Los Angeles's Olvera Street
Known variously as the L.A. Plaza Historic District and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, this Hispanic neighborhood includes more than 20 historic buildings, five museums, and a Mexican marketplace that pay homage to the city's deep Latin American and multiethnic roots. Start at the visitors' center for a guided tour of the monument-filled plaza and La Placita church or simply stroll the quaint main drag to check out the souvenirs: pin?atas, puppets, giant sombreros, and Mexican pottery. Don't-miss eats include carnitas tacos, caramel-filled churros (like a stick-shaped doughnut), and taquitos with "world famous avocado sauce" from the 1934 Cielito Lindo stand. You might time your visit for one of the colorful annual festivals: springtime's Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos (near Halloween), and the furry, scaly, pet-filled Blessing of the Animals (the Saturday before Easter).
San Francisco's Japantown
This west coast city's Chinatown may be more famous, but its Japantown is deliriously packed with just the kind of cool and kawaii (cute) stuff kids go crazy for: bento supplies, wacky candy, anime and manga, colorful washi tape, "Hello Kitty" everything, and omiyage (souvenirs) of all kinds. There's Pika Pika, a purikura photo place where kids can design tons of little stickers, and, of course, all the noodles, sushi, hibachi BBQ, and even crepes you could crave (along with all the fun plastic food you can ogle). A pair of charming indoor shopping malls, with a five-tiered Peace Pagoda between them, defines the walkable neighborhood. For the more historically minded, there's the National Japanese American Historical Society and a self-guided walking tour, as well as the popular Cherry Blossom Festival and Parade in April. To learn more: sfjapantown.org
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of FamilyFun