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The Best Things to Do in L.A.'s Koreatown
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The Best Things to Do in L.A.'s Koreatown

La La Land might be lacking in the snow department, but in an area like Koreatown, exploring is a sport all on its own.

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5 min read

September 14, 2021

Unable to make it to Pyeongchang? We’ve got the next best thing. La La Land might be lacking in the snow department, but in an area like Koreatown—a vibrant neighborhood of unforgettable restaurants, markets, spas, bookstores, and more—exploring is a sport all on its own.

Los Angeles happens to have the largest Korean community outside of the motherland and boasts a horde of restaurants that hop on the trends mere months after they have left Seoul sometimes. It only takes one visit to beautiful Ktown to discover that it’s not just an ethnic neighborhood. It’s a prefecture of Seoul that honors not just the emigrants who moved to California, but also their children, who in turn have invented new fun and exciting things to do in Koreatown.

Despite the name evoking a traditional ethnic enclave, Koreatown's community is complex and impacts on areas outside the traditional boundaries.

Brief History of L.A.’s Koreatown

Before Ktown took root in L.A., its history began with the immigration of Korean independence activist Dosan Ahn Chang Ho and his wife, Hye Ryeon (Helen), who came to the United States in 1902. A year after, the first wave of Korean immigrants settled in Hawaii and more began immigrating towards Southern California. They farmed in the Riverside and Claremont communities.

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And over the years, Koreatown’s growth was significantly furthered thanks to a businessman by the name of Lee Hi Duk, who previously worked in the USA and Germany and had a longstanding passion for Korean history and culture. But after he moved to the United States, the lack of Korean shops and cafes left him with a noticeable gap to fill. Urged to remedy this situation, he opened the Olympic Market at 3,122 West Olympic and absolutely stocked it with all things Korean. The market later became a staple of Ktown and served roughly ten thousand Korean people living in the Los Angeles area.

The Koreatown community is highly diverse ethnically, with half the residents being Latino and a third being Asian.

Your Ultimate Koreatown Guide 

If you’ve been craving Korea’s infamous buckwheat noodles or daydreaming about the local trout farms, you are definitely not alone. Korea is one of the most captivating food countries on the entire planet, with regional dishes that seem to change block over block, transporting you to a mind-wrenching world of flavor and fermentation; not a bad way to jolt the pleasure center of your brain. Koreatown L.A. is bound to leave you with similar sensations.

The fact that there are over 100 different types of kimchi should tell you something about the pride Koreans have in their food.

Restaurants 

Beverly Soon Tofu

If you ever asked advanced AI to reinvent tofu, it would probably look a lot like soondubu—a fine mist of chile and broth loaded with pork and kimchi. True, this is all well and good, but if you ever want that authentic soondubu, then head to Beverly Soon Tofu; the local masters have been preparing the dish for something like 32 years. Let barely gelled blocks of pure tofu (both spicy and unspicy) melt in your mouth, this taste is truly phenomenal.

Chunju Han-il Kwan

A dish like budae jjigae can sound like a bit of an urban legend when you first hear about it. Spicy Korean soup that’s packed with hot dogs, packaged ramen noodles, and ingredients that originated from the American military bases in Seoul—sort of sounds more myth than fact. That is until you enter Chunju Han-il Kwan, an elegant eatery with a nice array of banchan, sacks of seafood, and, drumroll please, the level-10 budae jjigae, always crowd-pleasing and unmistakably Korean.

Dan Sung Sa 

Looking like a set-piece to an old-school Asian movie, Dan Sung Sa never really feels real, even when you’re inside of it. The interior’s dim, wooden and loud, dotted with booths with all sorts of graffiti and cooks crunched over the sizzling flames—it’s said to be a modern interpretation of a pojangmacha, the orange-tented street pub scene that’s on its way out from Seoul streets. The main thing on the menu is soju, grilled skewers containing meat, seafood, or the seaweed laminated doughs known as “dumbbells”.

Experience Los Angeles' version of a traditional Asian night market at Koreatown right in the heart of the City of Angels.

Markets 

Inspired to make your own Korean dishes at home? Cruising markets is actually one of the most popular things to do in Koreatown L.A. Stocking everything from marinated meats and kimchi to prepared banchan and kitchen supplies, here’s just a few markets to add to your itinerary:

Kae Sung Market 

We’re willing to bet you’ve seen jars of Kae Sung kimchi sold in your local supermarket, and with good reason—it’s one of the most popular kimchi brands in the whole of Los Angeles. And Sook Jae Cho, the matriarch of Kae Sung, has been making kimchi for almost five decades. For years, she and her family could be found selling kimchi at the Kae Sung Market, with every variety of flavor you could think of, no artificial ingredients.

Choice Meat Market

A meat lover’s paradise, Choice Meat Market is located on the bottom floor of a shopping center. It boasts beef shabu-shabu, rib-eye, pork collar bulgogi in Kobe-style, prime and choice, and in pre-marinated options. Open for about 24 years now, the market can also make a gift set perfect for the other meat enthusiasts in your life.

There's no shortage of spas in Koreatown, with many offering extended hours, an on-site restaurant and co-ed jimjilbang for men, women, and children.

Spas 

After all that munching, your best bet is going to be finding a Korean spa to soothe what ails you. Here are just a few faves from a vast, vast network:

Crystal Spa 

The entrance to the Crystal Spa is actually through an Aveda shop, which explains the pleasant odors of jasmine and citrus—a far greater alternative to chlorine and towels, don’t you think? This spa offers a salt room that melts your worries away, as well as a procedure during which a trained professional nimbly walks across your back.

Beverly Hot Springs 

The only spa in town fed by actual mineral hot springs, Beverly Hot Springs one’s too good to miss. The spacious bath is lined by ferns, frogs, and statues of Buddha—it’s so wide you can actually swim across it.

Century Day and Night Spa 

Boasting a range of one-stop opportunities, the Century Day and Night Spa comes with a produce stand, a golf driving range, and a swimming pool in the basement. There’s also jimjilbang—a set of co-ed baths and saunas perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

At only three square miles, Koreatown has more large malls than any similar sized area in the United States.

Hidden Gems 

The streets of Ktown L.A. are like an eclectic urban bouquet where neon signs mark buildings with various architectural styles, hiding clues of rich history. You’ll find multi-level shopping malls between small shops and boutiques—but not everything is as it seems. For that, you’re going to have to explore on foot and pop into as many gems as possible; intrigue and wonder awaits.

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