What do we mean by the Southern California melting pot? Of course “melting pot” was the term to describe the ethnic diversity in America during the early 20th century. It is very true of Southern California today, and makes for an interesting and diverse vacation trip.
Because of the west coast location, a substantial percentage of our immigrants are from Asian countries. Korea and Vietnam are well represented. You can’t help but notice a strong Hispanic influence as well; don’t forget that we used to be part of Mexico.
Certainly there are folks from Europe and Africa, but probably in lesser numbers than in the eastern states. Many other current residents of California came from exotic places like Saginaw, Michigan and Canton, Illinois, especially those who see the perfect weather during the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl games each New Years Day.
An abundance of cultural influences is found throughout Southern California. There are a number of communities where ethnic groups have congregated, and these locales are worth a visit.
In Los Angeles County, in the shadow of Dodger Stadium, and just north of downtown L.A. is Chinatown. With many shops and restaurants within easy walking distance, Chinatown is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Other areas of Chinese concentration are found in Monterey Park along Garvey Avenue. To the west of downtown L.A. is Koreatown . You’ll find many Korean businesses along Olympic Avenue, around Alvarado Street and Hoover Avenue. Little Tokyo is found in the greater downtown area, on the easterly outskirts of the central business district.
Although the Southern California region has an overall Hispanic flavor in city and street names, you can find the original settlement of Los Angeles around Olvera Street in Downtown L.A. Some interesting history along with restaurants and an open-air market can be found here. On weekends it is common to see community events on Olvera Street.
You’ll find Little Armenia east of the 101 Freeway in Hollywood; the link brings you to a website with a helpful map of the area showing restaurants and other retailers; that website is pretty serious about Armenian culture, history etc. There is also a notable Armenian population in the Glendale/Pasadena area; check the yellow pages for good restaurants to find baklava, grape leaves, shish kebab and other delicacies.
In Orange County, there’s Little Saigon , a very ethnic Vietnamese community just south of the 22 freeway around Brookhurst Street. Orange County became home to many from South Vietnam starting in the mid-1970s and now second-generation Vietnamese-Americans are hitting adulthood.
The other major ethnic community in Orange County is the Hispanic district in downtown Santa Ana. There you’ll find street vendors, shops and restaurants reminiscent of medium-sized cities in Mexico.
Take I-5 just south of the 57 freeway, getting off at Main Street. Go south on Main Street a mile or so to 4th Street; you can’t miss it on a weekend! We recommend you consider carving out part of a day and check out the neighborhood of your choice from the melting pot that is Southern California.