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Illustration of couples watching a movie in the sky while sitting on a picnic blanket and boats
(James Yang / For The Times)

Never shout in a bar on a first date again. Here are 11 alternative L.A. date night spots

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First dates can feel like a tactical sport, especially if you’ve been out of the game for a while. From deciding what to wear — are heels too formal or should you opt for sandals just in case your Hinge date really isn’t 5-foot-10? — to agreeing on a place to meet, you want to make a good impression.

For many people, dinner and/or drinks is a go-to for a first date, but it may be time to stand out from your crush’s other matches.

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to get creative with our dating lives: Zoom or FaceTime calls became the new first — or screener — date, and instead of meeting for cocktails at a packed bar, we opted for sunset hikes, long walks on the beach and park hangouts. Then we went back to our old ways — yelling to hear each other talk about our hobbies and what we do for work in a noisy bar.

In the spirit of bringing back something good that came out of the pandemic, why not continue to expand your options? Here are 11 lively places in L.A. to take your crush that don’t involve dinner and/or drinks.


Each of these date spots ranges from free (not including parking) to $90 to account for various budgets. For example, it’s free to visit the Getty Center, but it costs $45 per person to participate in the Creative Cafe’s arts and crafts experience. (Note: This is the only place on this list that costs $90 for two, although there’s a cheaper option.)

Hiking can be an enjoyable way to get to know someone. Here are some easy and moderate hikes with great views where you can take your next date.

June 17, 2022

If any of these places feels like too much for a first date or they’re not in your budget, hold onto this list for another time. These spots are a mixture of adrenaline pumping and easygoing activities, and they’re spread across L.A. County. Plus, each of these locations offers an easy way out in case the date isn’t going well and you need to skip out without saying goodbye — though we hope you won’t have to do that.

Be sure to check with your potential new boo before booking a reservation and solidifying plans. You wouldn’t want to take them to an ax-throwing facility if they’re deathly afraid of sharp objects or to an arcade if they have zero interest in playing games. Also, volume levels at these places make talking and getting to know each other much smoother, which is the point of a first date, after all.

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Guests take turns throwing at hatchets at LA AX throwing social club in North Hollywood.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Get an adrenaline rush at LA Ax throwing social club

North Hollywood Ax throwing facility
Although throwing an ax may not initially sound like the most romantic activity, it’s a thrilling experience to get to know your crush and witness their playful side. How could you not get butterflies in your stomach after seeing your date throw a perfect bull’s-eye? Even if they miss the target completely, that’s OK, because you’ll get to see whether they’re a good sport or not. Ax throwing is the type of activity where you don’t have to take yourself too seriously — just as long as you’re following safety protocols, of course. Among the most popular and largest ax-throwing facilities in Los Angeles is LA Ax, which is tucked into an industrial building in North Hollywood. It costs $25 per hour per person and visitors must be 21 because there’s a bar inside. For this date, wear something comfortable and breathable because ax throwing can feel like a light workout and the venue gets warm during the summer. Closed-toe shoes are required for safety reasons.

Once your throwing time is up, you can hang out at the bar — drinks aren’t allowed in the throwing area — catch a sports game on one of the many TVs or play jumbo Jenga and cornhole. Walk-ins are available throughout the week during specific hours. However, you can also make private reservations starting at $40 per person. For walk-ins, you’re typically given a hatchet, which is about 1½ pounds. But for private reservations, which come with two dedicated targets and games, you’re given a big ax — roughly 2½ pounds — and the option to play indoors or outdoors depending on availability.

Price: $25 per hour per person for walk-ins.
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Visitors admire a garden.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Take in beautiful art and unreal views of Los Angeles at the Getty Center

Brentwood Museum $$
Unless you’re both art aficionados, museums can make for an awkward first date because the focus is typically on the art rather than each other. But thankfully, the Getty Center is much more than just a museum space. The sprawling venue houses world-class art, a bird’s-eye view of L.A. and flawlessly manicured gardens where you can have a romantic picnic or roll down the grassy hills. (The last time I went with a friend, we cheerfully rolled down a hill and it prompted the people near us — everyone from toddlers to adults — to do the same, and laughter filled the air.)

It’s free to visit the Getty Center, but a reservation is required, which you can easily reserve on the museum’s website. Parking will cost you about $20, depending on the time of day.

Price: Free
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A person swings a golf club during a game at Topgolf in El Segundo.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Show off your golfing skills — or lack thereof — at Topgolf

El Segundo Golf
Whether you’re giving Tiger Woods at the country club or you’ve never picked up a golf club in your life, Topgolf welcomes players of all levels, making it a great date night spot. The El Segundo facility, five minutes south of LAX, offers a vast selection of games, including Angry Birds (which feels like a Wii game), Jewel Jam and Top Shot at varying levels. There’s a laid-back energy at Topgolf, similar to that of Dave n Buster’s, that encourages you to just have fun and enjoy the company you’re with. Plus, you can cozy up to your date by helping them get into the right stance to hit a perfect shot.

