you’ll find a line of young adults stretched around the block. They’re waiting for bagels at Layla Bagels. We tried their signature salmon bagel, The Laika and you can see for yourself how good they look:
There’s some outdoor seating, but be prepared to get your order to go.
If you’re not in the mood to wait in line, grab a bagel next door at Jyan Isaac Bread for their take on the Lox bagel. There still might be a line, but it will be much shorter.
If bagels are not your thing, go down a few doors to the charming Thyme Cafe & Market for a breakfast burrito, egg scramble, French toast, pancakes, or avocado toast & egg.
For lunch or dinner, check out the pizza at Ghisallo.
19. Santa Monica Brew Works
I love Santa Monica Brew Works because of its huge outdoor beer garden decorated with bistro lights, something you’d expect to find in the Arts District or Silverlake, not in Santa Monica. It has a young 20s and 30s crowd to go with that and of course some great craft beers.
Although it’s in the middle of a bunch of commercial office buildings, it’s got enough life of its own to compensate. If you’re looking for a fun and casual (but still romantic) place to grab a beer with a young crowd, check out Santa Monica Brew Works!
20. Bergamot Station Art Galleries / Birdie G’s
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 an 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.
There’s a high-end restaurant at Bergamot Station called Birdie G’s. We love the ambiance there, but the Eastern European cuisine is just not our thing. But, those who do love that type of cuisine rate it highly.
21. Orto Restaurant
Located in the huge combined former space of Jiraffe and Wokano on Santa Monica and Fifth street, Orto features home-style Italian food made from fresh ingredients. We enjoyed every course, including their crab cakes, salad, pasta, and dessert. The atmosphere of their outdoor courtyard dining area is outstanding, though it can get noisy if there is a rowdy table there that night.
Our check for two without alcoholic drinks came to about $150 before tip.
Formerly known primarily for its coffee and breakfast, Interstellar is now open for dinner. Located on Broadway between Ocean and 2nd Street, the space is relatively small, but it is not widely known yet so you can still get reservations pretty easily.
The cuisine includes American and Asian dishes. The name refers to the space between two stars, namely American and Korean culture, reflecting the Korean-American background of owners Angie and Daniel Kim. Dinner items range from a lobster roll and Greek salad to Japanese curry and Korean Galbi bowl. Some might find this lack of focus disorienting, but if you’re feeling adventurous, or you and your date are in the mood for completely different types of food, this place might be perfect.
The dishes we tried were outstanding. The chicken Katsu Curry was amazing and we enjoyed the Greek salad and lobster roll (similar to the lobster roll at Son of a Gun in mid-city), as well as the homemade cheesecake dessert.
The location, in the middle of the most touristy part of Santa Monica, has all of the pros and cons that come with that. I see this place as a high-end neighborhood restaurant for locals, not for tourists. I doubt they will understand it (other than as a coffee and breakfast place). I hope it does well though, as the food is definitely worthy and makes this place a hidden gem hiding in plain sight.
23. The Strand and Perry’s or 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.
If you want to grab a bite while you’re there, check out Perry’s Cafe at the Beach. There are actually four locations in Santa Monica but the one at the 2400 address has its dining area on sand, which is kind of cool. The one at 2600 is also nice but the tables are on the sidewalk.
For years I assumed Perry’s was bad fast food, until a friend turned me on to them. They actually sell quality organic dishes like mahi-mahi bowls and fish tacos. Everything is made fresh so you do have to wait a bit, but it’s worth it.
One caveat, the beach chairs are in high demand, so go for an early brunch if you want to be guaranteed a seat on the sand!
After biking or blading on the Strand, another great place for an informal 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!!
24. Lobby Lounge at Casa del Mar
For great drinks, an 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.
25. La Puglia
La Puglia is a new neighborhood Italian restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard, far from the touristy crowds of Ocean Avenue. The atmosphere is bright and airy. While that area of Wilshire is not the most picturesque, the lack of tourists and crowds might just be perfect for a quiet and serene dinner date.
Specializing in Italian seafood, the highlight for us was the zucchini-crusted Branzino, perfectly moist and flaky on the inside. Also great were the steamed mussels.
Note that every dish is prepared fresh, so this is not a quick dinner; don’t come here if you have tickets for a movie an hour later. Be prepared with some good topics for conversation between courses.
Reservations are highly recommended as it is always packed on weekend (and some weekday) nights!
26. Milo + Olive
This neighborhood Italian restaurant specializes in wood-fired pizzas, homemade 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.
27. Main Street Food Truck Tuesdays (on hiatus during COVID)
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 but you might find more timely information on the Santa Monica Food Truck Lot Facebook Page.
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.
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. – Brian
More Date Ideas
Check out these other great date ideas in the surrounding areas:
Ask Me a Question or Leave a Comment
Wow. You’ve covered all the areas here. Great list! I might also suggest shows at the West Side comedy theater or Uovo for pasta. Bookmarked!
Thank you for your comments and your suggestions!! Uovo is awesome!