One of the many things I love about living near Downtown Los Angeles is our proximity to all the different wholesale districts. Our friend Daniel jokingly refers to that entire area as the “District District’” since there seems to be a wholesale district for everything. The Flower District, the Fabric District, the Toy District. the Produce District, the Sewing Machine District…According to Daniel, there’s even a Dildo District! But I’m not even going to go there, neither figuratively or literally.
Many people don’t even realize that these districts exist – after all, they are in some of the grittiest and dirtiest parts of the city – but considering that Los Angeles is one of the major importing and manufacturing centers of the entire United States, I consider these an important part of the heart of the city, and am always somewhat in awe seeing these districts in action, dirty streets be damned.
The week before Christmas, we were driving back from buying roses at the Flower District (naturally), and passed by an entire row of gigantic floating Santa heads hanging in the Piñata District. Naturally, our interest was piqued (and recognized good material for the blog!) so we grabbed our cameras and headed down the next morning to do some exploring.
We arrived around 10:30 on a Sunday morning. There was a light crowd in the markets at that time, but by 11:00, it became so crowded that it was as busy and packed as the busiest markets we experienced in China. (In fact, at one point M and I lost track of each other and were separated by the crowds, and everywhere you looked, it was just a sea of people.)
Oh, but we had such a fun time exploring. Store after store after store with piñatas galore, and every kind you could possibly ask for. Giant piñatas, little piñatas, princess piñatas, animal piñatas, even piñatas shaped like beer bottles for the adults.
And of course, piñatas are made to be stuffed with treats, so just step a little further into the stores and there are all of the candies and trinkets that you could possibly need. Many of the candies are imported (I presume) from Mexico, featuring bizarre foreign cartoon characters on the wrappers and fiery Hispanic flavors like tamarind and habañero pepper inside.
The most bizarre piñata stuffers we saw:
As if the piñatas weren’t enough, we seemed to have stumbled onto a street food haven in Downtown Los Angeles. Every twenty feet, there was another street vendor selling the most delicious smelling Mexican and Salvadorean food. (In fact, try not to gorge on food at the very first taco stand you see when you get there, as it really is a roving feast as you make your way through the market.) We hadn’t planned on eating out that day, but couldn’t resist feasting on all the delicious street food, including the best churros we’ve ever had.
Sugar cane! Just like in Taiwan.
Esquites (roast corn served with lemon juice, mayonnaise, cheese, and pico de gallo)
Quesadillas con pollo y nopales (quesadilla with chicken and cactus – I never liked cactus before, but these were delicious!)
Platanos con crema (Fried plantains with cream and sweetened condensed milk)
The Pinata District was one of my favorite LA excursions yet! We’ve been telling everyone we know about it, and can’t wait to visit again.
Where: The Piñata District is located at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Central Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles, and extends one block north to 8th Street and one block south to 10th Street. The main cluster of shops is along Olympic Boulevard between Central Avenue and Kohler Street. (If you would like an explicit address to plug into your smartphone or GPS, our first stop was Navarro Party Supplies at 1258 Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles 90021.)
When: According to our esquites vendor, the Piñata district gets all of its business on the weekends and is pretty dead during the week. We arrived around 10:30am on a Sunday morning and the crowds were still light, but it was packed from 11am to at least 2pm. I would also recommend going at this time if you are considering walking from Downtown (see walking directions below), not to mention getting there to eat during prime lunch hours.
How to get there: Being Los Angelenos, we drove our car and found street parking a couple of blocks away. However, while I haven’t done it myself yet (though I’d like to try it soon and write up a more detailed walking tour itinerary), you could walk from the heart of Downtown LA, as it’s only one mile from the Old Bank District or Historic Core to the Piñata District. Starting near Broadway, walk east on 9th Street for one mile. On your way, you’ll pass the Fabric District and the Flower District. Ninth Street will eventually turn into Olympic Boulevard. Be aware that there will be a stretch of nothing particularly interesting for approximately 1/4 mile until you reach the Piñata District, and there will be homeless people wandering around. But as long as you are walking in the day time and using your common street sense, you should be okay.
While you’re there: You can easily spend up to two to three hours wandering around the Piñata District. But while you’re there, you can also walk one block to the south to 11th Street between Central Avenue and Stanford Avenue and explore the DJ District (of course!) Turntables, strobe lights, car stereos…everything you need for a mobile party.
Still exploring? Interested in unique American history architecture? Walk another two blocks south on Central Avenue and see the whimsical steamliner-shaped Coca Cola Building at 1334 South Central Avenue. Built in 1936, this old Coca-Cola bottling plant was designed by architect Robert V. Derrah to look like a giant steam ship, complete with portholes and bridges. I always get a kick out of driving down Central and coming across this completely unexpected and historic building.
Elsewhere on the web: A great blog post on the Piñata District and DJ District from the unfortunately now-defunct blog LA Looking Glass: http://lalookingglass.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/hello-world/
A great write-up of the Coca-Cola building, with history and photos, can be found here: http://bigorangelandmarks.blogspot.com/2008/04/no-138-coca-cola-building.html