Koreatown may be small — just 3 square miles west of downtown Los Angeles and south of Hollywood — but it offers a mighty collection of entertainment to keep tourists and locals alike entertained from dawn to dusk to dawn again. (The neighborhood takes its promise of all-day fun seriously, boasting the highest concentration of nightclubs and 24-hour restaurants and businesses in the country.) Enjoy acclaimed restaurants, quirky dessert purveyors, hipster-approved bars and coffee shops, lively karaoke rooms and so much more in the neighborhood.
Bordered officially by Western, Vermont, Beverly and Olympic streets, K-Town can be reached by multiple subway lines and is easily one of the most walkable communities in Southern California. In fact, exploring on foot is highly recommended as it’s the best way to admire the vibrant street art, signs in at least three languages, architecture that ranges from Art Deco to shiny modern monoliths, and the distinctly smoky smell of Korean BBQ.
Man a Korean BBQ Grill
Korean culinary culture is insanely diverse, celebrating everything from dumplings and kimchi to fried chicken and al bap (seasoned rice with a variety of fish roe). A good place to start your edible education is Korean barbecue, an interactive dining experience that requires table-top grills, scissors and tongs. Begin with a bottle of soju (a Korean rice alcohol) or beer. After you order your meats, a buffet of small side dishes called banchan will be brought to the table along with rice. These vary by establishment but usually include kimchi, spicy sauces, pickled veggies, and even potato salad. You can nibble on the banchan but try to hold off until the main course arrives. Then comes the carnivore's dream portion of the meal where marbled beef, seasoned pork belly, marinated chicken and various fish are wheeled out and set before you to sizzle on the grill.
There are probably a hundred delicious-smelling rooms serving sizzling steaks at all price points. But since you never forget your first, make a reservation at Park’s Barbecue. It has been pulling in K-Pop superstars, the Hollywood elite and gal-bi (beef short rib) devotees since 2003 when it was opened by Seoul transplant/chef Jenee Kim. (Bonus points for supporting a woman-owned business.)
Have the Most Epic Cheat Day
This district’s sheer number of adorable and decadent dishes, each one more Instagram-able than the last, leaves visitors wishing they had more than one stomach. There are dessert emporiums on almost every corner, hawking everything from donuts that look like pandas (California Donuts) to pastel-colored Korean soft serve swirled into wide-brimmed cones surrounded by Rice Krispies treats (Bumsan Organic Milk Bar). Snow Monster is known for their giant macaron ice cream sandwiches and boba-filled matcha lattes, horchatas and milk teas served in light bulbs and topped with spun-to order cotton candy. Eighteen types of sugary cereal (all the childhood faves plus some foreign imports like Jolly Pong) can be enjoyed in a bowl with milk, atop a pile of ice cream or blended into a milkshake at Milk Tavern. It’s also the home to boozy shakes, the unicorn crepe cake and pink cotton candy, ice cream burrito. Don’t leave this part of town without trying taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake, popular in Korea and Japan, filled most commonly with red bean paste. SomiSomi has reinvented the game by offering the sweet fish cakes with a choice of custard, Nutella, taro and, wait for it, cheddar cheese. The shop also sells puffy goldfish cones filled with soft serve.
Meditate in the Korean Pavilion Garden
Contemplate the state of the world or simply map out what you plan to eat next under a traditional green, rust and red gazebo with an upswept tile roof and stone guardians. Opened in 2006 at the corner of Irolo and Normandie and built by South Korean craftsmen, Da Wool Jung (“harmonious gathering place”) and its accompanying garden sit across the street from the bustling baseball diamond, playground and jogging track of Seoul International Park.
Sing Your Heart Out at Karaoke
There are plenty of ways to fill time between feedings including bowling (Shatto 39 Lanes) or billiards (Green Room), but in K-Town karaoke is the king of pastimes. If you don’t mind sharing the mic with strangers, join the nightly sing-a-longs at Brass Monkey, which is tucked behind Bank of America and offers prized validated parking. To get more stage time, book a private room. Soop Sok has 20, three of which hold up to 30 guests and all of which have access to high-tech disco balls, giant song books featuring Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese versions and tambourines that light up when shaken. Break Room 86, an ‘80s-themed bar with a full-time Michael Jackson impersonator, is a more trendy option inside the LINE Hotel. Its four rooms kick it old school with Atari video game systems, handheld Simon Says toys, mini-fridges and album cover décor but also offer bottle service and a fully integrated iPad-operated karaoke controls.
