A Three-Day Los Angeles Itinerary for Latino Culture

Photo courtesy of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Facebook

The past, present and future of Los Angeles have been shaped by the rich diversity of its cultures. Nearly half of L.A.'s residents can trace their roots to Latin American origins, from Mexico and Peru to El Salvador and Costa Rica. Each year from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, Angelenos and visitors of all backgrounds celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which honors the cultural heritage and traditions of the Latino population.

Los Angeles was officially founded on Sept. 4, 1781, centuries after European explorers first arrived in the region in 1542. The cradle of L.A. is El Pueblo de Los Angeles, a historic district located in the oldest section of the city. The area includes landmarks such as Los Angeles Plaza, La Placita Church, and Olvera Street, the lively outdoor Mexican marketplace where visitors can find anything from handmade leather goods to custard filled churros.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is the perfect time to experience L.A.’s vibrant and diverse cultures. The following three-day guide explores historic and modern Latino culture in Downtown, then takes you west to Museum Row and West L.A.

Tierra Mia Coffee on Spring Street | Photo: Tierra Mia Coffee, Facebook

Day One: Tierra Mia Coffee

Start your day with a Cafecito Cubano con leche and a freshly baked pastry at Tierra Mia Coffee. This cozy coffee dig is located in L.A.’s Historic Core, a few blocks from Pershing Square. Tierra Mia opened its first location in 2008 with the intention of serving artisan coffee in a comfortable environment that reflects Latin American culture. While you can’t go wrong by ordering the usual pour-over, it’s highly recommended to try one of their sweet specialties, such as the popular Horchata frappe.

Inside Grand Central Market 

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Day One: Grand Central Market

Located a half-mile from Tierra Mia Coffee, the landmark Grand Central Market was established in 1917 as an indoor market, offering fresh and affordable groceries to the surrounding community. Because of its location at the bottom of the Angels Flight staircase between Bunker Hill and Broadway, it has become a favorite lunch spot for professionals, tourists and local families. Today, Grand Central Market shines with an eclectic mix of culinary treats. And yet, you can still find mom and pop vendors who have been tenants for decades and love to share their family history with customers. At Chiles Secos, you can buy specialty mole and other Latin grocery products, and Sarita’s Pupuseria offers Salvadoran specialties such as fried plantains and pupusas with a variety of toppings.

Day One: El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument

Originally named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciuncula (the Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of Porcuincula), the birthplace of L.A. houses several landmarks, museums and shops. Not surprisingly, it is also a popular gathering place for celebrating Latino history and culture. The annual Cinco de Mayo festivities and Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) procession are especially impressive.

Photo courtesy of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Facebook

Day One: La Plaza de Cultura y Artes

Find out how it all began at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Visitors can learn about the founding of Los Angeles in interactive exhibits with a special 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 telling their stories and struggles with cultural identity. The top floor features “Calle Principal,” a reconstruction of a typical main street in the 1920s. Visitors are invited to dress up in clothes from the department store, mix and crush herbs in the pharmacy, or listen to a corrido, a traditional Mexican ballad. LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes is located at the Vickrey-Brunswig Building, one of the earliest five-story buildings in Los Angeles.

América Tropical | Photo courtesy of Omar Bárcena, Flickr

Day One: América Tropical Interpretive Center

One of the great Mexican artists of the 20th century and political activist, David Alfaro Siqueiros painted one of his most famous works in 1932, on the Italian Hall overlooking Olvera Street. América Tropical depicts his take on the American dream, and he incorporated powerful social and political criticism just hours before it was unveiled. Outraged Anglos whitewashed the mural almost immediately. In 2012, with the help of the Getty Trust, the City of Los Angeles and the Getty Conservation Institute, América Tropical was revealed once again after an extensive restoration. Today, it is the only Siqueiros mural still located in its original place. The América Tropical Interpretive Center is home to a small, interactive exhibit focusing on the political and socio-economic environment of the time. After viewing the exhibit, head upstairs to see the restored mural from the rooftop platform.

Avila Adobe dining room | Photo courtesy of Flannery626, Flickr

Day One: Avila Adobe

The Avila Adobe is L.A.’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.

