Echo Park Lake
Echo Park Lake
Sterling Davis/Wikimedia Commons

5 Great L.A. Dinner Dates That Go Beyond Just Eating

Whether you’re meeting people on Tinder, in a committed relationship or married with kids, sometimes you need a date-night (or date-day) plan. Los Angeles has many five-star restaurants, big-ticket events and famous attractions to entertain you.

But when you want to enjoy some easy fun and eat great food with your sweetheart, try these activities paired with worthy nearby restaurants to make the most of all this city has to offer. You don’t need Valentine’s Day or any other special occasion — just choose the itinerary here that suits your mood and set the stage for a great date (and a full stomach).

Healthy Date: Secret Stairs Hike, Paddle-Boating and Sage Vegan Bistro in Echo Park

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L.A. boasts lots of charming hiking spots, some of which are located right in the midst of the city. Walk #13 in Charles Fleming's popular book Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles is a fairly easy hike that begins at the staircase in the parking lot on the the corner of Sunset and McDuff in Echo Park. Follow those stairs to explore the charming neighborhood homes and gardens as you exercise. To keep the outdoor activity going, try paddle-boating on Echo Park Lake, where you can get even more of a leg workout or simply rest and drift. When you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a table at Sage Vegan Bistro, a short walk from the lake, and enjoy healthy dishes such as the raw bowl for lunch or the gluten-free coconut curry with vegetables for dinner. 

POT at The Line Hotel
POT at The Line Hotel
Anne Fishbein

Late Night Date: The Wiltern, POT and Wii Spa in Koreatown

Catch a rock show at the Wiltern and then enjoy late-night eats and drinks in bustling Koreatown. Just a two-minute walk from the music venue, the Line Hotel has become a lively night spot unto itself, with Roi Choi's POT restaurant, lobby bar and cafe all under one midcentury roof. By 8 p.m., the restaurant is loud and filled with young, hip diners feasting on steaming Korean food shared at the table and swigging curry-infused soju cocktails. The sweet treats at the cafe counter in the hotel's spacious lobby are top-notch; try the guava cheese pastry. If your party is going all night, you could reserve a room at the hotel, or you could simply buy a pass to Wii Spa, one of the 24-hour Korean spas in the area, and start detoxing in the sauna and resting in the salt room. 

Turf Terrace tables at the Santa Anita Race TrackEXPAND
Turf Terrace tables at the Santa Anita Race Track
S. Rashkin

Spectator Date: Santa Anita Race Track and the Derby in Arcadia

Bet on you and your date having fun at Santa Anita Park. The crowd here varies from seasoned gamblers playing the ponies to families trying a vacation alternative to Disneyland. You'll likely see some visitors getting into the spirit with equestrian boots or Kentucky Derby–style hats. The track is calmer during the week and busiest on Saturdays. The San Gabriel Mountains provide a majestic backdrop and the quiet between races makes for nice conversation time, punctuated by passionate cheers from the crowd during the brief but frequent horse races. Clubhouse admission is $10 per visitor, and it's worth the upgrade from the $5 general admission for access to the restaurants that have the best views (Frontrunner and Turf Terrace) and for the freedom to roam almost anywhere in the complex filled with bars, eateries and viewing rooms with monitors that show the races. Make a day of it (there's free Wi-Fi), and if you place some lucky bets, you may even pay for the date with your winnings. The on-site restaurants offer drinks and safe bets for snacks, such as carved sandwiches and charcuterie plates, but most food enthusiasts will prefer to go elsewhere for full meals. To stay on theme, dine at the neighborhood favorite steakhouse nearby, the Derby, once owned by George Woolf, the jockey who rode Seabiscuit to fame. 

Vegetarian combination at Meals by GenetEXPAND
Vegetarian combination at Meals by Genet
Flickr/Ed Kwon

Sensory Date: Scent Bar, LACMA and Meals by Genet in Mid-City

Engage all your senses on this Mid-City date. Start at Scent Bar on Beverly Boulevard, a fragrance boutique that’s more like a scent museum. You can sniff and try on hard-to-find scents that are olfactory works of art — take up to three free samples with you to see how they wear during the day. Now that you’re smelling each other's skin and your nose is awake, head to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a short drive away, to take in the sights and latest art exhibits. For dinner, the restaurants in Little Ethiopia await just a few blocks south, where you’ll eat savory stewed lentils on spongy injera bread with your hands and drink honey wine with your sweetie. Try Meals by Genet for a more upscale vibe or grab a table across the street at Merkato for a cozy community setting.

Cocktail at The Varnish
Cocktail at The Varnish

Early 1900s Date: Downtown Art Deco Architecture Tour, Cole’s and the Varnish

On Saturdays at 10 a.m., you can join the Los Angeles Conservancy art deco walking tour downtown ($10), but you can also download its free self-guided tours or check out the highlights it lists on your own anytime. Take a stroll with your date to gaze up at downtown L.A.'s architectural gems, such as the Bradbury Building and the Eastern Columbia Lofts. End your tour at Cole’s, an L.A. classic that opened in 1908, and take in the restored windows and fixtures as you polish off your French dip sandwich. After your meal, slip into the barely marked back bar to find the Varnish, a favorite watering hole for cocktail enthusiasts, to enjoy balanced mixed drinks in speakeasy style. If one vintage bar is not enough, keep the party going with drinks at the Edison, a spacious lounge decked out in turn-of-the-century style, complete with early films projected overhead and dimly lit romantic nooks, or at the Ace Hotel Upstairs bar, where you can gain a new perspective on downtown architecture from the roof, as well as appreciate the beautifully renovated 1927 United Artists building that houses the hotel.

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