To avoid long waits, make an online reservation in advance, as Topgolf is usually busy Friday evenings and all day Saturday. But even if you weren’t able to snag a reservation, you can join the waiting list and kill time next door at the Lakes at El Segundo, where you can practice your swinging skills in the designated chipping and putting area. You just need to bring your own balls and clubs to play with. Or you can check out Topgolf’s bar or impressive food menu, which includes such options as injectable doughnut holes, mouthwatering burgers and vegan flat breads.

Price: $47 to $67 per hour
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(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Experience a magical oasis and drink as much tea as you'd like at Tea at Shiloh

Arts District Teahouse
Tea at Shiloh is truly one of those “if you know, you know” spots, so take your date here if you want to make a lasting impression. When you arrive at the place, which is tucked in an unassuming alley in the Arts District, you might think that you’re about to step into a speakeasy. But what’s actually hidden behind the doors is what the owner calls a “tea meditation” space — the word meditation is up to your interpretation — that you’ll want to stay at for hours.

Filled with floor-level couches that look like clouds, moody lighting and sculptural plants, it’s a dreamy oasis of tranquility and a space to make meaningful connections — hence that special person you’re interested in. Tea at Shiloh offers daylight hours (imagine a quiet co-working space), various workshops (cooking and art classes) and late-night tea, which makes for an engaging first date. During the evening tea, which costs $35 per person and runs from 7 to 11, you can snuggle with your crush in a corner and do puzzles, paint, do tarot readings or, most important, talk for hours while you drink as much delicious tea as you’d like. Seriously, you can get unlimited refills — there’s typically two herbal teas and one with caffeine — as you listen to relaxing music from such artists as Lauryn Hill, Sault and Steve Lacy. (Here’s a playlist to help you get a feel for the vibe.) Shoes aren’t allowed in the space, so make sure you wear nice socks and leave your footwear by the door. Reservations are required, parking in front of the venue, is free. The address for Tea at Shiloh is provided only after you book a reservation; walk-ins aren’t available.

Price: $35 per person
Guests cozy up on beach blankets as they wait for a movie at Boat Cinema in the Santa Clarita area.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Watch a movie on the beach at Boat Cinema

Castaic Outdoor Movies
You may have watched a movie at a theater, a nostalgic drive-in or even on the roof of an L.A. building, but have you ever watched a film at a lake? Boat Cinema has returned for its third season in which guests pay $15 — practically the same as a typical movie theater ticket — to watch a film while sitting on the beach at Castaic Lake, which is roughly 45 miles north of downtown L.A. But trust us, the views make it worth the drive.

Pack your own picnic — there’s a $30 corkage fee — along with a cozy blanket to sit on and watch a film like “Jaws,” “Selena,” “Mean Girls” and “Avatar.” You can also purchase a charcuterie board for two ($35) or a prepared picnic for $99. Doors typically open about an hour before the film starts, so you’ll have plenty of time to take a photo of the sunset and dip your feet in the water. The vibe is really chill, so people won’t give you a dirty look if you’re whispering or giggling. And if you don’t mind spending extra coin, you can book a personal mini electric boat to watch the movie for $199, but the beach area is just as enjoyable and probably more comfortable (and offers the ability to split early). Lawn chairs are available to rent for $5.

Price: $15 for beach seating
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Guests do arts and crafts at at a pop-up inside a restaurant.
(Anna Braz / Los Angeles Times)

Channel your artistic side at Creative Café

Highland Park Cafe
Unlock your creativity — and maybe even your inner child — with your potential new boo by spending an evening together at the Creative Café. But don’t come hungry — although there is a menu, no food is served. Instead, each guest can order from a selection of artsy activities including drawing, collaging, dried floral arrangement and working with clay. All supplies will be provided: watercolor pens, magazines, charcoal, glue, you name it. This spot is a self-proclaimed judgment-free zone, so no need to be some kind of artistic genius to participate. Enjoy the relaxing ambiance while sipping one of the café’s drinks of the night, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic options are available. While you can totally chat it up with your date, it’s OK to quietly focus on your art projects too. Having first date jitters is normal, and if you’re especially fidgety, this place is perfect because you’ll have something to do with your hands the whole night. When my boyfriend and I went on a date here recently, it felt kind of like parallel play, but for adults.

The Creative Café is a pop-up that operates from the restaurant Amara at its Highland Park location on Thursdays and in Altadena on Saturdays. Guests can drop in without a reservation from 5 to 6 p.m. for a mellow, creative happy hour. Happy hour is $25 per person and includes writing and drawing materials and one drink. Or, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., guests can reserve a table to order from the menu of activities. Reservations are $45 per person and include one activity and two drinks.

