Don’t worry if you missed Cinco de Mayo this year – I know I never need an excuse to enjoy some amazing Mexican cuisine. If you’re like me, then I recommend you visit Southern California where, thanks to its large Mexican-American community, you can feast on delicious and authentic Mexican food every day of the year. Areas like the Olvera Street area in Los Angeles and Old Town in San Diego are ideal locations to find everything you need to make this a daily -- instead of yearly-- tradition.
If you DO happen to find yourself in the area on the 5th of May, then you’re in for an extra special treat. Entire cities in Southern California celebrate the holiday, which is NOT Mexican Independence Day as some people may think. Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16. Cinco de Mayo pays homage the Mexican Army’s victorious battle against the French, who had invaded the Mexican coast in an attempt to reach Mexico City. The battle took place on May 5, 1862, near Puebla.
Here are some amazing eateries to discover in Southern California if you want to enjoy some of the best Mexican cuisine in the world.
Olvera Street, Los Angeles
Head to downtown Los Angeles and the historic Olvera Street for the best in Mexican cuisine and, during Cinco de Mayo, a special festival. The event typically takes place the weekend before Cinco de Mayo, and is filled with mariachis, Folklorico dancers, piñatas, and kids’ activities. No matter when you visit though, this is a fun area to explore and eat your way through. The historic area is part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument and is close to where Spanish settlers founded Los Angeles in 1781. You’ll find historic buildings and a shaded pedestrian mall with craft shops and great restaurants.
Old Town, San Diego
A little further south in San Diego, the Old Town is my top pick for finding authentic Mexican cuisine. And just like LA, if you’re around for May 5th, then you’re in for an extra special treat. Their annual event has been held since 1983, and it’s considered the largest of its kind in Southern California. Taking place over three days, guests are treated to three live music stages, a cantina garden, low rider car show, historical demonstrations, equestrian performances, and more. Some local Old Town restaurants offer drink and food specials as well.
Battle of the Mariachis, San Juan Capistrano
Held in mid-May, the annual Battle of the Mariachis will take place at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Mariachi groups from across the state compete for prizes. Other festival highlights include a special national anthem performance, Ballet Folklorico de San Juan Capistrano, marionette shows, ringing of the Mission bells, and more.
Upper West Restaurant, Santa Monica
The Upper West Restaurant in Santa Monica is a local favorite and they’re well known in the area for giving back to the community. During the Cinco de Mayo festivities they hold a special Healing Arts Reaching Kids event with 30% of the evening's proceeds benefiting HARK of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Look for surprise piñatas and gift card raffles throughout the night as well.
Located in Riverside County, Corona has a long and storied agricultural tradition, and it’s that industry which brought many immigrants to the area to create new lives for themselves. You can find this influence throughout town every day of the year, but just like so many other communities in Southern California, in May the city erupts in special celebrations. The first Cinco de Mayo celebration in Corona was held back in 1924. It was not initially an annual event, but in 1972, community leaders decided it should be an annual event aimed at raising money to award a scholarship to a student graduating from Corona Senior High. The event is held the Saturday after Cinco de Mayo and starts with a morning parade. Then head over to the city park where opening ceremonies kick off. Trophies are awarded, along with a queen. You’ll find delicious foods, listen to Mariachi bands, watch Folklorico dancers, and there is even a Children’s Fun Zone.
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