A Walking Tour of Little Tokyo
Take a stroll around one of L.A.’s most historic and popular cultural neighborhoods
With roots dating to the 1880s, Little Tokyo is a major cultural and civic center for Japanese Americans living in Southern California. Little Tokyo is a Downtown L.A. area of about five city blocks, bounded on the west by Los Angeles Street, on the east by Alameda Street, on the south by 3rd Street, and on the north by 1st Street, including the block north of 1st and west of Alameda. One of only three official Japantowns in the United States, Little Tokyo is the home of the annual Nisei Week festival, and was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995. From museums to restaurants and bars, read on for a walking tour of Little Tokyo, one of L.A.’s most historic and popular multicultural neighborhoods.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Downtown
The home base for your Little Tokyo excursion is the elegant DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Downtown. Nestled in the heart of Little Tokyo, the hotel features a unique Japanese-influenced interior design, and the serene rooftop Kyoto Gardens. The garden and several suites feature breathtaking city views. All rooms feature 42-inch LCD flat screen HDTVs with HBO, and Sweet Dreams by DoubleTree plush top beds with jumbo hypo-allergenic down pillows. A complimentary hotel shuttle takes guests to an array of nearby attractions, including STAPLES Center, L.A. LIVE, the Los Angeles Convention Center and Dodger Stadium. The Weller Court Shopping Center, with restaurants, shops, a Japanese bookstore and an Asian supermarket, is conveniently adjacent to the hotel.
Kickstart the morning at Café Dulcé, located in the Japanese Village Plaza. Caffeinated options include LAMILL Coffee & Tea and specialty drinks like Vietnamese style iced coffee, Hong Kong style milk tea, and organic masala chai latte. To complement the coffee, many people order the wildly popular green tea donuts, which are best enjoyed in the morning, freshly made and piping hot. There’s also a variety of freshly made pastries, cakes, and tarts, as well as a selection of sandwiches and salads if you stop by a little later in the day.
Japanese American National Museum
From Cafe Dulce, exit the plaza and cross 1st Street to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). The museum is internationally recognized for its commitment to exploring America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by presenting and sharing the experience of Japanese Americans with exhibitions, public programs, an award-winning museum store and resource center.
Sushi Gen Restaurant
For one of the best sushi deals in L.A., head to Sushi Gen, located in the Honda Plaza strip mall off 2nd Street. Just before 11 a.m. every day, eager diners queue up for the famed sashimi lunch special, priced at just $19.50. The special comes with miso soup, a warm tofu dish, a big bowl of rice, and a large sashimi plate. Fish selection varies, but usually includes tuna, yellowtail, spicy tuna or toro, octopus, a mountain of kelp, and cooked fish. Note that the lunch special is only available at a table, not at the sushi bar.
Men Oh Tokushima Ramen
If you’re in the mood for something heartier than sushi, stop by MEN OH Tokushima Ramen, also located in Honda Plaza. Writer Joshua Lurie names MEN OH's signature Tokushima-style ramen one of the best ramen bowls in L.A., featuring a savory and umami-rich broth made from Kurobuta pork bones and soy sauce. The hefty ramen bowl includes stir-fried pork belly, seared pork, bamboo shoots, seasoned, soft-boiled egg and scallions.
For those seeking udon, check out Marugame Monzo on 1st Street, where the thick noodles are made right in front of diners that score a coveted “window” seat.
Founded in 2009 by native Angeleno Roy Kuroyanagi, Japangeles expanded from its Little Tokyo kiosk to a storefront at Japanese Village Plaza in August 2017. Designed and printed in LA, the Japangeles streetwear line remixes traditional Japanese iconography like Mt. Fuji, geishas, bonsai, and maneki-neko ("waving cat") with a modern SoCal aesthetic. There's no online store, so a trip to the Little Tokyo shop is the only way to buy Japangeles gear.
