You meet for a movie at the Cinerama Dome, followed by a candlelit dinner at Dan Tana’s. If the date is going well, maybe you stand in a too-long line for dessert at the nearby Salt & Straw. If the date is going really well, maybe you hop in a Lyft and squeeze into any number of darkened bars along the Sunset Strip.
Romantic outings like this are a relic of the past in Los Angeles, at least for the time being.
That’s why I decided to take a trip down memory lane by asking Angelenos about their favorite dates of all time.
Their stories offer a nostalgia-fueled sojourn into pre-pandemic Los Angeles. One woman reminisces about seeing Fleetwood Mac in 1979 on a blind date. A college student recalls wandering around the California Science Museum with a love that wasn’t meant to be — as much as he wished otherwise. A reluctant Tinder date at Jamba Juice. A liquor-aisle romance. And many, many strolls along the Santa Monica Pier.
As you read these stories, remember that the Los Angeles they depict — a city bursting with crowded streets, music venues and good food — isn’t gone forever. We have a long way to go before things return to “normal,” but we’ll get there someday.
Until then, join our readers on a walk back in time.
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
The best dates ever
The best date I ever had could have been the worst. It was Valentine’s Day 1989. My boyfriend picked me up in his Jeep, and we began a drive up PCH for what I assumed would be a nice dinner somewhere on the beach.
Traffic from West L.A. was horrible, of course, and by the time we reached our destination — some chichi Italian place — we were very hungry. With parking lots full and valets working double speed, I noticed my boyfriend beginning to sweat. Surely he had made a reservation? In Malibu? On Valentine’s Day?
We made a U-turn and began our drive back south, with every place from Moonshadows to Gladstones swarming with cute couples and their reservations.
If I remember correctly, I was pretty relaxed about it. An honest mistake. Yes, I was famished and dressed up with nowhere to go on Valentine’s Day but, well, I really, really liked my boyfriend.
The solution arrived as we turned down Pico: Kelbo’s Hawaiian Bar-B-Que. There were no lines to get in and parking was easy. Inside was even better. The hours stuck in Valentine’s Day-in-L.A. traffic were forgotten as we enjoyed our sticky ribs and enormous hurricanes. After a couple rounds of the hokey-pokey in their dance space, I knew I just had the best date ever.
— Laura Herrell
What should you do on Valentine’s Day? From self-love to Galentine’s Day to long-distance to socially distanced, we’ve got you covered.
In 2006, I took a trip to L.A. from San Diego with my then-girlfriend for her birthday. I planned a 22-mile drive across the length of Sunset Blvd — having grown up in L.A., I wanted to take her on a cruise through my past.
I popped in a mixtape that chronicled my journey of falling in love with her. It started with songs about those early, nervous giddy feelings you get when meeting someone you know is special and blended into ballads about a blossoming romance and jams about being forever soul mates.
Along the drive, I told her stories of my teenage years. Especially nostalgic was passing by Dodger Stadium, talking about the great Fernando Valenzuela years, and all the money I used to spend at Tower Records.
Our cruise ended when we popped out on the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. We went to the Inn of the Seventh Ray in Topanga for a delicious dinner. While basking in the woodland setting, with dessert and wine, I pulled out a tiny box that said “Amor Eterno” with a skeleton bride and groom inside and a ring — at which point I asked her to marry me.
After her emphatic yes, I took my now-fianceé to the groovy Zanzibar lounge in Santa Monica, where we danced and sweated all night long. We stayed overnight at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica, ending our day in utter bliss.
— Scott Seine
The percussionist I met at the Afro-Cuban dance classes at the Unity Arts Center in Pico-Union finally asked me out on a date.
A new sensation, Albita, was singing at the then-annual Cuban Festival in Hawthorne. We danced together for the first time in a huge parking lot surrounded by hundreds of other people.
Music and color surrounded us. Romantic old couples, big families with babies and abuelas, beach chairs in circles. Cuban and Puerto Rican flags everywhere, the smell of pan con lechon, spontaneous drumming and chanting in a corner.
