Your Destination Guide to Los Angeles

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Chinatown

Chinatown
Chinatown

© Omar Bárcena

Strewn with paper lanterns, glowing neon lights, and sweeping rooflines, Chinatown Los Angeles is a kaleidoscopic spectacle just a few miles northeast of downtown. The third largest of its kind in the U.S., the neighborhood dates to the 19th century when it was located near the present-day Union Station. Though a thriving district until 1910, the area became blighted by corruption and was eventually vacated to make way for the expansion of Union Station. In 1938, a revitalization effort referred to as "New Chinatown" re-situated the neighborhood about a mile from its original site. As part of this reincarnation, Hollywood set designers constructed a new Central Plaza, fabricating a dramatic stage that reflects a flamboyant interpretation of Shanghai architecture.

Today, Chinatown functions as a vibrant collage of curio shops, eateries, art galleries, independent boutiques, and bustling culture. Often visitors are treated to authentic Chinese experiences — perhaps some roast duck dangling in a shop window, an early morning session of tai chi, contortionists performing in the streets, or a flavorful Dim Sum at the Empress Pavilion. Walking tours are a convenient way to hit the highlights such as the Taoist Chua Thien Hau Temple, the Seven Star Cavern Wishing Well, the Chinese American Museum, and the Phoenix Bakery. Meanwhile, simply wandering through Chinatown's shops can be entertaining. With an assortment of offerings including clothing, crafts, jewelry, herbs, and chinaware, local retailers provide plenty to explore.

But inside the towering West Gate and behind many a winged façade lies more than your typical Chinatown fare. In recent years the area has seen an influx of contemporary western art galleries, now numbering over 30 in total. Hip boutiques and nightclubs are simultaneously shaping its turf into a trendy destination.

Chinatown is also host to a myriad of events. These range from its annual Golden Dragon Chinese New Year Parade and the Mid Autumn Moon Festival to quarterly Art Walks and informal block parties. With its exotic charisma and au courant vitality, Chinatown is a refreshing retreat from the prosaic.

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