While Latino communities dominate Los Angeles’ east side, the influence and presence of Mexican culture be found throughout the City of Angels. Although some aspects of Mexican heritage are found in areas of the city that are off the beaten path for most tourists, others are located underneath the bright lights of the city’s prominent entertainment industry.
Mexican holidays come alive in the streets of Los Angeles. For starters, the largest Dia de Los Muertos celebration in California takes place annually at The Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Spanish for “Day of the Dead,” the November 1st Mexican holiday is a time to pray and remember loved ones lost over the years. The event is a joyous celebration, however, with an array of activities, including Aztec ritual dancers, art galleries, children’s craft workshops and Mexican food vendors. You are encouraged to dress in costume, with many going as skeletons and skull-painted faces.
Drawing more than 300,000 guests each year, Fiesta Broadway is the largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in the world. The free all-day festival takes place in the streets of downtown Los Angeles, including the sprawling green urban space of Grand Park. Latin-infused cuisine and craft vendors line the streets while an array of Latin musicians provide entertainment throughout the day.
The Metro Gold Line light rail system connects you to the east side of the city, including Boyle Heights, a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. Spend your day perusing the streets, stopping into the numerous tiny taquerias that line the streets, like the always-packed Guisados, which serves up spicy concoctions like mole chicken or steak picado tacos. Making certain you pay a visit to Mariachi Plaza, the home base for mariachis looking to be hired by passers-by for local neighborhood parties. Dressed in full costumes, many bands pass the time by playing and entertaining crowds on the street corner throughout the day.
Moving further east, you’ll stumble upon East L.A. Much like Boyle Heights, the neighborhood is known for its onslaught of casual Mexican dining hot spots, including such famed eateries as Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe, home to enormous wet burritos, and King Taco, which specializes in street tacos and often fields massive rushes before and after home Dodger games. If you want a broad scope of the East L.A. culinary scene, then sign-up for Melting Pot Food Tours’ East L.A. Latin Flavors Tour, which allows you to sample from a variety of area restaurants.
El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument
You can’t get much more historic in Los Angeles than El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument. Site of the region’s earliest settlers, it was established in 1781 as the city center. The complex has 27 historic buildings, including early 19th-century private homes and churches, like Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church. Built in 1822, it is the oldest church in Los Angeles. Many of the structures were built while California was still under Spanish and Mexican rule.
The colorful Mexican marketplace known as Olvera Street is part of the complex. The narrow pedestrian-only thoroughfare is crammed with tourists. Stroll along the cobblestone street as vendors peddling such items as toys, candles, leather goods and jewelry fight for your attention. Snack on taquitos served at most of the counter-service stalls or sit down for a meal at La Luz del Dia, where you can watch women pound out hand-made tortillas.
Contrary to popular belief, the Los Angeles’ theater scene is alive and thriving. You can even find two Latino theater companies in the City of Angels. For starters, 24th Street Theatre presents works via its Teatro Nuevo Latino Initiative project, including everything from Spanish-language plays, to Mexican puppetry shows. Situated inside a former 1928 carriage house, the theater is in the historic West Adams neighborhood.
The renowned Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown hosts productions by the Latino Theater Company throughout the year. The company specializes in producing original plays by Latino playwrights which often focus on issues important to the Latino community. Sometimes productions are held in unique spots, like The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.