Los Angeles is one of my favorite destinations. In addition to its breathtaking landscape, miles upon miles of sandy beaches and statuesque palm trees at every turn, this vibrant city is home to one of the country’s largest Hispanic populations – immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and many other nations. As a result, the influential Hispanic community has contributed to the city’s lively music, flavorful food offerings and diverse culture.
My personal destination of choice is the incomparable Boyle Heights area in East L.A. Some of my favorite eateries in the neighborhood include La Mascota’s — home of sweet pan dulce pastries, Al & Bea’s for their delicious burritos and Guisado’s yummy mole poblano chicken tacos. Don’t miss Raspados Don Manuel for its raspados made with real fruit, the mouth-watering guacamole at Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Café and La Serenata de Garibaldi’s exquisite mariscos selection just can’t be beat. No evening visit to Boyle Heights is complete without enjoying El Mercadito Mariachi Restaurant’s live mariachi performances, complete with musicians dressed to the nines.
Mexicans introduced L.A. to a host of their beloved regional music, including mariachi, musìca norteña, tejano, ranchera and one of their most popular genres — corrido. This ballad-like musical style is similar to the waltz, and the genre that serves up a story-telling experience with folk-style narrative.
On March 15th, almost 7,000 corrido fans flocked to one of the largest musical events — Invasion del Corrido at the NOKIA Theatre L.A. Live. The sold-out event hosted live performances by six of the industry’s leading corrido musicians and singers: Tito y su Torbellino, El Remmy Valenzuela, Javier Rosas, Grupo Tres 60, Rebeldes and Traviezos de la Sierra.
Mexicans-Americans brought not only their love of music across the border, but also blessed the city with delicious home-style cuisine.
Today, the famous Mariachi Plaza in L.A. sits in a square bounded by Pleasant Avenue, East 1st Street and North Boyle Avenue. Jalisco donated the kiosk placed in this plaza, where local mariachi singers, formally dressed in embroidered, colorful charros and sombreros, perform in this well-trafficked location. Amtrak will celebrate National Train Day on Saturday, May 10 at the nearby Union Station.
Another one of my favorite destinations is The Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, located in El Pueblo Historical Monument (Placita Olvera), 125 Paseo de la Plaza, is home to an impressive collection of Mexican art, native costumes, folk crafts and more.
Nearby is the must-see LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes at 501 North Main Street. Considered the country’s premier hub of Mexican culture, this museum and cultural center focuses on sharing information on the origins of the Mexican population in the city and its many contributions to local culture. Located on a 2.2-acre campus in downtown L.A., the non-profit offers visitors interactive installations, artisanal culinary classes, noteworthy film screenings and more.
There is also a very strong Salvadoran influence in the city. In fact, the local Salvadoran consulate estimates there are approximately one million Salvadorans living in L.A. Vermont Avenue, from West Adams Blvd. to 11th Street, boasts many Salvadoran-owned and operated businesses where the inviting smells of cheese-filled pupusas and sounds of native cumbia music fill the air. The population continues to grow, and elected officials designated this particular section of the avenue as “El Salvador Community Corridor” – the first declared Salvadoran area in L.A.
Guatemalans are also part of the L.A. Hispanic influence. Today, Guatemalan city officials estimate close to 700,000 Guatemalans live in Southern California alone – the country’s largest Guatemalan community. With more than 20 different Maya groups based in Guatemala, many chapines in L.A. have kept their indigenous culture alive, introducing Mayan cuisine such as hilachas and pollo en jocón and speaking their native tongue: Q’eqchi, Cakchiquel and Mam.
There’s no need for a passport to enjoy the bountiful cultural experiences of Mexico, El Salvador or Guatemala, simply book your travel through one of Amtrak’s four convenient train routes to Los Angeles and the rest of California.