You may have heard that the hip stretch of Sawtelle Blvd. in West LA has just officially been renamed Japantown. The new christening was the reminder we needed of what a great hood this is to visit with kids, with good shopping and great eats. Plus, it’s right near Stoner Park, which boasts not only a pool but also a skate park and accessible playground. It’s a perfect summer exploration destination.

courtesy of yoshinari via flickr creative commonsphoto credit: yoshinari via Creative Commons 

Shop

Giant Robot
This whole store is devoted to Asian pop culture and art, so Toys R Us they certainly aren’t. And we mean that in the best possible way.  Each time you wander in you find an amazing assortment of publications that pique kids’ imaginations. Self published zines, unheard-of comics (not your ordinary Marvel kind) and photo books all with a cutting edge. Keep your eyes on what the tots are browsing, because some materials in the publications may not be suitable for young children. But perfectly suitable for all ages are the huge assortment of Uglydolls, Cubebots, all things Tokidoki, their superb collection of Asian stationery items, and collectible boxed figurines. Where else can you find such novelties as sippy cups masquerading as Cup O’ Noodles or Sriracha sauce?  It’s an awesome place to score unique birthday presents and back to school treasures.  GR2 Gallery (Giant Robot 2 Gallery) featuring mainly artwork is located right across the street.

2015 Sawtelle Blvd.
310-478-1819
Online: www.giantrobot.com

 little girl at Nijiya Market via Mike Liu on Flickr

photo credit: Mike Liu via Creative Commons 

Nijiya Market
You’ll want to give them an award for being the most immaculately kept Asian food market in LA, with everything neatly wrapped, organized and refrigerated. This gourmet Japanese food shop has a nicely sized organic produce selection as well as a healthy selection of brown rice blends, for those who are having a hard time convincing kids to switch from fluffy white to nutty brown. But we all know the big draw of Japanese food is the assortment of yummy and oh-so-cute snacks that wee hands won’t be able to resist. Look for one of the helpful associates to read the packages and let you in on which are better choices, and you’ll find a huge selection of items like Calbee’s Harvest Snaps or Shrimp Chips which are both baked, not fried. The deli here is also a great go-to for ready made items to grab for an Asian inspired picnic, featuring kid-friendly California rolls and potstickers, as well as numerous bento box offerings for adults.

2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #105
310-575-3300
Online: www.nijiya.com

Daiso Japan Sawtelle via Raul F on Yelp

photo credit: Raul F. via yelp 

Daiso
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could pack a store to the gills with every cute and useful tchotchke from Asia and make everything only a dollar fifty? Yup, here it is, and grab a basket on the way in because you sure aren’t coming out empty handed. Kitchenware, toys, beauty products, stationery, automotive, pet and gardening sections just to name a few, with many items featuring those uber-cute designs made only in Japan. Check out their amazing selection of craft materials, origami and air-dry clay in addition to the toy aisle, and the kiddos will go gaga over the possibilities. Seriously, at least 90% of the store is priced at $1.50, so they can go crazy.

2130 Sawtelle Blvd. #112
424-276-2882
Online: www.daisoglobal.com

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photo credit: Emi Ruzzin 

Kula
Hungry yet? The kid-friendliest conveyor belt sushi place in town is located two doors down from Daiso. Watch the little ones get excited as they see their favorites inching down the belt, as you sit in their roomy family sized booths. At $2.25 a plate, you can expand their repertoires by trying out new items. Try to aim for arrival for lunch or dinner before 5:15 p.m., because the dinner wait can be long.

2130 Sawtelle Blvd. Unit 111
310-597-4490
Online: www.kulausa.com

FuRaiBo
Looking for something a little more authentic than sushi, teriyaki and tempura? Although the kids love those, there’s more to Japanese food than rice and seaweed. Look no further, as FuRaiBo is one of the oldest and most authentic eateries on the strip. When we say authentic, we don’t mean stuffy and traditional, we mean down home, families relaxing and enjoying the type of cooking you might find on a dinner table in Japan. Everything comes on little dishes tapas style so you can try a bunch of things and see what the kids will eat. The menu comes in English and Japanese, and all their servers are helpful so you can ask lots of questions about their huge array of choices. And if it turns out that the munchkins have their mind set on sushi, teriyaki and tempura, that’s okay, they have those too, so relax and be as adventurous (or not) as you like.