POP Little Tokyo
Popkiller Second is the sister location to the original Popkiller store in Hollywood. Located on 2nd Street, this trendy emporium sells everything from vintage clothing to jewelry, accessories, toys, vinyl and novelty items like “bacon strip” band-aids. A few doors down, POP Little Tokyo focuses on ironic t-shirts packaged like LPs, from independent labels and original designs made in-house.
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
Located adjacent to JANM, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (previously The Temporary Contemporary) opened in 1983 as a satellite location of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Formerly a police car warehouse, the 40,000 square-foot space was renovated by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank O. Gehry, who also designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and other world-famous buildings.
As part of its 40th anniversary, MOCA reinstalled Untitled (Questions), the monumental wall work by LA–based artist Barbara Kruger, on the building's north facade facing Temple Street. On view through Nov. 30, 2020, the red, white, and blue artwork was originally commissioned by MOCA in 1989 for the exhibition A Forest of Signs: Art in the Crisis of Representation. The 30 x 191-foot work holds an iconic place in the collective memory of LA’s art community and is considered one of the museum’s curatorial highlights.
After viewing Kruger's artwork, stop by the nearby Go For Broke Monument, the first memorial of its kind on the U.S. mainland. The 40-foot black granite circle is engraved with more than 16,000 names of Japanese American soldiers and officers who served overseas during World War II.
Located on 1st Street a half block from JANM, Far Bar features a lively main bar with numerous flatscreens, dozens of craft beers on tap, and Asian-influenced cocktails and pub fare. A second bar is discreetly located next to the bar’s patio off 1st Street, featuring a massive list of hundreds of bourbons, single malts and Japanese whiskies. Far Bar hosts a popular daily happy hour (Tuesday-Friday from 3-7 p.m., Sunday-Monday 3 p.m. to close) that offers great discounts on beer, wine, sake, cocktails and bar snacks.
Wolf & Crane
Another happy hour option is Wolf & Crane, which describes itself as “Little Tokyo’s Neighborhood Bar.” It definitely checks all the boxes of a great local - relaxed atmosphere, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and legit happy hour deals. For fans of Japanese whisky, Wolf & Crane is a must-visit. Enjoy $5 local beers, $5 house wine, $5 well highballs ($7 to make it a cocktail, and FYI their well whisky is Akashi White Oak) from 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and all day on Sunday. Other weekly specials include 50% off top shelf liquors all night on Mondays and "Whisky with Wolves" flights on Tuesdays.
Housed in the former Vibiana cathedral on 2nd Street at the edge of Little Tokyo, Redbird is the latest restaurant from acclaimed chef Neal Fraser. The New American dinner menu features four sections: appetizers, mains, "kickshaws" (small plates) and desserts. The main dining room is a beautiful courtyard with a retractable ceiling. The stunning restaurant space also includes a lounge and a wraparound indoor/outdoor bar with craft cocktails. Dinner highlights include Spanish Octopus with white bean tahini, romesco breadcrumbs, and lemon; Barbecue Smoked Tofu (beluga lentils, mustard greens, gremolata), Liberty Farms Duck, and Rack of Lamb with spiced labneh, grape leaf, freekeh, and sunflower dukkah.
Los Angeles has been an important jazz city for decades, and the Blue Whale, located on the top level of Weller Court, continues that vibrant tradition. Guests enter from the all-glass facade and are greeted by a long, curved bar. Instead of tables and chairs, the main area offers blue cubes for seating. Mystical lyrics and artwork add to the creative atmosphere. Aficionados praise the Blue Whale for its eclectic lineup of forward-thinking musicians, while performers enjoy the intimate setting and appreciative audience that includes a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds.
When most Little Tokyo dining spots have closed for the night, you can count on Suehiro Cafe, a humble Japanese coffee shop on 1st Street. Suehiro offers a little bit of everything on its rustic menu: the house special beef udon noodle soup is not too salty and very substantial, and the combination plate with gyoza (veggie or pork), pork katsu or broiled mackerel, rice and sesame spinach is the epitome of Japanese comfort food. Its basic, uncluttered ambiance is all you want after a night of partying. And they even serve decent sushi and sashimi if that’s your late night craving.