As I write this blog post article, “Crazy Rich Asians” is #1 movie at the box office.
While I haven’t seen it yet, it seems to be a crowd pleaser and is being described as a groundbreaking film for Asian Americans. Well, did you know that Los Angeles boasts the largest, most diverse Asian-American community of any county in the nation? And, our LA Metro (subway) has stops in several incredible official Asian neighborhoods, including Thai Town, Koreatown, Little Tokyo and Chinatown.
I suggest the next time you’re in a mood to eat and drink and immerse yourself fully into Los Angeles’ Asian diversity and culture, hop on the LA Metro and explore at your own pace for a half-day or full evening outing.
Jump on the Metro’s Red Line and exit off of Hollywood and Western station. Once you emerge from the underground you’re at the Gateway to Thai Town. Just like Los Angeles, Thailand’s capital Bangkok is known as the City of Angels. It’s a 2.6 square mile neighborhood which is spread along Hollywood Boulevard between Normandie Avenue and Western Avenue in Hollywood. It holds the distinction for being the first Thai town in the USA. There are lots of Thai restaurants, bakeries, markets and shops including import stores, silk clothing stores, and oh, of course, those amazing Thai Massage spas. If you’re doing an evening outing, look out for one of the dozens of Thai Elvis’ that perform at various Thai restaurants around the neighborhood! Yes, it’s an actual thing!
Next get back on the Metro Red Line and get off at the Wilshire/Vermont stop and transfer to the Purple Line which takes you in just a couple stops to the Wilshire/Western exit in the heart of LA’s Koreatown, which is the largest Korean community outside of Korea. It’s definitely a flashy type of neighborhood with its markets, nightclubs, towers, billiard and karaoke parlors, and food-obsessive mini-malls. Filled with warrens of hidden restaurants and all-night dining and drinking dens too, it was one of the late Anthony Bourdains’ favorite hangouts. When asked by Thrillist what neighborhood in LA he liked the best, Bourdain replied: “K-town. I don’t even have to think about that. Largely because it’s so packed with unknowable awesome stuff, so I’m always intrigued. The fact that I know so little about it is what makes it interesting. I’ve never had a bad meal in K-town.” And you’ll find just about anything that you are looking for in LA’s Koreatown, so even if you don’t come hungry or thirsty, you’ll still find it a fascinating place to explore and wander.
Hopping back on the Metro Red Line, go all the way until the end to the beautiful and art deco Union Station (built in the 1930’s and featured in hundreds of movies) and transfer to the Gold Line which drops you off about a block from Central Plaza via the Chinatown Station. LA’s Chinatown is a colorful urban setting and a veritable movable feast for the senses. A mix of new and old restaurants caters to every palate. A massive statue of Bruce Lee has become a must-photograph site in Chinatown’s Central Plaza. The late martial arts star once had a studio here. There won’t be as many alcohol drink options here in Chinatown as Koreatown or Little Tokyo. But, if you happen to time your visit for one of KCRW’s Chinatown Summer Nights, you’ll have plenty of drink options at this part food event, part summer party. And Chinatown at night is Instagram picture ready with the lighted Chinese lanterns hanging above the streets!
Ready for your last Asian cultural experience? Get back on the Gold Line and a quick ride gets you to the Little Tokyo/Arts District stop which will put you on the doorstep of Little Tokyo. As a National Historic Landmark District, Little Tokyo has a unique variety of historical, cultural, shopping, and food destinations to give you a very real taste of Japan. If you are visiting during the day be sure to pay a visit to the Japanese American National Museum, the largest museum in the United States dedicated to sharing the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry.
An interesting place to check out too is the secret Koyosan Buddhist Temple that’s kind of hidden and tucked away down a small alley off the main street in Little Tokyo. If you plug in this address into your phone’s GPS you should be able to find it: 342 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 It’s very charming with beautiful statues outside. It’s not always accessible to go inside, however.
I hope this post from me, a non-Asian Angeleno, was informative and inspiring. Whether you live here in LA like I do, or are visiting for the first, second or third time – this suggested LA Metro friendly itinerary encourages you to travel a little deeper into The City of Angels and its proud diversity and culture.
Cheers,Jack Witt, MS, CPT
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