Forget Santa Monica And Beverly Hills, Here’s How You Can Experience LA Like A Latino Local
There are guides to experiencing Beverly Hills and the Santa Monica pier, and then there are guides that actually loops you into the good stuff. Guess which category this one falls into? Instead of spending your vacation time trying to beat the crowds at Runyon Canyon and watching white boys skateboard at Venice Beach, this guide will help direct you to the true culture of Los Angeles: Latino-style.
Try to stay on the East Side if you can.
While Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica are the hot spots for most tourists, all the culture is on the East Side. Echo Park and Silver Lake have become more and more gentrified, but there are still Mexican-owned restaurants that could use your business. If you stay in the Echo Park / Boyle Heights area, enjoy some of the best tamales from Tamales Alberto.
Ride the swans at Echo Park Lake.
While most of us locals have always wanted to ride the swans, you’re on vacation so enjoy it! Locals love to gather at Echo Park Lake to meet up for dog walks, picnics and to watch the quinceañera celebrations. You don’t even have to pack any food because the street vendors have all the fruta and esquites you could ask for.
You must go to Olvera Street.
Olvera Street is the heart of Mexican culture and history in Los Angeles. You can visit the Avila Adobe, L.A.’s oldest, still-standing house, built in 1818 by Francisco José Avila when Los Angeles was still Mexican territory. You truly can’t go wrong with any food on that block, but La Noche Buena Restaurant is the most popular lunch spot.
Salvadoreños have a huge presence in Los Angeles, and you can’t leave until you sit down for a two-hour lunch at a pupusería.
Expect a lazy lunch because the best pupusas in Los Angeles are hand made from scratch. Expect the same kind of homemade meal from any food truck you order from as well. While you’re here, you haven’t experienced Los Angeles until you’ve eaten from a food truck. For a vegan take on tacos, you can’t go wrong with Cena Vegan or Plant Food for People.
The Grand Central Market has un poquito de todo for whatever you’re craving.
Located in the heart of downtown, Grand Central Market is the place to go when nobody in your group can decide on what to eat. You can enjoy vegan ramen at Ramenhood, or plátanos and pupusas at Sarita’s Pupusería. Be sure to stop at Chiles Secos to bring back specialty mole for your mama.
Skip Pink’s Hot Dogs and go to the Latino drag club, Plaza, next door.
Pink’s Hot Dogs is a cult favorite hot dog stand in Los Angeles, with hour-long lines between you and dinner. If you have the time to go to say you did, go for it, but be sure you don’t miss the real gem down the street. Plaza has been open for over 40 years and remains the spot for Latinx queer folks looking for a great show. The venue is cash only, with drinks as expensive as $8. Show up with cash in hand and lose the disappointment to hear about the cash, and you’ll look like a local.
We’re not going to Runyon Canyon today.
Just a thirty-minute drive from the East Side of Los Angeles is Hermit Falls. It’s a relatively easy hike, at 2.5 miles with just 700 feet of elevation gain, but the rewards are endless. In the LA summer, even a mile-long hike will leave you yearning for a cold pool to plunge in, and Hermit Falls offers just that, plus enormous granite rocks to jump off from into the cold water. Hermit Falls isn’t maintained by a forest service, so the graffiti art is there to stay.
If you don’t have a car to get to Hermit Falls, try Griffith Park instead of Runyon. You get all the same views, with far fewer crowds.
While you’re already out of town, stop at Mitla Café, the restaurant Taco Bell ripped off.
Mitla opened in 1937 when Mexicans were still segregated from the newly settled white population of San Bernadino. The local activists who would gather at Mitla, their solitary safe space, would go on to form the Mexican Chamber of Commerce. Mitla is a keystone of the Mexican community in San Bernadino, and while Glen Bell ripped off the family recipes and turned it into a billion-dollar empire (Taco Bell), the family is still running the same taquería that’s been passed down for generations.
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