The oldest section of the city, known as El Pueblo de Los Angeles, represents 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 Olvera Street into a Mexican-American marketplace. Today this character remains; vendors sell puppets, leather goods, sandals,
and woolen shawls from stalls that line the center of the narrow street. You can find everything from donkey-shape salt and pepper shakers to gorgeous glassware and pottery.
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, mariachi bands and folkloric dance groups 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. For information, stop by the Olvera Street Visitors Center at 622 N. Main Street, a Victorian built in 1887 as a hotel and boardinghouse. The center is open weekdays and weekends 9 to 4. Free hour-long walking tours leave here at 10, 11, and noon Tuesday to Saturday.