We decided to be alone and got in his car. He told me the story of his life on the 105 and the 405, and I told mine on the 10 freeway, until we reached the Santa Monica Pier.
This was 1998, and back then the Boathouse (now a Bubba Gump Shrimp) was still sitting on the pier, next to the beach. On Sundays they had salsa dancing on their patio, with the greatest view in town. Our first kiss was witnessed by the sparkly Pacific Ocean and seagulls gliding in the sky.
It has been 22 years since then, and we still dance salsa together.
— Elena de la Cruz
May 2018. He lived a fair distance away and, when he got off the train, I thought, “This looks like a normal guy. ... maybe this online romance will work.” We had immediate chemistry when we headed to the Imperial Western at Union Station for drinks. I was hopeful.
We took an Uber to Philippe’s for beef dip sandwiches. We laughed and told stories about other patrons — the way two people who are giddy about each other do. I told him about Grand Central Market, so off we went for coffee and dessert. He was amazed at DTLA, the energy and the vibes. I thought, “This is amazing, a guy willing to travel, willing to have an adventure.”
From Grand Central, we took the funicular at Angels Flight up to the hotel on top of the hill, watched a wedding and had a glass of wine. All the while, I was thinking, “I wonder if this guy is marriage material.”
Next on the list was Clifton’s, where we took swing dancing lessons from 8 to 9 p.m. Once the real dancing started it was a great show.
What an amazing 12 hours in downtown Los Angeles. I wished he would ask me out again, but as dating goes, I’m still single and looking for the next best date in my city, Los Angeles.
— Michelle Demond
I was proud of myself for getting to a place where I could love a man who could love me back. Nothing was perfect, but we were both growing. Then, she texted.
On July 10, 1970, a fellow USC cinema student asked me on a date at the Hollywood Bowl — The Band was playing.
No long walk: He actually paid for parking! I was really impressed. I later found out he’d bought a new belt and shirt for the occasion.
We sat side by side. I put my head on his shoulder and relaxed for the first time in months (my mother was ill).
We never did become filmmakers, but we’re about to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary.
— Sharon Smith
Our first date was at Huntington Library, slowly walking around all of the gardens while getting to know each other. We sat down on the grass to chat and enjoy the beautiful spring day.
After a few hours, we started getting hungry. He then surprised me, because he had stopped by Silverlake Wine to pick up a cheese plate and an amazing bottle of white wine that he kept chilled in a cooler in his car.
— Priscilla Hung
We collected some of our favorite L.A. Affairs columns — which run weekly in the Los Angeles Times, and chronicle the ups and downs of dating in Los Angeles and the search for love — into a new book. Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the columns you’ll find inside. Hint: The book would make a fab V-Day gift!
It was Jan. 5, 1980, when I asked the cute guy who repaired my Lotus Europa to go out — he was too shy to ask me! We both lived in Riverside, so a date in “The Big City” seemed very sophisticated.
By the time we actually went on that date I had already crashed my English sports car and replaced it with a bright red Porsche Turbo (he was super impressed by my good taste in cars). I drove us to the Dresden restaurant on Vermont. I had never been there but figured it was a good choice because he had a German last name.
After a delicious dinner and lots of getting-to-know-each-other chatting, I drove us up to Griffith Observatory to see a laser light show — but not before nearly ripping my front spoiler off on the parking curb and shouting some very descriptive words about my displeasure at doing damage to my sweet ride. The show was spectacular!
Driving home from our first date in L.A. seems like yesterday to me, although 40 years has passed with my “personal mechanic” by my side. Yes, I ended up asking him to marry me, and I drove us to Las Vegas to do so just months later. I still do all the driving, and we get a kick out of going to the Dresden parking lot and sitting in the very spot where I knew we’d spend the rest of our lives together.
— Susan Hinrichs
We met quite accidentally in the Sherman Oaks Trader Joe’s tequila aisle. Both of us reached for the Trader Joe’s version of Patrón Silver.
