An Insider’s Guide to Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

Where to play, eat, shop, and stay in one of L.A.’s most bustling cultural hubs.

Five women in kimonos dancing outdoors as part of Nisei Week

Time your Little Tokyo visit to coincide with Nisei Week in August, an annual celebration of Japanese culture.

Photo by Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Little Bangladesh, Thai Town, Little Armenia, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, Tehrangeles, Historic Filipinotown—if there’s a culture you want to explore, chances are Los Angeles has a neighborhood for that. One of the city’s most popular ethnic enclaves is Little Tokyo, a district on the northern outskirts of downtown L.A. that dates to the turn of the 20th century. In 1885, Charles Hama, a former seaman from Japan, opened the now-closed Kame Restaurant on East First Street (the first known Japanese-owned business in L.A.). By the early 1900s, the issei (Japanese immigrant) population boomed from 3,000 residents to 10,000 people, leading to an explosion of Japanese-owned shops and restaurants; several remain open today. And so Little Tokyo was born.
One of only three official Japantowns in the United States (the other two are also in California, in San Francisco and San Jose), the area’s five-ish blocks are crammed with a sizeable Japanese American population who operate and frequent the district’s old-school sushi joints, streetwear vendors, Instagrammable soft-serve spots, manga hot spots, and more. Consider this to be your indispensable guide to one of L.A.’s most bustling, delicious, and explorable nabes.

A colorful modern sculpture and two paintings, part of “The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection,” exhibit from 2019 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.

Installation view of The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA’s Collection exhibit from 2019 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.

Photo by Zak Kelley, courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art

What to do in Little Tokyo

The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center

Location: 244 San Pedro St. | Find on Google Maps
The Japanese American Cultural & Community Center is the largest Asian American cultural center in the United States and the heart of the Japanese American community in Los Angeles. Additionally, JACCC offers visitors a peaceful respite from the hubbub of the city with its James Irvine Japanese Garden, also known as Garden of the Clear Stream (apropos, considering a stream cuts through the green space). Cedar bridges serve as a dreamy stopping point to admire the flowers and foliage. Once you’ve soaked up some nature, catch a performance from Asian American musicians or maybe Kabuki performers at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre, or improve your culinary skills with a Japanese cooking class or seminar through JACCC’s Toshizo Watanabe Culinary Cultural Center.

Japanese American National Museum

Location: 100 N. Central Ave. | Find on Google Maps
Brush up on your Asian American history at the Japanese American National Museum, the largest museum in the United States dedicated to the Japanese American experience. There’s a permanent collection of over 60,000 artifacts and the exhibitions are impressively disparate: Shows examine everything from the cultural legacy of Hello Kitty to WWII-era Japanese internment camps.

Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

Location: 152 N. Central Ave. | Find on Google Maps
Nearby, you’ll find the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, an outpost of downtown L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art—it holds more than 7,000 pieces of artwork. The building that the Geffen Contemporary currently resides in was once a police car warehouse and is dedicated to showcasing the most cutting-edge fads in modern art. The Geffen is currently closed due to construction until September 10, 2023.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

Location: 505 E. Third St. | Find on Google Maps
The Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is a part of the Shinshu Otani-ha sect of Buddhism, one of the oldest and most popular denominations in Japan. Established in 1904 and moved two times before being settled in its present day location in 1976, Higashi Honganji was L.A.'s very first Japanese Buddhist temple. Constructed in a traditional Japanese design, the temple features 30,000 imported roof tiles, a breathtaking statue of Buddha and matching altar display, as well as a gorgeous garden that’s maintained by temple members.

Max Karaoke Studio

Location: 333 S. Alameda St., #216 | Find on Google Maps
After an afternoon of museums and temples, you may be in the mood for something a little less serious. Consider renting a room with a couple of friends at Max Karaoke Studio, and belt out the classics till you’re hoarse. Max Karaoke is not exactly a high-end karaoke spot, but it is indisputably a Little Tokyo mainstay. Formerly BYOB, the studio now offers a $6 per person happy hour and thoroughly cleans the rooms in between parties.

Parade of women celebrating the Nisei Week Festival in L.A.'s Little Tokyo neighborhood

Nisei Week happens annually in Little Tokyo and celebrates Japanese American heritage in the city.

