Home Away from Home: An International Student Guide to Los Angeles

American Collegiate LA
Whittier College
culture shock
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By Matt Killorin
Last updated on February 20, 2024

International students, discover and explore the vibrant neighborhoods of California’s largest city.

The taco is one of the most popular foods in Los Angeles — more than 4,000 taco trucks are registered in LA. It’s also a great metaphor for a city of indigenous and Latin American roots that has become home to communities from all over the globe. From Roy Choi’s Korean BBQ fusion to murgh malai tikka folded on a naan tortilla, LA’s tacos and its neighborhoods combine the new and the familiar in ways that are always interesting.

For international students studying in LA, there are hundreds of neighborhoods with distinct identities in which to try something new, and for most students, there is also a place in Los Angeles to find a little piece of home. 

International Neighborhoods in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has the second-largest city population in the United States, with 3.8 million people divided among 272 neighborhoods. LA is often described as sprawling and difficult to navigate without a car, but the city has a robust Metro system consisting of subways, light rail, buses, and shuttles that can get you just about anywhere if you plan correctly. 

That includes many of the ethnically diverse neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles. International students from Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and just about everywhere can find foods, events, places of worship, and other touches of the familiar.

Alternatively, students can also spend time exploring new cuisines, cultures, and communities without leaving the city limits. The following neighborhoods are great for trying something new for the first time — and if they represent the country or area from which you came to Los Angeles — they can also be the antidote to homesickness

Boyle Heights

Students interested in Latinx and Hispanic activists and community leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and their role in civil rights history will enjoy exploring the murals, plazas, and annual celebrations of Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights is a vibrant area that plays a vital role in Chicano culture — from the Chicano Arts Movement to famous Spanish Colonial churches and architecture to delectable Mexican and Latino food options. Stop in Mariachi Plaza to admire the murals and the statue of the “mother of ranchera music,” Lucha Reyes, and grab an agua fresca or a burrito at a nearby restaurant.   

Cambodia Town

Cambodia Town in Long Beach, California, claims to have the largest concentration of Cambodian people outside Cambodia (however, that honor probably goes to Vietnam). Regardless, Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population in the United States, and the approximately mile-long stretch of businesses, restaurants, and clothing stores calls itself a little slice of Cambodia, the only place where you can “get a pound of mung beans, a cup of freshly pressed sugar cane juice, and a handmade dress in one outing.” 

An annual Cambodian New Year’s celebration brings visitors from far to participate in dancing, parade, food, and other cultural activities during mid-April. 


When people think of Chinatown in California, they likely first picture San Francisco’s vibrant food and cultural scene; however, in Chinatown LA, there are lots to discover between East Gate and the Pagoda-style buildings that line Central Plaza. Absorb the history within the well-preserved 18th century Daoist Thien Hau Temple, visit the Chinese American Museum (housed within the last surviving structure of LA’s original Chinatown), or, if you are craving some elevated food from home, try the Far East Plaza for a mix of old and new flavors.  


Located just west of downtown, Historic Filipinotown — nicknamed HiFi — is considered one of LA’s hippest and most authentic neighborhoods. Representing its Filipino cultural heritage and the cultural aesthetic of LA, Filipinotown has attractive food options, both old-world and fusion, situated among some of its newest AAPI landmarks. Visit the largest Filipino mural in the US, then hop on a jeepney to the Temple Seafood Market as you tour what Time Out called, in 2019, the fifth-coolest neighborhood in the world.   


Koreatown — or K-Town — has more large malls than any other similar-sized space in America, including Koreatown Plaza, where you are sure to find whatever you are missing most from home, from beauty products to Bungeobbang. If you are craving barbeque, you are in luck: K-Town LA has arguably some of the best Korean barbeque in the United States, ranging from fine-dining fare to street food stalls

Koreatown also has a bustling nightlife with a mix of Eastern and Western cultures where people come to sing, dance, eat, and drink. 

Leimert Park Village 

One of the United States’ nine historic Black neighborhoods celebrating Black excellence, Leimert Park Village is an area where international students can experience African American and African diaspora culture and learn about their important roles in American civil rights history. In addition to its cultural significance, the area boasts several Black-owned businesses, restaurants, and plaza vendor booths—many selling African and African-inspired clothing, food, and products—at which students can shop and eat. Plus, there are a lot of opportunities to learn, such as an art walk, a stop by the art deco Vision Theatre, or a visit to the California Jazz & Blues Museum.

Little Armenia

Little Armenia is the area of East Hollywood just south of Thai Town and features an Armenian Genocide Memorial Square at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue. While the Armenian influence may be fleeting, murals, small stores and tasty restaurants, and places of worship (such as St. Garabed, located opposite the community’s Armenian school) show evidence of a community that has been growing since fleeing persecution and genocide in the early part of the 20th century.  

Little Bangladesh

Designated in 2010, Little Bangladesh is one of the newest and smallest neighborhoods in LA, encompassing just a four-block area along 3rd Street. Small is mighty, though — its authentic and long-standing restaurants and markets are favorites to many Los Angelinos who love biryanis, fish curries, and roshogolla. Each year in May, the Bangladesh Unity Federation of Los Angles (BUFLA.org) hosts a parade celebrating Bangladeshi independence featuring food, games, music, and dancing. 

Little Ethiopia 

Get your doro wot, kitfo, and awaze tibs on Fairfax Avenue between W. Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive in an area known as Little Ethiopia. Los Angeles boasts the second-largest concentration of Ethiopians in the United States (DC has the largest), and there are plenty of opportunities in Little Ethiopia to find good coffee and reminders of Addis Ababa when you miss home. 

Little Tokyo

The Little Tokyo Historic District, which consists of approximately five blocks downtown, was founded almost 150 years ago and is a testament to Japanese Americans’ long-standing roots in LA. Many cultural and community events occur in this centralized area of cultural importance in the US city with the second-highest population of Japanese Americans (Honolulu is first), including Nisei Week. LA’s Nisei Week festivities, held in mid-August, include car shows, parades, drum performances, food, and more. This popular neighborhood also offers bars, restaurants, and museums year-round for students to explore. 

Olvera Street

Olvera Street is the oldest area of Los Angeles, with roots back to 1781 when the city was founded. El Pueblo de Los Angeles, located within the Olvera Street area, celebrates the city’s multiethnic history, which began with 44 brave pioneers of African, European, and Native American descent. You can find free museums and historic buildings within the landmark plaza corridor, such as Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, the oldest church in LA. Olvera Street also boasts one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants in beautifully decorated plazas. 

Persian Square/Little Persia 

Welcome to Tehrangeles! Los Angeles became a refuge for many fleeing the Ayatollah after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The area between Wilshire and Pico along Westwood Boulevard — a short distance from campus for UCLA and American Collegiate, Los Angeles students — is a haven for Iranian restaurants and cafes. From pizza to roll-ups, sandwiches, lamb, and specialty desserts, the Persian Square area has something for everyone at student-friendly prices.    


If you often crave a perfect pastrami sandwich and/or a half-sour pickle, the Pico-Robertson restaurant row should be able to solve your dilemma. The well-known Jewish neighborhood has dozens of Kosher options for a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner to explore that all students would enjoy. For Jewish students studying in Los Angeles, several services are available in the Pico-Roberston area, including synagogues and places of worship, supermarkets, and other community resources. 

Sawtelle Japantown/Little Osaka

Formerly known as Little Osaka, the West Los Angeles neighborhood centered around Sawtelle Boulevard is one of California’s first areas of Japanese settlement, and today is a robust cultural center for Japanese Americans. You can still see early signs of the agricultural community at Hashimoto Nursery and the West Los Angeles Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple — both landmarks more than 90 years old. The West LA temple hosts events and services all year, including the popular Obon Festival in July, and several of the city’s best restaurants are located in the Sawtelle Japantown area.

Thai Town

Spanning six blocks in East Hollywood, Thai Town — the only such named area in the USA — is marked by two glass and tile spirit houses colorfully decorated with garlands, gifts, and other mementos from tourists and visitors. More Thai people live in Los Angeles than in any other city outside of Thailand, and the Thai New Year/Songkran Festival brings many people of all different cultures to Thai Town to celebrate. And, of course, don’t forget to stop into Thai Town’s markets, restaurants, and clubs for an authentic Thai experience. 

Your US University Can Help

No matter what you are looking for at your university in Los Angeles — from a place to worship with like-minded people to recommendations on where to bring your parents when they come to town — there is someone on campus whose job it is to help you. 

International students studying at American Collegiate, Los Angeles in the Westwood Village area have full access to campus support services at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension, including housing and career services. The housing team can also help you navigate Los Angeles and is the perfect resource when planning a trip on public transportation or if you are looking for more information about attractions such as beaches or amusement parks. 

Whittier College, located in Whittier, California, a small town minutes east of Los Angeles, also has several available resources to help you feel at home at university in LA. The Office of Student Affairs is a great place to start when looking for college-sponsored events and day trips into LA. Whittier also offers access to public transportation TAP cards to get around LA and needs-based assistance for qualifying students.

Not far from Los Angeles in beautiful Malibu, Pepperdine University’s oceanfront campus creates an unforgettable setting for international students to live and study. International graduate business students interested in entertainment industry internships and networking can pursue “only in Southern California” professional development opportunities at employers including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, and Walt Disney Co., among many other powerhouse firms. 

Los Angeles is a big city, and it can feel intimidating, but once you get out to explore the city, you will find there is a lot to discover. Don’t forget to connect with student services before you embark on your trek through the neighborhoods of LA for travel tips, discount opportunities, and must-see places. 

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