Discover Olvera Street and Historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles

A living museum in LA's oldest district

Olvera Street
Olvera Street  |  Photo:  Yuri Hasegawa

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is located near the site of the early Los Angeles pueblo, where 44 settlers of Native American, African and European heritage journeyed more than a thousand miles across the desert from present-day northern Mexico and established a farming community in September 1781. Today, as a department of the City of Los Angeles, El Pueblo is a living museum that attracts more than 2 million visitors to the oldest district in LA. Read on and discover the cultural attractions of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument.

Olvera Street Vendors
Olvera Street, Vendors  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Olvera Street

Olvera Street is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Los Angeles. The colorful Mexican marketplace opened on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930 following a preservation campaign that was spearheaded by Christine Sterling. Several of LA’s most historic buildings are located along the tree-shaded, brick-lined block, as well as dozens of Olvera Street shops, restaurants and other businesses. Olvera Street also hosts numerous traditional events throughout the year, including the Blessing of the Animals (Saturday before Easter), Cinco de Mayo, Fiestas Patrias (Mexican Independence Day), Dia de los Muertos, and Las Posadas.

América Tropical Interpretive Center on Olvera Street in Downtown LA
América Tropical Interpretive Center | Photo: IQ Magic

America Tropical Interpretive Center

Along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, the great Mexican muralist/painter, David Alfaro Siqueiros established "Mexican Muralism." The tradition continues in Mexico today and inspired the Chicano art movement in the U.S. During his time in Los Angeles, Siqueiros created América Tropical, an 80x18 foot mural located above Olvera Street. Completed in 1932, the mural depicts a Mexican Indian crucified on a cross beneath an American eagle, with two sharpshooters aiming at the eagle from nearby. The mural’s political message about the exploitation of Mexican workers caused immediate controversy, and it was soon completely whitewashed. América Tropical was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute and opened to the public in October 2012 with a new viewing platform and interpretive center.

Interior of Avila Adobe on Olvera Street
Interior of Avila Adobe  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Avila Adobe

The Avila Adobe is LA’s oldest house still standing in its original location, and is designated as California Historic Landmark #145. Originally built in 1818 by Francisco José Avila, it has since been the home to many of his family members and descendants. It even served as military headquarters in the late 1840s. Today, the Avila Adobe’s interior depicts the California lifestyle of the 1840s. Dark wood tables, four-poster beds, candelabras and elaborate carpets create a 19th-century atmosphere. The walls of the Avila house are made of adobe brick, a material consisting of clay, water and other organic materials like straw.

Exhibit at the Italian American Museum on Olvera Street
Exhibit at the Italian American Museum  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Italian American Museum of Los Angeles

Opened in 2016, the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA) is located in the historic Italian Hall, which was constructed in 1908 to serve as a gathering place for the Italian community. Today, the Italian Hall is the oldest remaining structure from LA's Italian enclave, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 5,000-square-foot IAMLA presents the Southern California Italian American experience with an emphasis on Los Angeles, a story that is inextricably linked to the region itself and represents a unique chapter of the Italian American Diaspora. The IAMLA is jointly operated by the Historic Italian Hall Foundation and the City of Los Angeles.

Sepulveda House and Museum
Sepulveda House and Museum  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Sepulveda House

The Sepulveda House is a 22-room Victorian house built in 1887 in the Eastlake Victorian style. The original structure included two commercial businesses on the Main Street side and three residences on Olvera Street. The Sepulveda House represents the architectural and social transformation of Los Angeles from a city of purely Mexican traditions to a multicultural blend of Mexican and American cultures. The building design was based on an American concept of a business block, while the breezeway and arrangement of rooms at the rear reflect the Mexican tradition of an inner courtyard. The Kitchen Exhibit recreates the boarding house’s kitchen of the 1890s, while Senora Sepulveda’s Bedroom depicts some of the cultural and technological advances at the turn of the 20th century.

