L.A.‘s Koreatown is one hipster hood and not at all touristy, making it the perfect destination for intrepid city breakers. Being one of the densest populations in Los Angeles, means you’re in a city within a city that never sleeps. Here’s a look at what to do in Koreatown – from hitting up 24-hr restaurants and spas to shopping for Asian delicacies and incredible Korean skincare products.
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What to do in Koreatown
A trove of food, culture and nightlife, you’ll want to be strategic about what you want to do in Koreatown – best visited over a minimum of two to three days. And if you’re staying for longer, check out this L.A. itinerary that takes you through city hot spots in threes.
While Asian families have been flocking here since 60s, Koreatown was only designated as such in 2010. To assume the neighbourhood is primarily Asian is actually incorrect. This revitalized community is comprised of over 50% Hispanic folks and only 35% Asian.
The epicentre of Koreatown is The Line hotel. You can’t talk about all the cool things to do in Koreatown without having a starting point and The Line is it.
Within steps of the hotel are round the clock spas, karaoke clubs and cocktail bars ripe for exploring. Like art? You’ll find impressive street murals and art deco treasures on every block.
There’s loads of hotels in Koreatown you can crash at, but The Line is arguably one of L.A.’s hippest. It began as a collaboration with revolutionary chef Roy Choi. He’s since moved on, but the creative vibe lives on.
Case in point, lifestyle brand Poketo (all the cool kids follow them on Pinterest) has set up a brick and mortar off the lobby. The vibe of the hotel itself is stylish, think of it as a mix between minimalism and Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Rooms are cozy, but efficient with spectacular views of the Hollywood Hills via floor to ceiling windows. Be sure to check out the mini bar should you be hankering for some sesame biscuits, gummy bears, condoms, a lover’s intimacy book or sleeping pills.
One of the best aspects of staying in Koreatown is the ability to gorge yourself at Korean barbecue restaurants several times a day. For truly authentic Korean barbecue, search out Ham Ji Park, a little hole in the wall that Anthony Bourdain ate at and consequently it got on people’s radar.
Pork ribs are the most popular and like most Korean BBQ joints, your meal with come with side dishes. Known as ban chan, these side dishes change all the time, but you can expect some kind of salad, veg (I had bean sprouts and broccoli in hot sauce), pickled radish and always kimchi.
Likely the most popular barbecue joint in Koreatown is Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Waits at this strip mall restaurant can stretch for two hours, but it’s worth it. Try to make a reservation or show up well before it opens at 5 pm.
You’ll feast on perfectly charred meaty morsels and will slurp back the most divine garlicky clear soup (served cold). A metal ring surrounding the BBQ is filled with corn and shredded cheese in one section, onions and peppers in another and raw egg poured in dramatically by kettle fills the last compartment.
The egg is soon scrambled, the peppers charred and melted cheese oozes over the corn. Don’t worry about dessert. You’ll be too full.
Best coffee shop in Koreatown
Coffee shops are everywhere, but in Koreatown, you’ll want to search out Caffe Bene, Korea’s answer to Starbucks. Located just off Wiltshire Blvd on Western Ave., this trendy java joint serves up the regular suspects, but what you’re after is Misugaru.
This latte type drink is a totally authentic Korean staple. Made from brown rice, sesame seeds and black beans, it’s high in protein, low in calories, caffeine free and good for digestion.
Frothy and warm, it tastes similar to malted milk, but with a bit of a toasty tang. Caffe Bene also dishes out proper Belgian waffles, interesting looking cheese bread and hot bubble tea.
Wi Spa in Koreatown
The downside to The Line is it doesn’t have it’s own Korean spa, which are a thing of wonder. Mostly 24-hours. Mostly naked. Mostly cheap. A day pass at Wi Spa in Koreatown can be had for around $25 bucks and offers a variety of tricked out saunas, relaxation rooms and pools to plunge into.
You can also get treatments done such as massage, facials, and body scrubs. Check out this piece I wrote on Wi Spa in Koreatown for an in depth look on getting naked or going home.
Start your Koreatown shopping experience at City Center Mall, a bustling mini-mall brimming with Asian goodies. Pick up fab beauty supplies (BB cream, potent $3 facial masks, etc…) or get your hair blown out for only $30.
Zion Market is a grocery store inside this mall, where you can find everything from salty squid snacks to seafood pancakes to great deals on sushi ($6.50 for an eight piece roll). Make use of your hotel room kettle and score some instant ramen and corn tea.
Best is the goldfish sweet buns a lovely elderly gent makes fresh every few minutes. I recommend going for bung pung vs. the red been paste. The light, sweet dough is crispy on the outside and a smooth vanilla custard oozes from its center.
Have you ever been to Koreatown or stayed at The Line hotel? What did you think?
I totally want to try one of those goldfish sweet buns. Yum!
I want two of those goldfish sweet buns right now!! How adorable and tasty is that. What a great LA hood.
It really was! And so untouristy. Was a great spot to get a feel for the city.
Forget the goldfish sweet buns, I want to try a Misugaru at Caffe Bene! I didn’t realize that L.A. had a Koreatown – sounds like a fun neighbourhood!
Remember the Rodney King riots in the 90s? That’s Koreatown. Since then the neighbourhood had totally been revitalized. And yes, misugaru is really awesome!
I love getting away from the touristy spots when we visit a city. This looks fun! Thanks for the recommendations.
I never take advantage of all the LA has to offer. Totally into this next trip.
I know, it’s hard to do a city justice when you’re a tourist, isn’t it?