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2068 Sawtelle Blvd.
310-444-1432
Online: furaiborestaurant.com

Curry House
If Denny’s merged with Coco’s and hired a Japanese chef, the result would be the Curry House. Filled with lots of families, high chairs and a fab assortment of dishes, you’ll be sure to find something to please picky palates. Try the Chicken Katsu, or the Corn Potage, and don’t miss out on the house salad— the dressing is amazing and even the most finicky eater will gobble it down, despite it being a salad. As a plus, you can also order online and dash in to pick up a quick dinner.

2130 S. Sawtelle Blvd. #200
310-479-8477
Online: curryhouse-usa.com

courtesy of Brian's Shave Ice via Yelp

photo credit: Brian’s Shave Ice via yelp

Desserts and Treats

Brian’s Shave Ice
This is no ordinary syrup over ice, but the softest powdered snow that you’ve ever touched, with a filling. Yup, filling in a snow cone! First, choose your size. Then choose your filling. We recommend the Dole Whip, only available at a few select SoCal locations like Disneyland. Then choose any of the 30 syrups available to add to your creation, and then the topping that that goes on last. The condensed milk is a favorite, but to mini chocoholics, the Ghiradelli is hard to resist. Finally, grab a table and let the little ones watch as the huge concoction gets created before their eyes. Parents may want to share with their kids as the regular size ices are big enough for two.

11301 W. Olympic Blvd. Suite 103
310-231-3450
Online: shaveicela.com

Girl enjoying cream puff at Beard Papa by Precy B via Yelp

photo credit: Precy B. via yelp 

Beard Papa’s
The yummy dessert with the weirdest name, this place is known for their amazing cream puffs. Flavors vary by day, but you can’t go wrong with the classic vanilla, which will redefine your idea of what a cream puff should be. For the youngest tots, opt for the mini puffs, but be sure to eat them all the same day as they won’t last. Take note, these are also a great alternative to cupcakes for your next party and you can get them individually wrapped in a take-out container.

2130 Sawtelle Blvd. Unit 110
310-479-6665
Online: beardpapa.com

Coco Tea
Are you hip enough to boba? These Taiwanese dessert drinks come hot or cold, and have chewy tapioca balls to munch as you sip. Order any of their teas, slushes or smoothies in combination with any of the add-ons like boba, coconut jelly or soy pudding, and you’ll have quite a filling sweet snack. If you’re in need of a quick caffeine fix, try one of the Asian inspired coffees, such as the Japanese Matcha Latte. But because most drinks are sucked through a straw, best to leave the full size boba for the bigger kids and opt for the mini-boba or jellies for the little ones. Regular size drinks are large enough to share if enjoying post-meal.

11301 W. Olympic Blvd. Suite 105
310-312-8937
Online: coco-tea.com

Play

Why not make a day out of your outing and visit nearby Stoner Park, only a few minutes away from Sawtelle Japantown and offering a wide array of activities to boot.
Stoner Park Pool via Dominique M on Yelp

photo credit: Dominique M. via yelp 

Stoner Park
A huge universally accessible playground makes this park a fun place for the littles but the shady trees and benches near the playground makes it a nice place for parents too. There is plenty of parking (watch the street cleaning hours) all around the perimeter of the park. In the early spring, a blizzard of pink petals surround the park from its many cherry blossom trees. We’ve also noticed some organized dog agility training going on towards the west side of the park on select weekends, which is always fun for little dog lovers to watch.

Stoner Skate Park
Boasting a whopping 20,500 sq. feet, this modern skate park was designed with local skaters. It’s popular with both skateboarders and scooter riders, so it can be crowded during non-school hours but we bet the kids will be glued to their seats watching what the big kids (and pros) can do.

Stoner Park Pool
Scheduled to open for the summer season in early June, this pool features swimming lessons, team sports, and a junior lifeguard program. Kids love the splash pad with slides and sprayers and parents adore the super affordable prices. The deep end is only 4.5 feet, and there are lifeguards on duty, so you can feel secure about safety. But be aware of their 1 to 1 adult to kid ratio, and rule that everyone (including parents) must have on a swimsuit to enter the premises. Prices are $3.50 adults and $1 for kids.

1835 Stoner Ave.
310-575-8286
Online: laparks.org/dos/aquatic/facility/stonerParkPool.htm

What are some of your favorites places in this newly monikered strip?

—Emi Ruzzin