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16 L.A. places to go on a friend date — because friends deserve quality time too

First, the excitement of meeting someone new. Then, the vulnerability as you connect. Finally, if you’re lucky, the endearing thought that this person might linger in your life for the remainder of it.

Sure, this could be the blueprint of a budding romance, but more often than not, it’s the thrill of a new friendship. And the truth is that they aren’t that different.

There’s the nervousness of getting to know someone, gradually unpacking who they are and — when the honeymoon phase wears off — putting in the work when it’s not as exciting as it used to be. Quality time, a.k.a. friendship dates, foster those relationships, just as romantic ones do with a significant other.

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.

Investing time is how we communicate to friends that we care about them, said Danielle Syslo, a marriage and family therapist who also offers friendship counseling.

“Trust is an essential building block for intimacy. That’s something that takes time. It’s putting the effort and the practice of it to continually show up and open up. It’s making yourself available to your friendships,” she said. “I think it’s really important to carve out time and keep our commitments we make.”

Though schedules are tough to navigate, taking initiative to reach out shows our friends their value to us, she added.

Finding new friends can sometimes feel like dating, and often it’s just as time-consuming. Feeling nervous is normal when hanging out with a new friend one-on-one for the first time.

Once friendships start, they must be sustained. Syslo recommends cultivating curiosity.

From borrowed parking spots to pool pop-ins, not all friendships are created equal.

“It’s taking time to get genuinely curious about what’s going on in our friends’ lives. It’s asking questions, it’s checking in and checking in not just once or twice but making that a consistent thing,” Syslo said. “Part of this process is being open and sharing personal verbal feelings or experiences. The benefit is this not only allows us to be more bonded, but it communicates to my friend the level of trust.”

L.A. County can feel congested with flakes, so when you find the right friend, it’s important to make an effort to develop the relationship.

Whether they’re a best pal in the making or a platonic soulmate, whisk your friend off on a date to one of these spots. And unlike real dating, you’re less likely to get ghosted after.

This story is part of a limited series exploring friendship in Los Angeles, from the superficial to the fulfilling.

Showing  Places
People sit in lounge chairs facing a movie screen, with tall buildings in the background.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

Catch a rooftop movie

El Segundo Movie Theater $$
The Rooftop Cinema Club screens classics, fan favorites and new releases on roofs in downtown, the Arts District and El Segundo. Snuggle up and munch on buttery popcorn as you recline in your lounge chair. Whether you’re watching “The Princess Diaries” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” the city skyline still might steal your attention.

Upon arrival, follow the signs to the elevator and someone will swipe you up. Friendly staff scatter games like Uno and Cards Against Humanity on the patio tables if you’re early. Parking varies by location, but it’s $8 across the street in DTLA. Don’t forget to bring a blanket!
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A plaza with hanging paper lanterns
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Stroll through Little Tokyo

Downtown L.A. Experience $
This cultural and historical hub spans about five blocks, and within it lies an ecosystem of eateries, shops and seating areas. Little Tokyo has been a haven of Japanese culture for over 135 years, and with so many crevices to explore, a friend date here can be as cheap or expensive as you like.

Here’s one proposal for a friend date within this historic corridor: After eating at Shabu Shabu House, stroll in the nearby plaza under paper lanterns while nibbling on Honeymee ice cream (real honey is drizzled on top). If you’re there between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., don’t forget to peer into the charming James Irvine Japanese Garden.
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Outdoor dining with a sign that says, "Please wait to be seated"
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Chat at Lady Byrd Cafe

Echo Park Eatery $$
The twisting street leading to Lady Byrd Cafe is as whimsical as the restaurant. Nestled in the steep hills of Echo Park, Lady Byrd is a charming brunch spot for you and a friend. Dine in translucent mini greenhouses or sip cocktails under umbrellas in what feels like a living Pinterest board. If evenings work better, watch the cafe lights glow as the sun sets.