La Plaza Park
LaPlazaPark  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Los Angeles Plaza Park

Located at the heart of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles Plaza Park (aka Father Serra Park) is the site of numerous festivals and celebrations. Built in the 1820s, the plaza was at one time the city's commercial and social center. The plaza has three statues of important figures in L.A. history: King Carlos III of Spain, the monarch who ordered the founding of the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1780; Felipe de Neve, the Spanish Governor of the Californias who selected the site of the Pueblo and laid out the town; and Father Junípero Serra, founder and first head of the Alta California missions. The plaza itself is a monument to L.A.’s original 44 settlers (Los Pobladores) and the four soldiers who accompanied them. A large plaque that lists their names and later plaques dedicated to the individual 11 families were placed in the ground encircling the gazebo at the center of the plaza.

la Placita Church
La Placita

La Placita Church

The parish church in the Plaza Historic District was founded as La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles ("The Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels") on Aug. 18, 1814. The structure was completed and dedicated on Dec. 8, 1822. A replacement chapel, named La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (“The Church of Our Lady of the Angels") was rebuilt in 1861 using materials from the original church. La Placita Church was one of the first three sites designated as Historic Cultural Monuments by the City of Los Angeles and has been designated as a California Historical Landmark.

La Plaza de Cultura y Artes
La Plaza de Cultura y Artes  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes

The 2.2-acre LA Plaza de Cultura Y Artes campus includes two historic and newly renovated buildings (the Vickrey-Brunswig Building and Plaza House) that are surrounded by 30,000 square feet of public gardens. At LA Plaza, visitors can learn about the founding story of Los Angeles with interactive exhibits that focus on exploring Mexican and Mexican-American identity. “Voces Vivas” is a growing collection of video testimonials produced by LA Plaza staff, featuring Latino residents who tell their stories and struggles with cultural identity. On the top floor, “Calle Principal” reconstructs a typical main street in the 1920s. Visitors are invited to dress up in clothes from a department store, mix and crush herbs in a pharmacy and listen to a corrido, a traditional Mexican ballad.

Pico House
Pico House  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

The Pico House

The Pico House was built as a luxury hotel from 1869 to 1870 by businessman Pío Pico, the last Mexican Governor of Alta California. Located on Main Street across Los Angeles Plaza from Olvera Street, the Italianate-style Pico House was considered the most extravagant and lavish hotel in Southern California. In the hotel’s heyday the courtyard featured a fountain and an aviary of exotic birds. The back of the hotel faces Sanchez Street, where the large gate used by supply wagons and other large vehicles can still be seen. The rear of the landmark Pico House is frequently seen in the CBS TV series, The Mentalist as the headquarters of the fictional California Bureau of Investigation. The Pico House is listed as a California Historical Landmark (No. 159) and a National Historic Landmark as a part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District.

Old Plaza Firehouse
Old Plaza Firehouse  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

The Old Plaza Firehouse

The Old Plaza Firehouse is the oldest fire station in the city. The first occupants of the firehouse were called the Volunteer 38s, after the number of men in Engine Company No. 1. Built in 1884, it operated as a firehouse until 1897. In later incarnations, the building was used as a saloon, cigar store, poolroom, "seedy hotel," Chinese market, "flop house" and drugstore. The building was restored in the 1950s and opened as a firefighting museum in 1960 with displays of helmets, photos and firefighting equipment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Chinese American Museum Entrance
Chinese American Museum Entrance  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

The Chinese American Museum

The Chinese American Museum (CAM) is the first museum in Southern California dedicated to examining the United States of America’s cultural and ethnic diversity by sharing the Chinese American experience and history. Housed in the Garnier Building, the last surviving structure of L.A.’s original Chinatown, CAM seeks to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the rich cultural legacy and continuing contributions of Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. The permanent exhibit, Origins: The Birth and Rise of Chinese American Communities in Los Angeles provides insight into the growth and development of Chinese American enclaves from Downtown Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley.