In 1781, 44 settlers of mixed Spanish, Indian, and African descent staked out turf for the pueblo that would become Los Angeles. Today, the city's birthplace is a living monument: Olvera Street, a block-long open-air market reminiscent of a 19th-century Mexican plaza.
Olvera Street is the site of the oldest existing residence in Los Angeles, the 1818 Avila Adobe (now a museum); the city's first Mexican restaurant, La Golondrina Cafe; and many stores run by descendants of the original owners, including Veleria Gonzalez Candles, Casa Bernal, and Olverita's Village.
Stroll north on Olvera from its central plaza and browse massive piles of huaraches (sandals), supersize sombreros, and splashy knock-off handbags. Stop to enjoy a serenade from Mexican musicians, and don't miss the shops that sell artisan goods such as hand-dipped candles, ceramics, and embroidered dresses.
A whiff of devilishly caloric, cream-filled pastry beckons you to Mr. Churro Bakery and Restaurant, while the sugary jamoncillo (a sort of milk fudge) at Lupe's Candy Shop or Rudy's Mexican Candy is worth the 75 cents. And for a real taste of Mexico, try Cielito Lindo's famous taquitos with guacamole. Just like Olvera Street, these tightly rolled tortillas—stuffed with meat, then fried—are filled with history: They are made according to the original 1934 recipe of founder Aurora Guerrero.
WHERE IT IS Downtown Los Angeles, close to Union Station, Japantown, city hall, and Chinatown.
TIP Docents offer group tours Tuesday to Saturday each hour from 10 a.m. until noon.
WHEN TO GO The street blossoms with fiestas almost every month. From September 10 to 12, Olvera Street celebrates Mexican Independence Day (some events take place on September 16). On November 1 and 2, the Day of the Dead is observed. For more information on events, contact El Pueblo de Los Angeles Visitor Center at (213) 628-1274 or visit www.olvera-street.com.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in September 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.