Interior of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels | Photo Courtesy of Bobby Gibbons, Flickr

Day One: Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels

The majestic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (“COLA”) rises 11 stories above Temple Street, just a short walk from Grand Park and the Music Center. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect José Rafael Moneo, the state-of-the-art building is renowned for its modernist look, which has virtually no right angles. The cathedral opened to the public in 2002, the first Roman Catholic Church to be built in the western United States in 30 years. Natural light floods the cathedral interior, thanks to 33,500 square feet of alabaster windows, the largest single use in the world. The Mausoleum features Baroque Revival-style stained glass windows, while the Meditation Garden offers a serene place for quiet reflection. COLA is a favorite gathering place for the Latino community of Los Angeles, and is also the official chair of L.A.’s Mexican-born Archbishop, José Horacio Gómez. Visitors can buy keepsakes in the gift shop, such as a clip-on pin of Argentina native, Pope Francis.

Chile melon | Photo courtesy of Broken Spanish, Facebook

Day One: Broken Spanish

Start the evening with dinner at Broken Spanish, a collaboration between Chef Ray Garcia and restaurateur Bill Chait. Located at the Rivera space in Downtown L.A., the formerly dark, sleek interior is now much brighter and more colorful - it’s at once modern and homey, much like Garcia’s elevated Mexican cuisine. A standout from the inventive cocktail list is the Cazuela for two: mezcal, blanco tequila, Mandarine Napoleon, lime, fresh jicama and pineapple, fresno chili. The drink is served in an earthen cazuela dish and garnished with flowers. Appetizers include tacos de Jamaica with hibiscus flowers, quesillo, avocado; requesón (ricotta) with snap peas, black sesame, agave, sea beans; and corazon asado with duck hearts, orange, torpedo onion. The exceptional heirloom corn tortillas can be ordered with refried lentils or whipped carnitas fat. The colorful chile melon touts heirloom melon, chile puyo, bronzed fennel, papalo and amaranth. Mains include the comforting rabbit mixiote, a stew with nopales, bacon and cherry tomatoes that’s served in a cellophane bag. The whole lamb’s head is a showstopper, served with pickled onion and cabbage. Save room for dessert, especially the tres leches with milk sponge, dulce cream, strawberries and crema sorbet.

Walt Disney Hall

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Day One: Gustavo Dudamel & the LA Phil

One of L.A.’s most famous Latino residents is the world-renowned Venezuelan conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel. A child prodigy, Dudamel conducted his first concert at the tender age of 12 in his hometown of Barquisimeto. Just three years later, he accepted his first conductor position at the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Today, Dudamel is known and loved around the world for his charisma, his collaborative working style, and gift for nurturing young musicians. If an LA Phil concert is sold out or out of your price range, not to worry. Select performances during the summer months are broadcast live and free of charge at Grand Park, located just across the street from the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall. Bring a blanket and a picnic and enjoy music under the starry, late summer skies.

Photo courtesy of Arts District Flea, Facebook

Day Two: Arts District Flea

The Arts District is one of L.A.’s "hottest neighborhoods" according to the LA Weekly. Aside from galleries and lofts, this area near the Los Angeles River is also known for its many artisan coffee shops and start-up businesses. Every Friday through Sunday, people flock to the Arts District Flea, held in a factory building on Coylton Street. Grab a coffee to-go at the nearby Urth Caffé and take a relaxed stroll around the factory hall where local artists showcase and sell their creations. From clothing to art, jewelry and one-of-a-kind furniture – the indoor market is the perfect place to find some unique gifts.

Piñata District | Photo: @cazares.baron

Day Two: Piñata District

Just west of the bustling Arts District, on an unassuming street of factory buildings near East Olympic Boulevard and South Central Avenue, the sounds of a lively fiesta and the enticing smell of fresh grilled foods tempt visitors to stop and satisfy their curiosity and hunger. You have arrived at the half-mile area the locals call the Piñata District, where you can find anything from nearly life-size piñata creations to classic superheroes and princesses. Raquel’s Cash N’ Carry offers an array of imported and local dulces to stuff the colorful paper creations with imported candy from all over the world and make them a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Photo courtesy of Pepe Aguilar, Facebook

Day Two: GRAMMY Museum

Located adjacent to STAPLES Center, the GRAMMY Museum is one of L.A. LIVE's most popular attractions. Spanning four floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions, the museum is dedicated to celebrating the legacy of music from around the world – from famous pop stars to recording technology.