Most meals range from $15 to $18, and cocktails are $13 to $14. On weekends, the line stretches outside the cafe, so be sure not to arrive too hungry. When you grab a table, reminisce with your friend while enjoying the atmosphere.
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The Stargazing Tower at the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Frolic around the Huntington

San Marino Public garden $$
If you’re seeking a challenge, try to navigate the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens without a map. On a recent visit, a man asked me to direct him to the Children’s Garden. I shrugged and said I was lost too. Five minutes later, I passed him again as he tried to orient himself. He told someone on the phone, “To my right is a building talking about plants.”

Enjoy getting lost in 130 acres on a friend date. Gaze into the Chinese Garden’s waters or stroll arm-in-arm through the roses of the aptly named Rose Garden. If you and your friend still have energy, venture to the sprawling Jungle and Desert gardens.

Enjoy massive portraits in art galleries and a library that feels straight out of a Disney movie. Adult admission to the grounds is $25 to $29 — and well worth it.
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Women order from a pastry case in a bakery.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Snack on potato balls at Porto’s Bakery

Downey Eatery $
No time for a full meal? No worries. Grab a snack at Porto’s, a popular classic in Downey, Glendale, Burbank and other locales that makes for a perfect friend date spot. Grab a guava strudel, Napoleon slice and the can’t-miss potato balls for just a few bucks before getting to know each other or catching up.

Expect a line, but the joy of picking pastries out from behind the glass with a friend is worth the wait. Don’t be shy about stocking up; a late-night strudel hits the spot.
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A photograph of rainbow Silver Lake stairs with a heart
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Search for the Silver Lake stairs

Silver Lake Experience $
Cardio meets quality time with this staircase scavenger hunt. Silver Lake has several decorated stairways, from the painted piano keys to stairs speckled with hearts. Several span over 200 steps, so bring water and mentally prepare for leg day.

If you don’t feel like wandering without a guide, SoCal Stair Climbers outlines several potential routes, from easy walks to half-day adventures. One option scours five miles of 23 staircases — over 2,000 steps total.

Alternatively — for the friends who aren’t so keen on huffing and puffing together — just drive your car from staircase to staircase for photo shoots.
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A view of the jellyfish at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
(Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times)

Say hi to the otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Long Beach Aquarium $$$
Stroll with your friend through vibrant fish habitats (look for the octopus!), feed hangry lorikeets (watch your head!) or pet squishy moon jellies (two fingers only!). See who can spot the tiny poison dart frogs in their habitats first. Adult admission is about $37, and the endearing gift shop can be dangerous for your wallets (but picking out a small gift for each other can be fun).

Afterward, wander around Shoreline Village, a seaside shopping center covered in chipped paint and full of quirky souvenirs. Live music happens every other Sunday through September, with its next concert on Aug. 7.
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A photograph of the Museum of Dream Space
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Pose for photos at the Museum of Dream Space

Beverly Grove Museum $$$
Tucked into the Beverly Center is the Museum of Dream Space, also known as MODS, also known as a glittering pastel trip. This is one of many “museums” crafted for Instagram that have popped up in recent years. If you and your friend love to pose together in colorful settings to rake in sweet likes, you’ll enjoy it. Go ahead and take 0.5 selfies to your hearts’ content. If that’s not your thing, but your friend is camera-happy, they’ll appreciate you taking one for the team. Admission at $32.50 is pricy for six rooms with no furniture, but student discounts and promotions can get you deals.
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A photograph of Bar Flores.
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Drink cocktails at Bar Flores

Echo Park Bar $
Bar Flores started as a speakeasy and hopped around L.A. for years before settling in Echo Park. Climb up its stairs to find a lively but laid-back bar serving delicious cocktails ($11-$14) and tacos ($4). Inside, live musicians play on Tuesday nights to boost the energy while the outdoor patio swarms with customers. Through a patio alcove, the taco team preps food.