We started talking, and the conversation turned into, “Hey, speaking of tequila, why don’t we go grab a drink?” “You mean now?” I asked. “Why not?” he answered.
A drink turned into dinner at the Sherman. And that accidental meeting turned into the first date that never ended.
Every breakfast he cooks, every shared mimosa, every bouquet of flowers he springs on me — we are still on it. The perfect date that never ends.
— JC Wendel
Apple Pan for burgers and pie followed up by seeing Dustbowl Revival at the Troubadour — a truly L.A. experience. I ended up keeping the guy.
— Kaitlyn Hennessy
Once upon a time I took the love of my life to the most wonderful dinner spot in Los Angeles: Jean-Georges. I put on my best sport coat and, before I knew it, we were valet parking at the Beverly Hills Waldorf Hotel.
I was with the prettiest girl in the room. The food was to die for; from the tuna appetizers to the white truffle on the pasta, we were in heaven. I felt bliss all night staring at my girl and seeing her happiness as the two desserts came our way.
While the girl is gone from my life, the restaurant is still there. We will always have Jean-Georges as a memory.
— Joshua Evans
It was Jamba Juice on La Tijera and Centinela. He was a Tinder match, and I really had no idea what to expect. I mean, his photos were not great, but I’ll never forget my reaction when I first saw him standing outside of that Jamba Juice.
I honestly knew he was the one right there and then.
Sometimes I’ll pass by that Jamba Juice and see other couples sitting in the exact spot as we did. I always wonder what life will bring for them.
— Solo Palacios
Maybe some are treating the dating-during-coronavirus process more respectfully, maybe it’s different in the straight world, but pandemic or no, the state of courtship is dismal.
I went on the best date of my life the summer before the pandemic. I was with a lovely girl who I had been dating for the summer. We knew the relationship wouldn’t last, as we went to different universities. This was our final celebration of the summer we shared together.
We started the day early in Orange County. She was anxious about driving in L.A., so I borrowed my dad’s Ram 2500. Once we got to downtown L.A., we stopped at the Original Pantry for breakfast. I got biscuits and gravy, and she got a hamburger. She told me about how great the toast is there, so I threw that on top. I don’t think I’ve ever had that many carbs in one sitting.
We then headed to the California Science Museum. We are both lovers of science, and it felt fitting to spend our final day together in a place that represented something that brought us so close together.
Before heading out we stopped at the rose garden. It was there I realized how much I cared about her. I could have sat there with her in my arms all day.
The day wasn’t close to over though. We drove over to Grand Central Market. Parking ate up a good chunk of my date money. I took a photo of her trying an oyster for the first time — we both ended up enjoying it. Since Little Tokyo was not so far away, we decided to walk. We got very lost and ended up walking about two miles. We enjoyed a quick serving of takoyaki at Chinchikurin and a slice of cake from a Japanese bakery.
We had one last stop planned: the Last Bookstore. It wouldn’t last long though — we both had to go to the bathroom. We held it long enough to see the store and searched for a rest stop on the freeway, finally ending up at a grocery store in Long Beach.
After that, it was a long, quiet and peaceful drive home. She couldn’t stay the night and had to return home to the other side of Orange County. After she left, I knew that a really important time in my life had ended.
It was 1979. I was 16, and my older sister set me up on a blind double date with her boyfriend and his friend. I could hardly say no to the event of the year: We were going to see Fleetwood Mac for their Tusk tour, featuring the USC Trojan marching band, at the Forum.
The lights dimmed, the music started. Stevie Nicks twirled in her cloak and sang “Landslide.” Tears fell down my cheeks. Then the lights were turned up and the Trojan band and the drum corps had thousands of us on our feet! The collective pride we Angelenos had for our “hometown team” playing with the quintessential 1970s rock band is a feeling I’ll never forget.
While I swooned more for Lindsey Buckingham than my blind date, I thought it was a success.
— Laurel Tilden
We ascended the Santa Monica Pier’s weather-eaten, splintery steps and walked to the end and back.