Super Nacho Hour | Photo courtesy of Bar Amá, Facebook

Day Two: Bar Amá

San Antonio native Josef Centeno created this Tex-Mex bar and restaurant based on sweet memories of home cooked meals down south. No frills but lots of heart – that goes for the friendly staff as well as the menu options. From puffy tacos to Mexican fried ice cream, you won’t leave this popular dining spot hungry. Watch out for Bar Amá’s Super Nacho Hour for discounts on different menu items, including drinks. Reservations are recommended.

Day Two: Conga Room

If you feel like dancing the night away, return to L.A. LIVE and get into a Latin groove at the Conga Room. From its original focus on salsa, the vibrant music venue now features world-famous artists performing rock en Español, world beat, jazz, urban and pop. The contemporary design reflects the energies of Barcelona and Mexico City, paying homage to cutting edge Latino culture with a digital mural and sculptures created by artist and film director, Sergio Arau, and the sensual Papaya Bar designed by internationally acclaimed Cuban American Artist, Jorge Pardo. The Conga Room’s restaurant serves tapas-style cuisine, with regional influences from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.

Day Three: Cooks County

Latina Roxana Jullapat is originally from Puerto Rico and started her career in journalism, but her passion for baking soon pulled her into L.A.’s culinary world, where she and her partner Daniel Mattern have found great success. Located on Beverly Boulevard, Cooks County’s farm-to-table concept makes it a popular weekend brunch destination. Don’t miss Jullapat’s famous “spretzels” – soft, chewy pretzels made with spelt flour, accompanied by the signature mustard dipping sauce.

Pancakes, bacon & eggs at The Original Pantry

 |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Day Three: Original Farmer's Market

In the summer of 1934, a couple of merchants started selling produce from the back of their truck on the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. Only a few months later, a permanent outdoor market village was created where farmers and artisan vendors sell their goods to this day. The Original Farmer’s Market is a favorite meeting place for locals and visitors because it satisfies all of your shopping needs – fresh meat, produce and specialty spices. At Light My Fire for example, you can buy hot sauce from around the word, indexed by degree of spiciness ranging from ‘wimpy’ to ‘beyond hot’. To round out the visit, stroll through The Grove, L.A.’s iconic outdoor shopping mall.

Day Three: LACMA

Diego Rivera’s famous portrait of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is just one of the signature pieces of Latino art currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The expansive museum campus offers an entire section dedicated to Latin American Art on the 4th level of Art of the Americas. Curated by Ilona Katzew, the collection is constantly expanding and features a wide array of works, from artifacts of the Spanish colonial period to contemporary art.

Image courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum, Facebook

Day Three: Petersen Automotive Museum

Nothing says "Los Angeles" like its car culture. While public transportation is making a comeback in recent years, the City of Angels came of age with the rise of the automobile, reflected not only in the many highways but also in the 20th century architecture around town. Located west of LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard, the Petersen Automotive Museum will reopen to the public December 2015 after extensive renovations. The new Petersen Museum will feature a stunning, stainless steel “ribbon” exterior and showcase new technology like panoramic video walls, driving simulators, augmented reality and “show control” light and sound systems.

Photo courtesy of haram suh, Flickr

Day Three: Hammer Museum

Head west on Wilshire Boulevard and you'll arrive at Westwood Village near the UCLA campus. The Hammer Museum houses a permanent collection that includes paintings by masters such as Rembrandt, Cezanne, Pissaro, Monet and van Gogh, as well as the famous portrait by John Singer Sargent, Dr. Pozzi at Home. The Hammer is also renowned for its impressive contemporary art collection, and frequently presents acclaimed special exhibits and events. 


Plan Check Burger | Photo courtesy of Plan Check Sawtelle, Facebook

Day Three: Plan Check

Among the hottest Latino chefs in L.A. is Argentina native, Ernesto Uchimura. In 2012, Los Angeles Magazine named him one of L.A.’s Chefs of the Year. Uchimura’s cooking style is influenced by his Latin roots and his time experiencing the cultural melting pot that is Los Angeles. At the original Sawtelle Japantown location of his restaurant Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, Uchimura’s team serves scrumptious burgers, pastrami sandwiches and a small selection of other entrées in a casual cool environment.