WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Train travel isn't just for the East Coast. We take a day trip to Olvera Street in Los Angeles.
Olvera Street was named after Agustin Olvera,
a man who owned a home at the end of the
street and was the first county judge of Los
Angeles. Formerly a short lane known as Wine
Street, Olvera Street is the oldest street in Los
Angeles, dating back to 1877. Many historic
buildings line the street, including the Avila
Adobe, built around 1818 along with the
Pelanconi House, the oldest brick house in the
city built in 1855. The street became what it is
today after a socialite, Christine Sterling, saw
how dilapidated the oldest part of the city had
become, and in 1926, began a campaign to
restore it. The city council closed Olvera Street
to vehicle traffic in 1929. With the vision of a
colorful Mexican marketplace and cultural center,
funding from six prominent men, publicity from
the Los Angeles Times, help from engineers from
the city Department of Water and Power who
drew up plans to grade the street, and prisoners
provided by the sheriff's department for labor,
Olvera Street opened to the public on Easter
Sunday, April 20, 1930, as a place "to preserve
and present the customs and trades of early
Being born and raised in Orange County, traveling outside the OC bubble doesn’t happen too often for me. With all the beaches, malls, hiking trails, restaurants, and nightlife the county has to offer, a good time is pretty easy to come by without having to go too far.
So for once I decided to travel outside of my comfort zone. But instead of filling up my tank and driving myself through the never-ending traffic on the 5 and 101 freeways, I decided to switch up my usual, everyday way of travel and hitched a ride on the rails of Amtrak.
Upon my arrival at the Santa Ana Station, I checked in and after some confusion over where I needed to wait for the train, I took a deep breath as the Pacific Surfliner flew by and came to a slow halt. I found the business class train car (I splurged a bit), boarded the already crowded train (don’t people work at 2 p.m. on a Monday?) and sat down in a seat at the back of the car next to a woman who had her head buried in her Sudoku puzzle book. The steward came by and politely asked me what drink I would like and handed me a bag of goodies (chips, trail mix and cookies) as the train took off. The conductor announced our stops at Orange, then Anaheim, Fullerton, and finally my stop: Los Angeles Union Station. I sat back, relaxing, as I watched the county roll by.
When arriving at the legendary Union Station I had heard so much about, I felt as if I was in the center of a Hollywood film. There were familiar parts of the station I had seen in movies like Speed, Pearl Harbor and The Italian Job. I couldn’t help but be in awe of my surroundings. The large archways, unique windows and bulky leather chairs – which seemed extremely worn from the millions of travelers who have sat and waited in the station – made the building one-of-a-kind.
As I exited the crowded station, the hot sun, cool breeze and swaying palm trees welcomed me to the beautiful and eclectic city of Los Angeles. I dashed across the busy street and suddenly heard the sound of a mariachi band playing in the distance. I walked toward the music and realized I had come across what seemed to be a bustling Mexican market. Then I saw the sign: Olvera Street. As I strolled along the brick paved street taking everything in, I passed by carts of colorfully woven blankets and backpacks, handcrafted jewelry, puppets, dream catchers, and assortments of Mexican food, pastries and candies.
I was in an unfamiliar place in the heart of LA, yet I felt at ease. A mixture of the vivid colors, sounds and cheerful surroundings made it a pleasant adventure for me. I stopped into a store called Valeria Gonzalez Candle Shop, which was located down in the basement of one of the old buildings. I chatted with the man running the store, who had worked at the shop for two years but had worked in other stores at Olvera Street since 1979.
Before heading home, I stopped for lunch at a place I found on Yelp called La Golondrina Café, which I later found out was the first Mexican restaurant in the city. The authentic Mexican ambiance was both historic and charming. I sat on the outside patio so I could take in the surroundings as I ate and ordered the vegetable quesadilla, which was filled with gooey cheese and an assortment of fresh grilled veggies and came with a side of fresh guacamole.
My day was about to come to a close because I had to catch my train home. After I finished my meal, I followed the brick path back to the beginning of Olvera Street, where another band had set up. An enthusiastic couple was dancing around under the giant ficus tree that stands tall on the street. I felt like I was leaving a lively town in Mexico. I will definitely plan a trip back in the near future.
If you’re ever in the mood for some Mexican ambiance and historical charm without straying too far from OC, hop on the train and plan yourself a day of adventure to Olvera Street.