The pleasant ambiance is what makes Bar Flores an ideal friend date destination. If you get there early, claim a window seat near the musicians.
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Jennifer Conway, 49, walks in the Central Garden on the first day that the Getty Center reopened in over a year in Los Angeles on May 25, 2021.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Enjoy more than art at the Getty Center

Brentwood Museum $
This architectural wonder is bursting with art and green space that’s free to the public. Whether a friend adores paintings or can just appreciate hanging amid the greenery and catching some impressive views, this is a lovely spot to enjoy together.

While tickets are free, don’t forget to reserve them in advance. Parking is $20, decreasing depending on arrival time, and visitors take a brief but fun tram ride up the hill.
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A photograph of Nimbus Coffee.
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Sip potions at Nimbus Coffee

Downtown L.A. Coffeehouse $
Why stick with the typical Starbucks run when magical lattes exist? This whimsical shop whips up an $8 Mischief Macaroon latte (I’d get it again despite the price tag) or a $4 espresso, all surrounded by Harry Potter-inspired decor. While it’s great for the Hogwarts enthusiast in your life, you don’t have to love the wizarding world to enjoy the quirky ambiance.

Creative and clever, this shop is ideal for catching up with friends.
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A group take a selfie in front of a neon sign for Bulleit Frontier Whiskey inside the Grand Central Market.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Expand your palate at Grand Central Market

Downtown L.A. Eatery $
The Valhalla of foodies is one of the 101 best California experiences and makes for a fine friend date spot (come hungry).

The market is teeming with more than 35 vendors selling amplified PB & Js, gourmet oysters and vegan ramen. You cover more ground with two people, so grab your friend and split as many meals as you can.

On-site parking is $4 for the first 90 minutes, tacking on $2 for every additional 15. Take a $2 round-trip ride on the nearby Angels Flight while you let your stomach recover. It’s a unique experience to have with a friend, and you can snap a cute photo to remember the day at the top.
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Experience infinity together at the Broad

Downtown L.A. Museum $
From neon pop art to a larger-than-life table and chairs, even non-art lovers will find something to stare at inside the Broad (and outside too — the architecture is as eye-catching as the works inside).

While admission is free, visitors must reserve a time slot in advance and should note the $17 museum parking. Snag a time slot to see Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room” on the first floor, where you and your friend can experience a mesmerizing space that feels like you’re standing in a galaxy.
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A photograph of human-sized books at Cerritos Library.
(Jessica Benda / Los Angeles Times)

Trade novels at the Cerritos Library

Cerritos Library $
What has a dinosaur skeleton, a fish tank and 12-foot-tall archways?

Cerritos Library borders on a museum, and this hidden gem is perfect for a friend date. Explore the sculpture garden, trade novels that remind you of each other, or relax in the white marbled reading room. Peek into the children’s section just to catch a glimpse of the human-sized books. Swap stories with your friend about your fave children’s book and swim in the nostalgia as you spot the aquarium and enormous T. rex skeleton.

If you’re a student or virtual employee, work next to your friend to get things done while still investing quality time. Best of all, this friend date is free.
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An aerial shot of Santa Monica Pier
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Fly on a trapeze at the Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Amusement park $
For daring friends, bond over a $70 heart-pumping trapeze lesson at the Santa Monica Pier or the $11 roller coaster ride, though both are best enjoyed before eating a $7 Pier Burger and $5 sundae. Pose in one of the many photo booths or relax at the pier’s end, gazing into the Pacific while a street performer strums “Margaritaville.”
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The Dinosaur Hall at the Natural History Museum
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Load up on fun facts at the Natural History Museum

Exposition Park Museum $$
Touch a meteorite amid rare precious gems, trek through staged ecosystems or bet on the bones of a T. rex and triceratops to guess who would win in a fight at the Natural History Museum.

Museum dates offer ample conversation starters for new friends, or time to catch up with old ones while absorbing three floors of exhibits. Adult admission is $15, but L.A. County residents get in free from 3 to 5 p.m. daily.
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