What stands today as L.A.'s Chinatown was built in the 1930s by a well-established Chinese-American community, and the contribution of Hollywood set designers gave it a conspicuous exoticism that still exists. Even now, with over 25 non-Chinese-owned galleries dotting the landscape, the Chinese aspect—pagoda entrances, dragon motifs, temples, latticed windows, restaurants and bars with names like Hop Louie and Foo Chow—is prevalent.
Park on Broadway, and start at (1) Wonder Bakery (www.wonderbakery.com), at the corner of Broadway and Gin Ling Way. Skip the French pastries, but indulge in delicious Chinese treats: sweet egg tarts, dense coconut buns, and buns coated with "meat floss" and filled with custard.
Walk out of the bakery, past the statue of Sun Yat-Sen (father of Modern China), and into (2) Realm (425 Gin Ling Way; tel. +1 213 628 4663; www.realmhome.com), a mod housewares store. Notice the defunct neon sign at the entrance that says "Dining Room": Back in the day, this was a banquet restaurant. In the store, look up: The store's owner rescued these gorgeous painted tiles from the attic. It took three months of cleaning to uncover dragons and phoenixes from decades of smoke and grime. Note the before and after renderings of the plaza you're standing in behind the cash register.
Turn right as you exit, and check out (3) Munky King (441 Gin Ling Way; tel. +1 213 620 8787; www.munkyking.com), a boutique that sells limited-edition collector toys—some for thousands of dollars. Turn right as you exit, walk to the end of the plaza, and cross Hill Street, the perpendicular roadway. Enter the plaza opposite, walking under strands of faded red lanterns to reach Chung King Road, a pedestrian plaza parallel to Hill Street.
This is the heart of the gallery district, which showcases good, often young (some fresh out of art school), and often local, artists. Don't miss: (4) the two spaces belonging to Black Dragon Society (961 & 971 Chung King Rd.; tel. +1 213 620 0030), (5) The Happy Lion (963 Chung King Rd.; tel. +1 213 625 1360; www.thehappylion.com), (6) Telic (975 Chung King Rd.; tel. + 1 213 344 6137; www.telic.info), which features video installation art and fun monthly fundraisers (Nintendo Wii "golf tournament"), (7) Peres Projects (969 Chung King Rd.; tel. +1 213 617 1100; www.peres-projects.com), (8) Mary Goldman Gallery (932 Chung King Rd.; tel. +1 213 617 8217; www.marygoldman.com), and (9) China Art Objects (933 Chung King Rd.; tel. +1 213 613 1384). Note that galleries are typically closed Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. Retrace your steps back across Hill Street, and end your tour at (10) Via Café (451 Gin Ling Way; tel. +1 213 617 1481), a lively coffee shop that serves excellent Vietnamese food.
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