Photo by Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Nisei Week

You might want to book a trip to Little Tokyo around one of the many festivals held there each year. Nisei Week takes place every August and celebrates Japanese culture with a DekoCar show (a parade featuring cars covered in custom anime, manga, or video game graphics), public street dancing, and the World Gyoza Eating Championship (where competitive eaters consume as many gyoza, or Japanese pot stickers, as they can in 10 minutes). Other festivals that also take place in Little Tokyo throughout the year include the Los Angeles International Tea Festival, which usually takes place in August, and the L.A. Art Book Fair (one-stop shop for artbook–centric reads from artists, antiquarian booksellers, small presses, and institutions), which is held in April.

Explore Little Tokyo Mall

Location: 319 E. Second St. | Find on Google Maps

Built in 1985, the Little Tokyo Mall is one of the most fun not-so-secret secrets about this L.A. enclave. Beneath Little Tokyo, past the Little Tokyo village above ground, visitors can find an underground mall lined with stores selling anime figurines, plushies, and other collectibles. With its neon Japanese signage, the area feels a bit like Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood, known for its busy storefronts selling electronics, anime merch, and video games.

A plate of pork tonkatsu served with mustard and shredded cabbage.

Be sure to come on an empty stomach when visiting Little Tokyo.

Photograph by Kay Ecker/Shutterstock

Where to eat and drink in Little Tokyo


Location: 226 First St. | Find on Google Maps

Located on the southwestern edge of Little Tokyo, Azay opened in 2020 and is a family-owned and operated restaurant with a half-French, half-Japanese menu. Here, diners will find dishes like hayashi bourguignon (served with beef short ribs, mushrooms, rice, and tsukemono) and Japanese-style breakfast (featuring a healthy portion of saba mackerel, as well as duck confit and housemade rillette and pâté). Be sure to make advance reservations: There are only a few tables available at Azay. The Judge John Aiso parking lot is located across the street, for easy eat-and-go access.


Location: 327 First St. | Find on Google Maps
Some may consider this restaurant to be a tourist trap, but this famous ramen shop is busy for a reason. Though there are now four Daikokuya locations across Los Angeles, the one in Little Tokyo is the original restaurant and visiting it is considered a necessary pilgrimage by fanatic noodle heads. Its ramen features a milky tonkotsu broth seasoned with its secret blend of soy sauce, which is accompanied by firm egg noodles, tender kurobuta pork, ajitama (a marinated, soft-boiled egg), bamboo shoots, sesame seeds, and green onions. Waits at Daikokuya can sometimes top an hour (especially on the weekends), so consider checking out Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen, which also serves up toothsome tonkotsu broth.

Marugame Monzo

Location: 329 First St. | Find on Google Maps
If you’re in the mood for noodles but ramen seems too heavy, consider checking out Marugame Monzo. This restaurant offers sanuki-style udon, which is characterized by its square-shaped noodle and irresistible chew—in fact, sanuki-style noodles are some of the most popular in Japan. Whereas ramen features thin noodles served in a hearty bone broth, udon offers chunky wheat noodles served in a clear, dashi-based broth. Some spots around Little Tokyo can feel a bit old school, but Marugame Monzo’s atmosphere is decidedly contemporary; the restaurant even offers tempting fusion dishes like Miso Carbonara Udon and Seafood Tomato Cream Udon.

Hama Sushi

Location: 347 E. Second St. | Find on Google Maps
This no-frills restaurant takes its sushi very seriously. A sign next to the door reads “Only sushi and sashimi. No tempura. No teriyaki. No noodles. No rice alone.”—and they mean it. With just 19 tables and a no-reservation policy, visitors should plan on having to wait awhile to eat here. However, Hama Sushi has a reputation for being one of the best sushi restaurants in the area. Because there is such a small seating area, waitstaff are very attentive and dishes are often ready to eat minutes after ordering. Expect thick cuts of very fresh fish and warm, fragrant rice.


Location: 315 First St. | Find on Google Maps
Fugetsu-Do is a true Little Tokyo O.G. Founded in 1903, this cute shop serves up gorgeous, hand-crafted mochi confections. The business is family owned and is currently operated by the clan’s third generation of mochi artisans. Fugetsu-Do offers a wide range of mochi varying from gem-like, modern creations featuring strawberry and peach flavorings to more traditional selections that are filled with red and white sweet beans.

Suehiro Cafe

Location: 337 First St. | Find on Google Maps
When it comes to Japanese comfort food, it’s hard to beat Suehiro Cafe. Started by two sisters more than 49 years ago, Suehiro Cafe offers a large menu that features plenty of Japanese favorites, including things like agedashi tofu, tender tonkatsu, and chazuke. Suehiro Cafe is not the place to go to experience glitzy, upscale Japanese dining, but a place to enjoy authentic Japanese food in a relaxed and homey atmosphere.