Splurge On a Spa Day
There are almost as many places to be pampered as there are BBQ joints. And like restaurants, many offer services 24/7 and they come in all shapes, sizes and budget levels; from the no-frills Century Day & Night Spa to the luxurious Wi Spa with its rooftop relaxation terrace, hair and nail salon, and five types of saunas including ones made of jade, salt and clay. Hollywood starlets swear by the ice-cold, freshly grated cucumber masks, milk baths and natural mineral pools offered by Beverly Hot Springs, although many residents prefer to steep in the mugwort tea pool at Olympic Spa. Be prepared for lots of nudity, including your own, as it is almost always required in gender-specific areas. Another word of warning: there’s no such thing as a light scrub in a Korean spa. You will leave red, raw and with baby-soft skin.
Get a Fix at Cool Cafés
Finding a caffeine fix is extremely easy in these parts. Alchemist Coffee Project, an industrial chic space filled with students from the nearby law school, pays homage to former tenant, Bourbon Street Café, by offering cold brew with chicory and to the neighborhood with kimchi avocado toast. They have a strong selection of non-coffee drinks and pastries. The boho design of Beau Bar — think macramé planters, a neon catchphrase on the wall, faux fur throws and a hanging cage chair — makes it the clear choice if you value social media moments and quality honey lavender lattes. Slide into Document Coffee’s long communal table to sip macchiatos or Korean teas. The shop often hosts live music, art exhibits and poetry readings. Balcony Coffee and Tea pairs Stumptown pour-overs with a homey patio. Unlike in real life, Brad Pitt, their most popular drink, coexists peacefully with the darker, bolder Angelina.
Flip Out Over Burgers
Al Cassell opened his hamburger joint in 1948 and quickly became a Los Angeles lunch counter legend famous for grinding meat daily. In 2014, Cassell’s Hamburgers was reborn on the ground floor of the Hotel Normandie, a few blocks from its original Sixth Street location, using the old wooden signs, menus, founder’s recipes and a lot of his equipment (the crossfire broiler, grinder and patty press). The antibiotic- and hormone-free beef is still ground every day. Burger time also includes fried chicken sandwiches, milkshakes, house-made pies and stiff cocktails. The restaurant opens early for a classic ‘50s breakfast and stays open late on weekends for post-karaoke sustenance.
Or if you followed Beyonce’s lead and converted to veganism, K-town also has herbivores’ burger cravings covered. Monty’s Good Burger, an itty bitty spot that always has a line, keeps it 100 percent plant based by using Impossible patties, soy ice cream, Vegenaise, non-dairy cheese, freshly squeezed lemonade and sodas made with pure cane sugar. They also use compostable serving products and make five sauces including Sriracha aioli in house.
The immaculately restored Art Deco auditorium started life as a vaudeville theater and office building in 1931 and spent a couple of decades as a cinema before being retrofitted in the ‘80s to host live entertainment (bands of all genres, comedy shows, "Star Wars"-themed burlesque revues and so on). Despite the programming changes, most of its original features have been preserved including the terrazzo paving, bright marquee, ornate lighting fixtures, murals and massive ceiling sunburst above the stage.
Order Guelaguetza’s Three Ms: Mole, Micheladas and Margaritas
While K-Town has the largest Korean community outside the motherland, more than half its population is Latino. This has led to some fantastic fusion food, most notably by chef Roy Choi whose Kogi food truck slings Korean BBQ tacos. It’s also why one of LA’s best Mexican restaurants is found within the neighborhood. Guelaguetza was opened by Oaxacan immigrants in 1994 and is now run by their children. The six types of mole, goat stew, sweet corn and chicken tamales with raisins, and tangy micheladas are probably responsible for their recent James Beard Award win. Weekends bring live music and big crowds. While you wait to be seated, snap photos of the exterior murals, including three sets of Colette Miller’s signature angel wings.
Perfect Your Swing at LA’s Largest Semi-Indoor Driving Range
This is not your grandpa’s driving range. Mostly because Aroma Spa & Sports, a state-of-the-art facility that also features a gym, day spa, barber shop, sauna and swimming pool, has constructed a four-level 150-yard range on top of a tall parking structure. A massive net cage — the bottom is green to mimic a fairway — contains balls that tee-up electronically and allows golfers to practice in real-time weather conditions while watching with awe as their Titleists soar past neighboring office buildings. Human pros and computer-aided monitoring devices give pointers.