There are many things to do with kids in LA's Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is one of only three official Japantowns within the United States. And with the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, it’s important for families to re-visit the past as we navigate the present and prepare for the future. Little Tokyo offers many ways for families to learn about a culture they may not be familiar with, have some fun, and gain some knowledge.

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There are many things to do with kids in LA's Little Tokyo

East West Players
120 Judge Aiso St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

The East West Players is “the nation’s premier Asian American Theatre.” It was established in 1965 and since then has “premiered more than 100 plays and musicals about the Asian Pacific American experience.” Check the website for their schedule of upcoming performances.

Japanese American National Museum
100 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

A visit to the Japanese American National Museum provides families with a rich cultural experience. The mission of the Museum is “to promote understanding and appreciation of American’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.” It is in fact the largest museum in the United States that is dedicated to sharing the experience of those with Japanese ancestry. Throughout the year, the Museum also hosts free Family Festivals. (The next one is happening on Sunday, January 8th from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm and will celebrate the Year of the Rooster). General admission is $10 for adults, $6 for children 6-17, and children 5 and younger are free.

James Irvine Japanese Garden
244 S. San Pedro St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

A visit to the James Irvine Japanese Garden is guaranteed to give you a sense of serenity and peace that may be lacking in your usual day-to-day lives. The Garden is also known as Seiryu-en or “Garden of the Clear Stream.” You can visit this garden free of charge all year round. It was designed in the Zen tradition of Kyoto’s famous gardens. You’ll find a 170 foot cascading stream, cedar bridges, stone lanterns, and a variety of plants, flowers, and streams. The Garden is generally open Tuesday through Friday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Call ahead to check weekend schedules as it is commonly used for weddings and other special events. Also, be sure to check the calendar of events for the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. They offer a variety of programs including a Children’s Workshop on December 28th. Its location includes a variety of spaces, including the James Irvine Japanese Garden, a Gallery, as well as the Japanese American National War Memorial Court — a site that honors the Japanese American soldiers who died in service during America’s wars.  

Little Tokyo Branch Library
203 S. Los Angeles St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

While you’re in Little Tokyo, make sure to stop by and visit the Little Tokyo Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library System. This branch hosts a variety of special events for library patrons including children’s story times, teen game nights, crafts, and more. (In February, you can participate in Origami for Teens and Young at Heart). And if your kids are interested, you’ll find a large selection of Manga here. The library is closed on Sundays.

Go For Broke National Education Center
355 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

Families can visit the new interpretive exhibit titled The Defining Courage Experience as part of the Go For Broke National Education Center. Visitors have the chance to learn about the Japanese American experience during World War II in a very hands-on, experience-based way. The Go For Broke Monument is a moving tribute to the brave Japanese American soldiers who fought in World War II. There are more than 16,000 names engraved on the black granite monument. (While there is an admission fee to visit the Go For Broke Education Center, a visit to the Go For Broke Monument is always free).

Bowling at XLanes LA
333 Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA 90013

At XLanes LA, families can enjoy bowling (16 lanes), an arcade with 80 different games, 9 billiard tables, and Karaoke. In addition to their dining options, check out their Kids Packages. For children 12 and under, you’ll receive 2 hours of bowling, shoe rentals, and buffet. These packages work best for larger groups (they require a minimum of 20 people, so if you’re hosting a birthday gathering or have family in town for the holidays, this may be a good option).

Weller Court Shopping Center
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

The Weller Court Shopping Center is a multi-level shopping center with shops and restaurants. Children will also be intrigued to see the memorial to Space Shuttle Challenger astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka. The Memorial is a 1/10th scale model of the Space Shuttle Challenger and stands 27 feet high. (Mr. Onizuka was one of seven astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff in 1986).  

Home is Little Tokyo Mural
632 E. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA

As you stroll through Little Tokyo, make sure to stop and admire Tony Osumi’s mural Home is Little Tokyo. It was painted in 2005 and measures 16 feet by 40 feet. The mural depicts Little Tokyo’s more than hundred-year history. The mural shows a festive street scene, complete with hanging lanterns, dancing, and more.

Japanese Village Plaza
335 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA

You’ll find many shopping and dining options at Japanese Village Plaza. You can sample traditional Japanese food, pick up some gift items (for yourself or others), and find speciality shops offering items you couldn’t find anywhere else. Be sure to stop in at Monkey Pants, offering clothing items for babies and young children that reflect Japanese design and fashion. Throughout the year, the Japanese Village Plaza also hosts a variety of special events

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

There are 40,000 square feet to explore in what was once a police car warehouse. (The current facility was renovated by the famous architect Frank Gehry). If you don’t consider yourself an art expert, you’ll be happy to know that free Exhibition Highlight Tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm. Tours are about 45-minutes in length. Observing contemporary art generally leads to some great discussions with children, including What defines art? and Who decides what is museum worthy? General admission is $15 for both downtown locations and free for children 12 and under. (The Museum is closed on Tuesdays).

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Little Tokyo Historic District
1st St. (between Judge John Aiso St. and Alameda), Los Angeles, CA

This stretch of 1st Street was designated a National Historic Landmark District back in 1995. You’ll find many historic buildings and unique examples of architecture here. In addition, if you look down at the sidewalk you’ll see a timeline of the community’s history embedded into the cement.

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Wendy Kennar (316 Posts)

Wendy is a freelance writer who finds inspiration in her eight-year-old son and from her experiences from her twelve-year teaching career. Her writing has appeared in several publications and anthologies, both in print and online. She prefers sunflowers to roses and thinks chocolate is okay at any meal. You can find her at wendykennar.com.


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