Red and white circular paper lanterns hanging from tree

In 1941, Little Tokyo residents were forced to abandon their homes and the neighborhood virtually shut down.

Photo by Unsplash/Ken Hilton

Where to shop in Little Tokyo


Location: 123 Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka St. #205 | Find on Google Maps
Kinokuniya” means “bookstore of Kii Province” in Japanese and is the largest bookstore chain in Japan. However, the company is not satisfied with just being the top dog in its home country—it’s intent on establishing a global presence in the retail book world. Because of that lofty goal, Kinokuniya offers books and magazines in both Japanese and English in U.S. stores. Kinokuniya is a bookworm’s dream with art tomes, manga, niche magazines, and all sorts of other genres, not to mention an extremely satisfying array of pens, journals, and art supplies for sale.

Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle

Location: 319 E. Second St., Unit 103| Find on Google Maps
Have an arguably unhealthy obsession with an anime character or collect Funko Pops? Definitely check out this J-town staple. Located in the Little Tokyo Mall beneath a parking garage, Entertainment Hobby Shop Jungle (also known as Anime Jungle) was originally founded in Osaka, Japan, in 1995 and specializes in selling anime figurines, mangas, and collectibles, as well as independent films made by Japanese directors.


Location: 141 Japanese Village Plaza Mall | Find on Google Maps
L.A.-born designer Roy Kuroyanagi’s Japangeles is a beacon of minimalist streetwear and an homage to his roots (his grandparents were residents of Little Tokyo). Swing by to stock up on T-shirts, sweatshirts, and snapback hats that put a Southland twist on Japanese iconography. (One tee features a lucky maneki-neko, one of those waving cats, with shades on.)

Make Asobi

Location: 130 Japanese Village Plaza Mall | Find on Google Maps
If you’re looking to buy some things to pamper yourself with, mosey on over to Make Asobi and upgrade your beauty routine with myriad Japanese sheet masks, makeup, and hair products. In addition to tried-and-true drugstore brands like Hada Lobo and Shiseido, Make Asobi also keeps high-end products in stock like Shu Umera.

People lined up in front of an outdoor food stall in Little Tokyo neighborhood

Little Tokyo is well-known for the tempting Japanese food available within the neighborhood.

Photo by Kit Leong/Shutterstock

Where to stay in Little Tokyo

Miyako Hotel

Location: 328 First St. | Find on Google Maps

Situated a few blocks from Union Station in the heart of Little Tokyo near all of the neighborhood’s best places to eat and drink, this hotel’s location is hard to beat. The Miyako Hotel is actually part of the Miyako Hotels and Resorts chain, headquartered in Osaka. Its Little Tokyo outlet primarily caters to Japanese tourists on vacation in Los Angeles and offers amenities that might appeal to such a clientele: high-tech bidets, ultra-clean rooms, a Japanese-style spa, and an in-house sushi restaurant. As an added bonus, if you’d like to venture beyond the streets of Little Tokyo, the hotel is only one mile from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and two miles from the Staples Center.


Location: 120 S. Los Angeles St. | Find on Google Maps
This DoubleTree is conveniently located in between Little Tokyo and L.A.’s Art District. With 434 rooms, it’s a reliable place to find a place to sleep in a pinch. The highlight of the hotel is its unique rooftop garden, a recreation of an ancient Tokyo garden built for 16th-century samurai lord Katō Kiyomasa and features a waterfall, a wooden bridge, and a pond. The garden is a popular outdoor event space that can hold up to 300 people, but it’s also just a nice place to stroll through in the mornings after breakfast.

Getting to Little Tokyo

If you’ve spent even a femtosecond in L.A., you know that driving and parking in the city can be soul crushing. But abandoning your ride is easy in Little Tokyo. The best place to park in the neighborhood is arguably the Judge John Aiso parking lot which offers a $3 flat rate parking fee after 5:00 p.m. You could also roll up to Weller Court and use the plaza’s underground garage, where parking all day will only set you back $10. (Head’s up: It’s cash only.) If you’re going car-less, you can catch the Metro Gold Line to the Little Tokyo/Arts District station—yes, there’s a train in L.A.—or hitch a ride via Uber or Lyft.

This article originally appeared online in 2019; it was most recently updated on August 18, 2023 by Mae Hamilton to include current information.

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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