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El Pueblo de Los Angeles
The oldest section of the city, known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Olvera Street has come to represent the rich Mexican heritage of L.A. It had a close shave with disintegration in the early 20th century, until the socialite Christine Sterling walked through in 1926. Jolted by the historic area's decay, Sterling fought to preserve key buildings and led the transformation of the street into a Mexican-American marketplace.
Today this character remains; vendors sell puppets, leather goods, sandals, serapes (woolen shawls), and handicrafts from stalls that line the center of the narrow street. The quality of what you can find ranges from Tijuana-style "junkola" (donkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers) to well-made glassware and pottery.
What to See
At the beginning of Olvera Street is The Plaza, a wonderful Mexican-style park with plenty of benches and walkways, shaded by a huge Moreton Bay fig tree. On weekends, mariachis and folkloric dance groups often perform.
Not to be missed is one of city's top sites—Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, designed by architect José Rafael Moneo.
Two annual events particularly worth seeing: the Blessing of the Animals and Las Posadas. On the Saturday before Easter, Angelenos bring their pets (not just dogs and cats, but horses, pigs, cows, birds, hamsters) to be blessed by a priest.
For Las Posadas (every night between December 16 and 24), merchants and visitors parade up and down the street, led by children dressed as angels, to commemorate Mary and Joseph's search for shelter on Christmas Eve.
Where to Eat
La Luz del Dia. The most authentic Mexican food is at La Luz del Dia, which has traditional favorites such as chiles rellenos and pickled cactus, as well as handmade tortillas patted out in a practiced rhythm by the women behind the counter. W-1 Olvera St., Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90012. 213/628–7495.
La Golondrina. Another delicious option, La Golondrina, midblock, has a delightful patio, and is located in the Pelanconi House, built in 1855, and was the first brick building in Los Angeles. W-17 Olvera St., Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90012. 213/628–4349.
This neighborhood is a few blocks north of Union Station, near the intersection of North Main Street and East Cesar Chavez Avenue. Olvera Street is just off Cesar Chavez Avenue.
Best Time to Go
To see Olvera Street at its quietest, visit late on a weekday afternoon, when long shadows heighten the romantic feeling of the passageway.
Olvera Street Visitors Center. For information, stop by the Olvera Street Visitors Center, in the Sepulveda House, a Victorian building built in 1887 as a hotel and boardinghouse. The center is open weekdays and weekends 9–4. Free hour-long walking tours leave here at 10, 11, and noon Tuesday through Saturday. 622 N. Main St., Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90012. 213/628–1274. www.lasangelitas.org.
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