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5 Things to Do in Little Tokyo
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5 Things to Do in Little Tokyo

Never been before? We’ll be your trustee Little Tokyo guide with a day’s worth of fun things to do in Little Tokyo.

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5 min read

September 17, 2021

Can’t fly out to Japan? Check out the next best thing by driving to Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles. As one of the United States’ most famous official Japan-towns, Little Tokyo L.A. houses a unique variety of cultural, historical, shopping, and dining destinations that give you a taste of Japan on the west coast. Never been before? We’ll be your trustee Little Tokyo guide with a day’s worth of fun things to do in Little Tokyo. Without further ado, here’s everything you need to see, eat, and do when in Little Tokyo.

With roots dating to the 1880s, Little Tokyo is a major cultural and civic center for Japanese Americans living in Southern California.

The Ultimate Guide To Little Tokyo

1. Explore the Japanese Village Plaza

Care for a little bit of shopping? The coolest concentration of stores in Little Tokyo is at the Japanese Village Plaza. The famous Little Tokyo mall has a number of shopping and dining destinations that find themselves on must-try lists all the time. 

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While you absolutely should pop into all the cool Little Tokyo shops you come across, make sure to leave enough time to check out a few of the well-known coffee and dessert spots in and around the Plaza as well. None other than the famous Cafe Dulce Little Tokyo is at the Plaza, and it would be a crime to leave without trying their tea lattes and donuts—in particular the green tea donuts.

One of only three official Japantowns in the United States, Little Tokyo was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.

2. Visit Little Tokyo’s Gardens

Little Tokyo has quite an impressive collection of hidden little gardens to check out. Grab a cup of matcha or a latte and go exploring around the best of the hidden oases in the midst of DTLA, and you’ll find tranquility in the most unexpected corners of the area.

Designed to reflect the zen tradition of the famous gardens of Kyoto, the James Irvine Japanese Garden should be the first to check out on your list. Open to the public and free year-round, this gorgeous Little Tokyo garden features beautiful blooming trees and flowers, handcrafted cedar bridges, and even a waterfall with a 170-foot stream. 

Prefer a garden with stunning skyline views of DTLA? The Kyoto Gardens on the rooftop of the DoubleTree Hotel definitely won’t disappoint. This free-to-enter, half-acre rooftop space of meticulously maintained trees, flowers, and greenery with tranquil ponds and stunning views of Los Angeles is a Little Tokyo gem you can’t miss.

The Japanese American National Museum is internationally recognized for its commitment to exploring America’s ethnic and cultural diversity.

3. Check out the Little Tokyo Museums

While the pretty gardens, cool shopping spots, and yummy Little Tokyo food joints tend to steal the spotlight, the cultural significance of the neighborhood shouldn’t be undermined. What’s the best way to learn about Little Tokyo’s history you ask? Well, visiting a few of its many cool galleries and museums of course! Pick and choose a few of the best museums and galleries to add to your bucket list and you’ll get your Little Tokyo art and culture fix in the best way.

If you want to immerse yourself in all things Japanese American, look no further than the Japanese American National Museum. This is the only U.S. museum dedicated to sharing the experiences of Americans of Japanese descent and their contributions to U.S. history. While the entrance to this Little Tokyo museum is free every Thursday from five to eight p.m. we highly encourage you to donate on your way in.

More of an art aficionado than a history buff? Check out the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. As one of the three permanent locations of MOCA—the only L.A. museum devoted exclusively to contemporary art—the Geffen Contemporary is a must-visit in Little Tokyo. The museum’s focus is on challenging works of art created since 1940, and like JANM, the Geffen Contemporary also offers free admission every Thursday between five to eight p.m.

That moment you realize you've been singing the lyrics wrong your entire life. That's why you've got to sing your heart out.

4. Sing your Heart out at Karaoke

Who wouldn’t like a bit of lighthearted karaoke fun every now and then? Coincidentally, there happens to be many great Little Tokyo karaoke bars in the area for you to check out.

Gather your friends and sing your heart out Max Karaoke. Consisting of private rooms available for rent, this well-known Little Tokyo karaoke bar offers you and your group a more intimate karaoke experience. Out of the over 2,000 songs in its selection in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and German, you are bound to find your faves. What’s more? You are allowed to bring your own food and drinks for a very small fee.

Would you like to pair your karaoke evening with a side of bowling? Head over to XLanes L.A. The 50,000 square foot venue is equipped with everything necessary for a day of family fun, whether you’re 10 or 100 years old. Enjoy state-of-the-art bowling lanes, billiards tables, private karaoke rooms, and an arcade area with retro and modern video games, all in the heart of Little Tokyo.

Apart from rice, a staple includes noodles and simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.

5. Stuff your Face with Authentic Japanese Food

Last but certainly not least, how’s a list of things to do in Little Tokyo complete without a gazillion food stops? From the sweet to the savory, and everything in between, here’s everything you need to taste in Little Tokyo.

For unaltered fish, impressive sashimi platters, and even monkfish liver, get in line at the L.A. classic Sushi Gen. Prefer a vegan sushi lunch? Shojin is the best spot in town with an impressive menu of macrobiotic, fish-less rolls with ingredients like burdock, barbecue seitan, enoki mushroom, lotus root. 

For the tastiest ramen in Little Tokyo, Daikokuya is the spot to go. While there are many other branches of this restaurant around town, the original Little Tokyo spot cannot be beaten. More of an udon lover? Marugame Monzo will have you hooked on the first slurp. 

With lunch and dinner out of the way, it’s time for delicious Japanese desserts. While there are several spots in Little Tokyo you can’t go wrong with, Fugetsu-Do gets a special shoutout for its special treats and mochi. Family run since 1903, this Little Tokyo shop’s expert artisans know a thing or two about making the best mochi—ever. 

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