LA didn’t spring from the head of Hollywood directors; it was a full-blown community a good century before DW Griffith showed up. A short stroll northwest of Union Station, this compact, colorful district, located near the spot where LA’s first colonists settled in 1781, harbors the city’s oldest buildings. Grab a map at the visitor center inside Avila Adobe then wander through narrow Olvera St’s vibrant Mexican-themed stalls. Guided tours leave from beside the Plaza Firehouse; no reservations necessary.

The district is home to a number of museums, including the Italian American Museum. A few doors down, the América Tropical Interpretive Center is where you can view Mexican artist David Alfaro Siquerios' celebrated (and once-controversial) rooftop mural. Tip: to make the most of the area, avoid visiting on Monday, when many of the museums are closed.