Price: $45 per person
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A view at at botanical garden.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Stroll through the picturesque Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

San Marino Botanic Garden
At less than $30 per person, the beloved Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens may just be the best bang for your buck due to the number of installations. The place spans more than 200 acres — 130 of which are open to the public — and you and your crush can roam through the breathtaking botanical gardens and snap a photo near the 100-year-old Japanese Garden, stop by the main library, which houses more than 11 million items the 11th to the 21st centuries, and take in the stunning artwork inside one of the many art galleries. You can also book a free walking tour during certain hours. There are plenty of spots to take a seat and get lost in conversation. Advance reservations are required on weekends and holidays. You don’t have to make a reservation during the week, although it’s highly encouraged for a quicker check-in.

Pro tip: It can get toasty in the summer, so be sure to layer on the sunscreen and pack your own refillable water bottle to stay hydrated. But no worries if you forget; there are cafes at the Huntington that sell everything from drinks to gelato to help you cool down.

Price: $25 per person weekdays, $29 per person weekends
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People show off their bowling skills.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Bowl a strike at Gardena Bowl

Gardena Bowling Alley
This charming neighborhood bowling alley, which opened in 1948, is a low-key date spot that won’t make you break the bank like other popular bowling alleys in L.A. Gardena Bowl has a nostalgic feel that will transport you back to the days when your parents would drop you and your date off at the local bowling alley.

Even though Gardena Bowl opens in the morning, the best times to play are either during open bowling from 2:30 to 5 p.m. or from 9 to 11 p.m., when there’s a special of $20 per person for unlimited games, including shoes, according to staff. While you wait for your time slot, you can pass the time in the game room, which has several billiards tables — $5 per hour per person — or play an arcade game. And I know the purpose of this list is to avoid food and drink dates, but if the date is going well, it’s worth stopping by the Gardena Bowl Coffee Shop, which is a hidden gem known for its kimchi fried rice, udon and banana pecan pancakes. Also, beer costs $5 and wine and seltzers are $6 at the bar.

Price: $20 per person (unlimited bowling from 9 to 11 p.m.)
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Attendees surround a stage area at a KCRW concert at the Hammer Museum.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Dance the night away and check out art galleries at KCRW Summer Nights

Westwood Art Museum
I wouldn’t normally recommend a concert for a first date for the simple reason that it could be noisy and difficult to have a conversation with your date. But KCRW Summer Nights are different. At the cherished NPR member station’s outdoor summer concert series, which are held at public plazas and popular museums like the Hammer and the California African American Museum, you and your companion can dance to tunes spun by DJs from KCRW-FM (89.9), check out live performers and explore exhibits for free. It’s the type of event where you can move around and find a relatively quiet spot to talk with your date without being shushed like at a traditional concert. There are also bars and food vendors to grab a snack. The events typically run every week from June through September.

Price: Free
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Visitors at a book store.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Get lost inside the Last Bookstore and pick up a book or two

Downtown L.A. Book Store
Stepping inside the Last Bookstore feels like being plopped onto the set of your own A24 romantic comedy. The vibe of the treasured bookstore, which sits at Spring and 5th streets downtown, breeds romance — or at least the possibility of it — and spontaneity, which are both ideal for a first date.

It’s easy to lose track of time in the 22,000-square-foot space, which houses more than 250,000 new and used books and tens of thousands of vinyl records. Among the store’s two floors, you’ll also find several hidden rooms and crannies to explore with your date. Find a seat and discuss the books and records you picked up along the way.

Price: Free
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The inside of Two Bit Circus.
(Kailyn Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Have some friendly competition at Two Bit Circus

Downtown L.A. Arcade bar $$$
What better way to really get to know your date than teaming up with them to fight supernatural creatures in a Louisiana bayou, then challenging them to a game of air hockey at the gamer’s wonderland known as Two Bit Circus? The Arts District-based venue has several traditional arcade games like PacMan and the Simpsons, along with midway circus games like pop the balloon, a virtual reality arena and immersive escape rooms. (Most escape rooms require at least four participants, excluding “The Raft,” which you can do with a partner, or, in this case, a date.)

Reservations are recommended for a faster entry, but walk-ins are accepted based on availability. For the best deal, purchase the Explorer Card, which costs $35 and gets you 700 bits, which can be used for arcade games, attractions, along with food and beverages. (On the website, this pass is called the Single package. There’s also a Duo pass, which is the venue’s date-focused package, which costs $100 for two people and comes with $5 in bonus bits per person.) If you need to add more bits, you can stop by one of the many refill machines inside the venue. Once you’ve tired yourself out from playing games, you can stop by the snack bar or fully stocked bar for a recharge, or simply hang out in the seating area. Two Bit Circus is open Thursday through Sunday during select hours.

Price: $35 per person
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