Things to do in Los Angeles: Visit Olvera Street
Had I known what a great place Olvera Street was, I would have visited it a lot sooner. As I stepped into the plaza I was greeted by the sound of Mexian music and the sight of people dancing near the gazebo. A friendly, festive atmosphere permeated the entire area.
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Olvera Street is the oldest part of Los Angeles known as the “birthplace of Los Angeles.” It isn’t, but it’s close enough. Actually Los Angeles was founded in 1781 by Spanish settlers on a site southeast of Olvera Street. Olvera Street was a section near vineyards and a winery and the street was then called Vine Street. In 1877 the name of the street was changed to Olvera to honor Agustin Olvera, the county’s first judge. It attracts over 2 million tourists per year.
Located on the corner of Cesar E Chavez Avenue and Alameda Street, Olvera Street houses the city’s first church, firehouse and theatre along with a number of historic sites and residences. There are 27 historic buildings and a traditional Mexican style plaza.
Currently Olvera Street is also home to over three dozen restaurants and vendors. It’s been named by the American Planning Association as one of top Five Great Streets in the U.S. for 2015. The plaza section with the gazebo is the original center of Los Angeles. The center of activity is a narrow, brick-paved, shady pedestrian mall where some of the merchants are descended from the original vendors that opened shops when Olvera Street was first created.
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Some have criticized the authenticity of Olvera Street and call it a sanitized fabrication of Latin American culture merely to attract tourists. I can’t comment on that since I’m no expert in the culture. But I can tell you it’s well worth putting it on your things to do in Los Angeles bucket list. And while you are there, walk across Ceasar Chavez Ave to Chinatown or across Alameda Street to the historic Union Station and take in the sights there. Or walk about two blocks southwest to the iconic City Hall Building and take in the 360 degree view of Los Angeles from the observation deck. It’s open until 5:00 pm and it’s free.
Getting there. Olvera Street will come right up if you type it into Google Maps. If for some reason it doesn’t type in Union Station. It’s directly across the street and where I chose to park when I went there. There is a lot directly south of Olvera Street and one on Main Street just to the west. Parking will cost $10 – $15, but admission to Olvera Street is free.
More photos after the break…