If you are visiting Los Angeles and want to take a breather from the theme parks and beaches, you can add a little color to your trip by visiting Olvera Street. You’ll bring some culture and history lessons to your journey, all by hopping out the doors of Union Station into the “birthplace of Los Angeles.”
Olvera Street and its surrounding areas offer many small free museums, shopping, restaurants and music. Set in a traffic-free historic district, you can wander about at your own pace, which makes Olvera Street a great budget-friendly diversion in between visiting Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood. Olvera Street is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 6–8 p.m. (8–10 p.m. on weekends).
The tree-lined Mexican Marketplace is filled with open-air shops and street vendors selling souvenirs, treats, art and toys. Your kids will love shopping for mini accordions, guitars or colorful ponchos and Mexican fiesta dresses. You’ll enjoy seeing the piñatas, bags, wallets and sombreros for sale. It’s like saving you a trip to Mexico!
All of that sightseeing can make you hungry, so it’s a good thing there are a number of Mexican restaurants from quick-service, no-frills counters to sit-down, table-service restaurants all on Olvera Street. We had a long time before our next train, so we chose to relax and eat on the shady porch of La Golondrina Café, a table-service restaurant set in the first brick building of L.A. Our food (shrimp tacos and chicken enchiladas) was very tasty. Another restaurant bragged of having the best carne asada fries in L.A. We did not even know those were a thing, but it turns out they are a thing in L.A., and those are some of the types of foods you can find on Olvera Street (along with traditional tamales and tacos and churros).
The Spanish King Carlos III ordered the building of pueblos to support his armies. That is how the city of Los Angeles was born in 1781, located near two missions. You can wander into the oldest house still standing in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe (built in 1818), which is right on Olvera Street, amid the shops. While there, you can see furnished rooms of the house and watch a video on how the city was formed. While on Olvera Street, you can also see an 1800s boarding house in the Sepulveda Block Museum, free art exhibits, a Museum of Social Justice, old churches and the nearby Chinese American Museum. All of the museums are free!
Music and Art
While we ate lunch, we were serenaded by strolling musicians, plus there were other musicians set up near the grandstand in the park. You can listen to Mexican cultural music as you read about statues/history or look over some of the colorful murals in the area. Sometimes you can catch Aztec and Mexican folkloric dancers in their colorful costumes.
Other Nearby Attractions
Olvera Street is just across the street from the beautiful Union Station. The signage in L.A. is actually quite good for getting around the historic areas. You can take a 15-minute walk to China Town from Olvera Street, find many more museums (such as an Italian American museum and the Broad contemporary art museum, which is a 15-minute walk from there), explore old churches such as Nuestra Senora Reina (founded in 1781), or take the subway from Union Station to a couple of destinations around L.A. Off the red line, two stops away is Pershing Square, where you can access the Grand Central Market for several eateries—such as the trendy and curiously named Eggslut—and shopping for spices. You can walk to the Fashion District, Historical Little Tokyo and historical buildings such as the glamorous Biltmore Hotel. There are signs and descriptions of points of interest along the way. Also along the Metro red line are stops in Hollywood, including Universal City/Universal Studios, where you can check out the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but you’ll want to plan a whole day to visit Universal. To find out how to take the train to Universal Studios (or even Disneyland), check out this post.
We frogs love theme parks, but when we visit Los Angeles and Orange County, we also like to plan day trips to other destinations. Olvera Street is great fun. Besides Olvera Street in Los Angeles, we’ve also enjoyed hopping on the train or in the car for some family-friendly journeys to Orange County. All of these ideas can enrich your vacation and help you learn more about southern California and its culture.
Beyond Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks, Undercover Tourist offers discount tickets on a number of Los Angeles sightseeing tours and destinations. See all of our Los Angeles attractions.