The “unwalkable” city’s most walkable street
An Aztec dancer texts on her smart phone between performances; tourists ride stuffed burros, waving sombreros to the folks back home; luche libre masks compete for shoppers’ attention with piñatas, Day-Glo guitars and Day of the Dead skeletons. Strolling mariachi musicians work the crowds, enchiladas rancheras and spicy shrimp burritos beckon from sidewalk cantinas. A bustling marketplace meant to evoke romantic “Old Los Angeles”, Olvera Street is the recreated heart of the California dream.
Laid out near the site of the 1781 founding of Los Angeles, Olvera Street was named after Augustin Olvera, the first Superior Court Judge of Los Angeles and is a California State historic Landmark. Just a few steps away from Union Station, Olvera Street is easily accessible by Metro Rail and the MetrokLink commuter trains. It’s a family-friendly, car-free promenade that draws tourists and locals with its mix of kitsch and culture, Catholicism and California history. Lining this short, shaded alley are street vendor stalls, museums, restaurants and adobe homes that celebrate the Mexican heritage of Los Angeles.
Between bites of your last taquito and your first churro --- fried pastry dough rolled in sugar and cinnamon – drop by the Avila Adobe, the oldest surviving residence in Los Angeles. Its roof is sealed with tar from the LaBrea tar pits, and it’s three-foot thick adobe walls are a cooling refuge in summer. On the other side of Olvera Street, you’ll find America Tropical, the politically controversial mural by David Siqueiros that was painted over by indignant city fathers in 1937, and recently resorted to its provocative glory by the City of LA, in collaboration with the Getty Trust. An interpretive center puts the mural into social and artistic context. Admission is free. Two other noteworthy museums at the top of Olvera Street are the Chinese-American Museum, celebrating the culture and contributions of Chinese-Americans and the Old Plaza Firehouse, which evokes the history of horse-drawn firefighting in L.A. (We wonder what the response times were like back in the traffic-free 1890s).
Round out your day on Olvera Street with a handful of cactus candy from a Mexican candy maker who’s been in business since 1940, then greet the sunset with a margarita at Casa La Golondrina restaurant, located in LA’s oldest brick house. It’s often jammed with local politicos schmoozing and fundraising, so it may be your best opportunity to complain to your city council members while they’re in a mellow mood.
For more Olvera street insider tips, check out Day Eleven in L.A. Adventures, the first guidebook to touring Los Angeles by rail.