The Ultimate K-Pop Guide to Los Angeles
From what to see to where to eat and more, here are the best activities in LA for the K-pop-obsessed.
While Seoul is undoubtedly the best place to pilgrimage if you’re a K-pop fan, the destination is half a world away for most Americans. But Los Angeles isn’t. This California city is home to the world’s largest Korean diaspora community and the best Koreatown in the US. And, because of its role in the domestic and international music industries, LA has hosted many a visiting K-pop group. Thus the city has restaurants, beaches, and Instagrammable alleys where idols have taken selfies. So whether you’re a K-pop stan who lives in LA full-time and has yet to take advantage of the city’s many offerings or a visitor, here is an itinerary featuring some of the best activities for the K-pop-obsessed.
See a Korean movie or exhibition
If you’re a K-pop stan, odds are you’re also interested in the culture from which it originates. If that’s the case, there are plenty of LA spots to check out, even if they aren’t directly related to K-pop. CJ CGV, Korea’s largest multiplex cinema chain, has a few branches in the US, including ones in Koreatown and Orange County’s Buena Park. In addition to the latest Hollywood blockbusters, the CGV locations offer a sampling of recent Korean releases. Check out what’s playing.
The Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles (KCCLA), operated by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, regularly hosts events and exhibitions designed to educate the general public about Korean culture, including K-pop. If you’d like to expand your understanding not only of K-pop but of the culture it comes out of, then the KCCLA is a must-visit.
Browse Koreatown’s many K-pop music shops
Even though hallyu has been crashing onto US shores for decades, it’s still relatively rare to find shops that cater to K-pop fan communities. LA’s K-pop-themed stores are glorious exceptions, offering entire businesses devoted to selling K-pop albums, photocards, posters, pillows, keychains, magazines, and more. In Koreatown, Music Plaza, Choice Music, K-Pop Music Town, and KStar Music LA are all great options, and you can visit them in one afternoon.
Choice Music, located on the third floor of the Koreatown Galleria, is excellent if you are looking for albums from less popular groups. Music Plaza, located in the Koreatown Plaza Mall, which K-Town native Dumbfoundead recommends for its food court, has a more expansive in-store collection and is a must if you’re looking for older albums in addition to recent releases. K-Pop Music Town, located on the second floor of Koreatown’s Madang Mall, is worth a visit if you are a BTS fan looking for BT21 merch and couldn’t find what you wanted at the Line Friends store in Hollywood. Relative newcomer KStar Music LA, located in City Center Mall, sells mostly recent, popular K-pop albums, focusing instead on stocking its shelves with official and unofficial merch, including t-shirts, stationery, socks, pillows, and stuffies.
Of note, many of these shops have more expansive offerings via their online stores, and if you plan ahead, you can pick up purchases during your visit to a shop.
Attend a cupsleeve cafe or K-pop dance class
While it can be fun to do K-pop activities solo, there’s nothing quite like hanging out with other people who share your obsession. You can make new friends who love the same group or idol as you at one of the many fan-run events that are a constant in Los Angeles. The most consistent option is a cupsleeve event, which is a themed cafe organized by fans, usually around an idol’s birthday or a group’s “comeback” or anniversary. The events are regularly held at local boba shops or cafes, including Macchiato in Pasadena, Play KPop Cafe in Little Tokyo, and R&B Tea Pasadena, and usually host vendors selling a variety of fan-made merch. hello82 LA, a self-described “K-pop fan’s playground” in the Fairfax District, also hosts cupsleeve and photocard-trading events for K-pop fans.
If you’re not a fan of boba, try a K-pop choreography dance class. Euphoria Dance offers dance class options most weekends in Irvine and Pasadena. Each class focuses on a different K-pop song’s choreography. Recent classes have learned choreography from NewJeans’ “Cookie,” Stray Kids’ “Case 143," and BTS’ “Idol." Check out Cali K-pop Weekly, an Instagram account that tracks K-pop events happening across the state, for upcoming fan activities and add one to your itinerary.
Sing K-pop songs at a noraebang
Noraebang, literally meaning “song room,” is a lifestyle in Korea where teens and adults alike pile into often closet-sized karaoke spaces to belt out ballads. The Korean-style karaoke tradition has made it to the US, where people can pay by the hour to sing their favorite K-pop songs in the privacy of their own vestibule. When it comes to vibes, it’s hard to beat Pharaoh Karaoke Lounge; the noraebang uses lasers, LED strobes, and plenty of neon to set the party mood. With 34 rooms of various sizes and more than 4,000 songs, it’s a good spot for groups, even if the alcohol-inclusive price packages are a bit expensive. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, Young Dong Noraebang, Rosen Karaoke, and Akko Karaoke all also rock.
Fan-chant at a K-pop concert
For understandable reasons, the most coveted K-pop events tend to be concerts. There’s nothing quite like seeing your favorite group perform among a sea of other fans. Getting tickets to a K-pop concert is not for the faint of heart and usually happens far ahead of time by fighting with Ticketmaster and losing, even when you successfully secure tickets. That said, last-minute tickets are almost always available via the controversial ticket marketplace or the only slightly-less controversial resale sites, such as StubHub or SeatGeek. To browse upcoming K-pop concert options, check out K-Play! Fest’s calendar of upcoming K-pop concerts in the US, including in Los Angeles.
There’s always KCON, which offers a lot of bang for your won, as they say. The K-themed festival launched in Los Angeles in 2012 and has grown to include events across 10 countries. The LA incarnation attracts some of K-pop’s biggest stars. For example, last year’s August event included performances from Stray Kids, ATEEZ, Loona, ENHYPEN, NCT Dream, and The Boyz.
Eat all the Korean food
Los Angeles boasts some of the best Korean eateries in the entire country. If you're in Koreatown, in particular, the options may seem infinite. If you're looking for a casual, inexpensive spot for dinner in K-Town, check out Dan Sung Sa. The smoky tavern specializes in "anju," also known as food served with alcohol, and offers dozens of Korean street food options, such as spicy tteokbokki and a smorgasbord of skewered meat and seafood. And, yes, there is soju and makgeolli. Elsewhere in K-Town, Baekjeong offers the traditional Korean BBQ experience, albeit at a higher price point and a longer wait. If you're looking for something quick and quality, try one of BCD Tofu House's six locations in LA. Some restaurants have become famous for the K-pop stars who have visited and can be fun to visit for that reason. If you're a BTS fan, try Ahgassi Gopchang in Koreatown.
If you're in the mood for mul naengmyeon, the delicious cold noodle soup, consider venturing to Mo Ran Gak in Garden Grove. The restaurant, which also does K-BBQ, makes its North Korean-style noodles entirely from scratch and has vegetarian options. It's a bit farther afield for a tourist, but you can stop at The Source on the way, which is home to one of the aforementioned CGV cinemas, a K-Pop Music Music Town location, Daiso-like shop K-Place, and EKO Karaoke.
End your K-pop-filled day with dessert by heading to one of SomiSomi's three LA locations for a fish-shaped waffle cone. Filled with your choice of filling, including the traditional red bean, and topped with Korean-inspired soft-serve ice cream, the treat is an aesthetic and delicious take on the classic bungeoppang pastry. If you want to try bingsu, Korean shaved ice with condensed milk, check out Sul & Beans or Anko in Koreatown or Oakobing in Koreatown or Pasadena.