What to do in Little Tokyo: A Day Trip Guide

Japanese lights hang across the photo, with trees and a building behind it in Little Tokyo.

For a little taste of Japan right in California, head to Little Tokyo, right in the heart of L.A. I’ll confess that it took me several visits to California and then several years of living here to finally make it there — so learn from my mistakes and schedule a stop on your next Los Angeles vacation. This neighborhood has quickly become one of my favorite places in the area, thanks to its many fun shops, nearly overwhelming number of Japanese restaurants, and dose of history as well. Here’s everything you’ll want to do (and eat, obviously) in Little Tokyo. 

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Best Things to Do in Little Tokyo

Let’s start off with some context about how Little Tokyo became, well, Little Tokyo. The best place to do that is at the Japanese American National Museum. It details how Japanese immigration to the United States began, how the community began to grow, (Little Tokyo, for instance, was established in the 1880s) and the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Plan to spend at least an hour or so here. 

Tickets are $16 or $9 with a student ID, and the museum is open every day except Monday. (100 North Central Ave.)

If you’re looking for a contemporary art fix, then look no further than the MOCA. The MOCA has two locations, with the other one just a mile away in Downtown L.A. General admission is free. (152 N. Central Ave.) 

Note: Sadly the museum is closed until September 2024 for installation. I will update this post once I’ve confirmed its reopening! 

The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) is recognized as one of the largest ethnic and cultural centers in the country, and it hosts a range of exhibitions and events dedicated to Japanese culture, including art, food, music, and more. (244 South San Pedro St.)

Once you’ve had your museum fill, it’s time to shop. The Japanese Village Plaza is the central area where you’ll find lots of shopping (and food options, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

I really like Bunkado, which has been open since the 1940s, and sells all kinds of art, gift and household items, and is right around the corner from the plaza. (340 E. First St.)

Kinokuniya Los Angeles is a well-known Japanese book store (it has a wide range of books available in English, not to worry.) It also carries lots of Japanese stationery, art supplies, and other gift items. (123 Astronaut E. S. Onizuka St. #205)

Tokyo Japanese Lifestyle was described as “a small trinket heaven” by one enthusiastic Yelper, and they’re not wrong. This is your spot if you’re looking for anything from anime figurines, stationery, kitchen items, and more. (114 Japanese Village Plaza Mall)

Where to Eat in Little Tokyo

No Little Tokyo guide would be complete without some food recommendations. Here are my favorites so far:

If you can, go to Sushi Gen. This is probably the best sushi I’ve ever had, which I know is a bold statement. But seriously, if you’re looking for high-quality sushi in an authentic Japanese atmosphere, give this one a try.

Just keep in mind that it’s definitely on the pricier side (for me at least), but very worth it for a splurge meal. You’ll also probably need to wait — when I went recently, we were told it would be an hour wait, but it ended up being more like an hour and forty minutes. It was a Saturday night, so I’ll cut them some slack. With that said, that gives you the perfect opportunity to walk across the street and get a drink or two from Angels Brewery, a well-known brewery in the Arts District while you wait. Sushi Gen is closed on Sundays and Mondays. (422 E Second St.)

Another sushi option I tried recently was Sushi Enya. It was pretty no-frills decor-wise, but everything I tried was really fresh and delicious, and there was speedy service. Sushi Enya now has five locations, but its Little Tokyo location is the original. It’s only open for dinner service. (343 E. First St.)

For ramen and other Japanese classics, head to Daikokuya. This is a popular spot that can definitely get crowded, but the portions are generous and hearty. I tried the gyoza and salmon sashimi appetizers, and the spicy miso ramen. (327 First St.) 

For dessert, I can never resist a matcha soft serve with honeycomb from Honeymee. (120 Japanese Village Plaza Mall). 

With that said, there are tons of places I have yet to try. Here are some I’ve had on my list for a while that are highly-rated:

Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop is high on my list for its array of Japanese desserts (especially mochi), and the fact that it’s been open since 1903. (315 East First St.)

Japan-based Rakkan Ramen now has a bunch of locations, including one in Long Beach, where I live, but somehow I have yet to visit. Its original U.S. location, however, is its Little Tokyo spot. It has a variety of intriguing options that I have my eye on for a future visit, including its soy-sauce based “amber” ramen and “spicy garnet” ramen made with miso. (359 E. First St.)

Hama Sushi is strictly sushi — as in, “Only Sushi/Sashimi. No Tempura No Teriyaki No Noodles No Rice Alone,” as it says on its website. With that said, this place always seems to pop up on every Little Tokyo Reddit thread or restaurant roundup, so it’s got my attention. (347 E. Second St.)

Pasta e Pasta is a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant that also shows up on every list. I can’t resist pasta in any form so I’ll have to make a stop here soon. (432 E. Second St.)

While this certainly isn’t an all-encompassing list, these are definitely the highlights and the best of what to do in Little Tokyo. If you have any questions (or any Little Tokyo restaurant recs!), please let me know! <3 

And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out some of my other posts about some of my favorite LA areas:

Disclosure: Some of the included links may be affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I trust and have used. Thanks for your support!

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10 Comments

  1. Sonia
    July 10, 2024 / 5:34 pm

    I’d love to visit the JACCC, thanks for the great idea!

    • Tess
      Author
      July 10, 2024 / 5:39 pm

      thanks for reading, Sonia!

  2. July 10, 2024 / 5:57 pm

    The mochi ice cream balls look delicious. I would definitely give those a try.

    • Tess
      Author
      July 10, 2024 / 5:59 pm

      They were soo good!

  3. July 11, 2024 / 1:26 pm

    Little Tokyo looks so cool! I love it when you can discover little pockets of blended cultures in a city. I’d love to visit the museum to learn more about the history of the area. Oh, and I’m definitely picking up some mochi, it looks delicious!

    • Tess
      Author
      July 11, 2024 / 7:52 pm

      agreed 🙂 the museum was so interesting – I definitely learned a lot!! and yes mochi is a must!!

  4. July 11, 2024 / 8:31 pm

    Such a fantastic place to visit and delicious food to try, awesome slice of Japan in California…

    • Tess
      Author
      July 11, 2024 / 8:36 pm

      🙂 thanks for reading!

  5. July 13, 2024 / 6:53 pm

    Oh, so much delicious restaurants and shops in Little Tokyo. I’ve been to LA twice, but haven’t made it to Little Tokyo, I’ll make sure to visit once I’m in LA again.

    • Tess
      Author
      July 13, 2024 / 8:34 pm

      it’s the best place to be for anyone who likes Japanese food! thanks for reading, Cosette, hope you enjoy it when you go!

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