Let's face it, dating in LA is hard—and often expensive. But just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you have to stick to just a dinner and a movie. The next time you have a date to impress, dump the romantic restaurants and box of chocolates, but keep some green in your pocket by heading out on one of these cheap date ideas in LA.
RECOMMENDED: More date ideas in LA
Cheap date ideas in LA
Heavy-handed pours and a digital jukebox are a couple of draws to this dark dive in Atwater Village. A local watering hole for buzzing barflys and unpretentious types alike, Club Tee Gee is your safe haven from the hair gel of Hollywood hell. Slip past the windowless, steel doors where a sparkled ceiling and 1970s time capsule awaits—mint green wraparound banquettes, glass and wood–paneled walls, and dimly lit lamps provide privacy for chatter and optimal lighting. Take your sweet time getting saucy on $5 cocktails and, for that salty fill, Doritos and beer nuts for $1. Occasional town drunks are part of the bar’s charm, but it's the strong, affordable libations (the bar is cash-only) that makes this hideaway go a long way.
This diamond in the rough in Koreatown might not be the shiniest on the block, but Shatto 39 Lanes' discount Thursday nights are enough to drag out even the most tightwad fellow. Standing strong since 1954, the bowling alley boasts (surprise) 39 lanes complete with a roundabout bar, coffee shop, arcade and billiards room. Pre-game at the bar with $4 cocktails served up by Eddie, a veteran employee and staple bartender for 35 years, then graduate to a round of in-house bevvies—the super strong Shatto Sandbagger, a mind-bending blend of Bacardi 151, Remi Martin, Grand Marnier, sweet and sour mix, and cranberry juice, promises a punch. In between celebratory strikes, refuel with salty snacks like heat lamp–ready (and heartburn-guaranteed) nachos or the Shatto Special, a combo of chicken wings, stir-fried cabbage and fried egg over rice. Consider this no-frills, no velvet-rope joint your pocket change playground.
Randy Clement, April Langford and George Cossette’s Silver Lake storefront is the quintessential neighborhood wine hub. You might call it "the People's Wine Store" as the staff here take pride in defining themselves by their customers. No matter your speed—Armani and shades or board shorts and sandals—every customer gets the same treatment from an enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff who maintain their role to merely navigate the customer. Take your date here for some affordable wine tasting on Mondays, Thursdays and Sundays (the popular weekend tasting requires reserving in advance). And here's the best part: There's a free parking lot adjacent to store off Glendale Blvd and metered street parking in front.
You've maintained your composure behind the commuting wheel long enough, now's your chance at speed steering on Speed Zone’s four go-kart tracks. Take the lead in the Top Eliminator Dragster, a 300-horsepower rush ($15 for three races), and then carhop to the Grand Prix, a track modeled after the Formula 1 and Indy Car racing circuits ($2 per lap). There's also the classic Slick Trax for drift-style racing on finely polished concrete and ultimate Turbo Track—faster than Slick Trax and open to up to 20 drivers ($7 for five-minute session). Happy hour specials include $4 well drinks and import brews, but you might want to sober up (or at least act like it) before heading back to the tracks. Better yet, keep the competition going at Speedway Golf’s two 18-hole miniature golf courses, Strike Zone’s mini bowling alley and the Electric Alley’s arcade of more than 100 video games.
Aside from parking, the Getty Center is free to visit and it offers some of the most spectacular views of the city. Even if you and your date are not into visiting cultural institutions—we don't know who wouldn't be, but just in case—bring a picnic and a blanket and enjoy some romance on the lawn overlooking our beautiful city. If you and your date are more appreciative of the arts, wonder around the large museum and get to know eachother's artistic tastes—you never know where the conversation may lead to and what you'll learn about your date! Or better yet, make time for both activities for an absolute perfect date.
