Heading to Los Angeles' Chinatown? Use this as your go-to guide for shopping—from unique art-inspired boutiques to old school neighborhood shops—we've got you covered. Unlike nearby nabes such as Highland Park, Echo Park and Los Feliz, Chinatown is an LA hub that you may need help discovering. Walk through the historic streets and see it like a local with this guide to the best shops—so that you can bypass taking home a pet turtle sold by random street vendors.
RECOMMENDED: Chinatown neighborhood guide
Half art gallery, half boutique, this hybrid design store stocks merchandise from local artists on the first floor and runs an exhibition (that rotates every month or two) on the second. Walking through the gallery space, owner Robert Apodaca's background in architecture is prevalent through his eye for contemporary and edgy art and design pieces. The space is stocked with jewelry, accessories, furniture, home ware and unique hand-made objects. Browse for exclusive items made for Fifth Floor—such as a tree stump cat scratcher, Sewn Machine throw pillows and a Hug Machine chair (a handmade Windsor chair). Stand out pieces include ceramic crushed cups that look like trashed plastic cups and the chunky statement necklaces made by LA-based artists.
One of the original stores in LA's Chinatown this mainstay, with its iconic neon storefront, remains center court at Old Chinatown Central Plaza. Opened in 1938 by K.G. Louie, the traditional Chinese gifts, art and crockery store is still owned and operated by three generations of the Louie family. Browse through the rather dusty store for treasures such as Chinese cookbooks, traditional jewelry and furniture as well as vintage goods such as Chinese tea sets, silverware and porcelain wares.
Tastemaker Wendy Yao packs her boutique with books, zines, graphic novels, mixtapes, art and other treasures you're not likely to find elsewhere in LA. The clothing selection includes cult brands like Opening Ceremony, Bless and Slow & Steady Wins the Race (most of which is also available at Ooga Booga's online shop). Be sure to follow the stairs up to the second floor when you arrive—the tiny shop is well-hidden enough to prevent just any old shmo from stumbling in off the street.
Be transported to China through this dusty store in the heart of Old Chinatown Central Plaza. Find unique gifts here, such as the glass case with vintage daggers and other collectible items, though the real diamond in the rough is toward the back of the store. Skip past the heaps of clothing and accessories and head straight to the back row of clothing in the far right corner. Here you will find a treasure trove of traditional vintage Chinese dresses packed tightly together on the rack as well as $5 Chinese sandals—perfect for those looking to take a piece of this neighborhood home.
When looking for sophisticated housewares, books and gifts, stop into this contemporary design store filled with Asian-inspired home objects and accessories. The shop stands in the same space that first opened in 1934 as a Chinese restaurant and bar and later a cafe frequented by punk bands in the '70s. Opened in 2004 as part of Chinatown's revitalization, the airy store is a cool place to retreat from the bustling streets. Browse the bookcases in the back for titles on mah-jong, sake, gardening, Kama Sutra and traveling.
As art critic, curator and editor of the Coagula Art Journal since 1992, Mat Gleason certainly knows a thing or two about the LA art scene. The 2012 opening of this contemporary exhibition and performance space in Chinatown has been an underground sensation, shooting a fearless blast of energy into a sometimes-tired scene. Exhibition openings are followed by stand-up comedy nights, where funny folks perform in the hip venue space, sometimes using the art on the walls as fodder for their act. (It goes without saying, brave artists show here!)
Enter this music store decked out with guitars, namely Caraya Guitars, for a breath of fresh air from the neighboring shops in Old Chinatown's Central Plaza. Classical and electronic guitars hang from the walls among other instruments including banjos, drums, erhu, dulcimer, mandolins, classical and electric violins, ukuleles and Chinese instruments such as the Chinese Zither. Just a beginner? The shop offers pro guitar lessons by Stephen Jones, director of guitar studies at Pasadena City College ($24/two hours).
Lined with vibrant red Chinese lanterns and stacked with traditional Chinese hats, the storefront at this gift shop may seem overwhelming. Step inside and you’re greeted with friendly staff (who speak English) and aisles lined with cheesy, cultural chachskies. The kitschy store offers wholesale and retail products including traditional Chinese knickknacks such as parasols, fans, feng shui products, lucky plants, party accessories and mini figurines of Chinese symbolism. Geared toward tourists to the neighborhood, this is your one-stop-shop for souvenirs and Chinatown trinkets.