The Skee-ball machines refused to issue tickets, and neither of us were much good at pinball, but she set a Ms. Pacman high score.
All that wrestling with the joystick apparently did the trick: The next morning at 7:17 a.m. our daughter entered the world.
— Brett Winton
An old high school friend and I decided to get together for a night of fun. Where to go? I suggested we drive over to the Comedy Store in Hollywood.
Steve had never been to any comedy clubs. We weren’t impressed by the headliners, but we went in anyway. As soon as we were seated, they “locked” the doors. Then the announcer said we wouldn’t be seeing the headliners on the marquee. Robin Williams and Richard Pryor would be performing instead!
We got out of there at 3 a.m., and my face actually hurt from laughing so hard all night long. I’ll never forget it.
— Suzanne Daneshvari
It was the first date with my wife, Sept. 27, 1991. We had box seats at the Hollywood Bowl for the Paul Simon concert following his release of his “Rhythm of the Saints” album.
From the heart-pounding staccato drum entry of the Brazilian percussion section for “The Obvious Child” through to the rapturous finale of “The Sound of Silence,” it was perfect.
After the concert, walking back to our car, she grabbed me around the neck and kissed me. It was the start of our 30-year adventure together. Seems like yesterday, but the gray hair on our heads tells otherwise.
— Bill Foltz
I rented a Mustang convertible from the airport with my roller derby queen ex-girlfriend and headed to Santa Monica and Venice Beach to roller skate. We had a stroll on the pier and took selfies at the Route 66 sign, enjoying balmy California sunshine.
— Christen Thomas
We planned to go on a group walking tour along the L.A. River, but I was late by about 20 minutes. The group left without us.
So we did the walk ourselves, from Glendale all the way to Chinatown along the river, just talking and getting to know each other. We stopped to check out this little statue in Frogtown. In Chinatown we got lunch at Yang Chow — it was so good. I think I walked about 30,000 steps that day.
— Morgan Spurr
It was 1989 — we scored great seats for the Who concert at the Universal Amphitheatre.
They were performing the entire score of “Tommy” after intermission with amazing guest stars such as Elton John and Tina Turner. To see a huge concert in a small venue was fantastic enough, but there was an afterparty in the amusement park outside that was created for the show. We stood in line behind Timothy Leary to get drinks and got blinded by a phalanx of camera strobes while talking to Ali McGraw.
We played the “Tommy” CD we had on the way back home on an empty freeway and relived the concert immediately.
— Helen K. Garber
High school boyfriend’s prom in 1968. Dinner at the Brown Derby, prom across the street at the Ambassador Hotel, and afterward, the Cocoanut Grove. Three L.A. landmarks in one night.
— Cynthia Schein
We met up at Ashland Hill in Santa Monica for heavy conversation, light flirting, lunch and drinks. We weren’t quite ready for the date to end, so we walked the entirety of the Santa Monica Boardwalk hand in hand (bold move!) to the Promenade.
We decided to continue our marathon date with some more bites and libations at Stout, then we headed to our favorite NYC spot, West 4th and Jane (Go Mets!). Andrew kissed me as we headed down 4th Street, and he walked me home.
We actually re-created this date on our first anniversary and ordered takeout from Ashland Hill during our second.
— Rio May del Rosario
A few years ago, I was dating a guy whose business had taken a downturn. I suggested something I used to do back in the ‘80s when I was a struggling 20-something: We drove up Beverly Glen to Mulholland Drive.
Meandering the winding road, moonroof open, wind in our hair and the Valley lights glistening below — it felt magical. We parked in a turnout, turned up the tunes and proceeded to talk for hours. With limited cell service and no other distractions, we communicated more that night than we had in the few months we had been together. It proves you don’t need a lot of money to have the best date in Los Angeles.
— Michelle Ingram DeLong
Get The Wild newsletter.
The essential weekly guide to enjoying the outdoors in Southern California. Insider tips on the best of our beaches, trails, parks, deserts, forests and mountains.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.