A former hangout for LAPD cops and pre- and post-Dodger game meet-ups for years (see if you can spot baseball memorabilia and rumored bullet holes behind the bar), Echo Park’s Short Stop continues to host locals and the impromptu dance party. Order happy hour Pabsts or shoot a round of pool next to the black and white photo booth behind the bar. Check out Super Soul Sundays, a weekly dance party featuring classics from the 1960s and 1970s hosted by DJs Dia Becker and Jennifer Tefft and one of the best kept nights for kicking up your heels. Snag a table on the dance floor early and once the disco ball and sweat-worthy songs (Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Prince) begin to spin, everyone won't be able to fake the funk for long.
It's 4am and somehow you and your date have lost track of time, but your appetites certainly haven't. Satisfy hunger pangs by going high brow at the original Pacific Dining Car Downtown. Open 24 hours seven days a week, the renowned, decades-old restaurant—originally founded in 1921—continues to serve quality meats butchered and dry-aged in-house around-the-clock with class. Settle into one of the railway car dining rooms with their classic Training Day Baseball Steak, an old-time favorite and the thickest aged top sirloin cut, or original 8-ounce Midnight Cowboy bone-in rib-eye. Late night diners can order a plate of the famous filet and eggs, while all-day breakfast and dinner and a second location in Santa Monica fill famished lovers both East and West.
This 160-acre park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains has one main loop, plus a bevy of dirt hiking trails. It's also got one of the friendliest off-leash dog policies. You and your date may break a sweat getting to the top, but you'll be rewarded with some of the best views of the city. The southern entrance is at the end of Fuller Avenue in Hollywood; the northern entrance is off the 7300 block of Mulholland Drive. After your hike, head to a nearby cafe to reenergize and maybe get in some extra romance.
Go ahead, grab a mic and get sloshed in one of the multiple private rooms at Max Karaoke Studio. With three locations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Downtown, this karaoke spot is ideal for large, rowdy groups (and group dates) and open late (until 3am Sun-Thu and 4am Fri-Sat). Thumb through an extensive selection of songs to kick off your evening set. And should you and your date decide on a showdown of power ballad duets (think "Leather and Lace"), two microphones are available in the room, as well as tambourines, upon request. Encourage friends to potluck ($1 charge per person for outside food) and BYOB wine, mixers and liquor—believe it, kegs are welcome and ice is sold on-site. Groups of 10 pay $53 an hour—it shouldn't take much for you and your friends to do the math—while couples get a duo special of $18 an hour. All songs can be searched on the website for pre–date night practice sessions.
You've been to the opera and you've seen the ballet—all fine choices mind you, just a tad (yawn) expected and cliché. Swap class for some stunts and sass with Lucha VaVoom at Downtown LA's Mayan. Part luchadores (mexican wrestling), part saucy striptease and comedic acts, Lucha VaVoom is over-the-top theatricality at its messiest best. Collectively chant "lucha" then "vavoom" as sexy luchadora Estrellita, luchador Dirty Sanchez (with his dirty little secret) and other masked wrestlers get rowdy in the ring. A live burlesque dancer, hula-hoop sensation, contortionist, pole princess and midget only add to the frenzy. In this raucous show of eyeshadow, Spandex and body slams, expect muscled men to fly high and the bikini tops to drop (drag queens included).
Tucked between the grimy Venice Boardwalk and the posh Abbot Kinney, the Venice Canals offer a completely different side of the famed beachfront neighborhood. Take a stroll through these three canal-lined blocks—hence the name, Venice—and you'll discover an idyllic scene: arching pedestrian bridges, charming beach houses, bunches of ducklings and the occasional paddle boarding bulldog. Though you won't find boat rentals anywhere along the canals, you can bring your own non-motorized vessel to tour the neighborhood at water level (enter via the launch ramp at Venice Boulevard). After you're done exploring, take your date to Abbot Kinney for a quick coffee or bite to eat at one of the many neighborhood eateries.
The Von's parking lot doesn't exactly scream romance, but one taste of this storied truck's carnitas tacos and your date will be swooning. Whether your date is in need of an afternoon snack, a casual dinner or a late night bite, Taco Zone is a Mexican food fan favorite. From burritos to quesadillas, what sets these authentic meals apart is the salsa. And for tacos this good (and cheap), it's hard not to wait in the late night line that wraps around Echo Park. Just make sure you hit an ATM before, because this fun food joint is cash only.