40 fall things to do in California to salute autumn

Olvera Street is an origin story well-suited to Los Angeles. It really was one of the first streets created in the city’s early years. Then, after falling into disrepair in the early 20th century, it was converted into a sort of cartoon version of itself. Nowadays the cartoon, the commerce, the desperation and the legitimate history mingle like flavors in a long-simmering stew.

If you’re hungry or need a souvenir, start with Olvera itself, which is a pedestrian alley of casual restaurants and curio vendors. The pandemic has closed at least one eatery and slowed demand for hats, masks, toys, plates, leather and little guitars. But restaurants El Paseo, Cielito Lindo and Luz del Dia are hanging in there, as is Olverita’s Village, which sells clothes, crafts, art and cookware.

For a more skeptical look at colonial history, climb the stairs (halfway down the west side of the street; limited hours) to see “América Tropical,” a David Siqueiros mural whitewashed by authorities, then later restored. (Yes, that’s a crucified Indigenous laborer in the center of the composition.)

There’s more history across Main Street in LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which includes a two-story history and art museum. (Of Los Angeles’ 44 founders, the museum display notes, 26 had at least some African roots.)

Pro tip: Olvera Street owes its part-real, part-fake character to civic activist Christine Sterling, who may have never been to Mexico but led the campaign to gussy up the area in the 1920s and ‘30s. One of her key boosters was Harry Chandler, then publisher of The Times.

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