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One of the biggest perks of living in California is experiencing its diverse culture. Driving through any of the state’s major cities exposes you to different ethnic enclaves. Not only have they coexisted for a long while, but they’ve also contributed to California’s rich culture. Mexicans, Ethiopians, Armenians, Koreans, and many other cultures have left their mark on the Golden State and continue to shape it today.
These diverse backgrounds lend a lot to California, including unique neighborhoods, exquisite ethnic food, and a more comprehensive worldview. The Golden State’s ethnic neighborhoods are fascinating cultural enclaves you’ll love to discover. After all, the Golden State is one of the only places you can experience authentic Armenian and Ethiopean cultures within driving distance of each other.
Ethnic enclaves in the Golden State
Little Armenia, Los Angeles
L.A. is bound to show up several times when talking about California’s cultural enclaves because it’s home to the largest number of ethnic neighborhoods in the state. This ethnic neighborhood in Los Angeles was officially dubbed “Little Armenia” in the year 2000—the name reflects the contributions of the large Armenian population living there. Back in the day, the area was known as East Hollywood. The ethnic enclave started gaining a larger number of Armenian businesses, stores, and cultural centers in the early 1970s.
Barnsdall Art Park and Saint Garabed Armenian Apostolic Church are two places that stand out in Little Armenia. The Frank Lloyd-designed Hollyhock House is also found in this ethnic enclave. Head to the local favorite Carousel Restaurant for authentic Armenian and Middle Eastern cuisine and hospitality.
Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles
Also known as HiFi, Historic Filipinotown is one of five East Asian ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Nestled between Echo Park and Silverlake, this Asian enclave promotes the economic, civic, commercial, cultural, and educational interests of its residents. The Asian neighborhood also helps preserve the history of Filipinos in the state.
HiFi is home to the earliest Catholic Church built in the United States—St. Columban Filipino Church. The only monument to honor Filipino American soldiers of the Second World War is also located within the district. For tasty Filipino dishes with a Californian twist, head to Lasita on Broadway; the Crispy Duck Leg Tinola is to die for.
Little Portugal, San Jose
Little Portugal is a historic neighborhood in San Jose. The ethnic neighborhood is home to the families of Portuguese immigrants, many of whom came from the Azores in the 1850s. Located between 33rd street and Highway 101, Little Portugal boasts beautiful architecture and a variety of delicious eateries.
Many of the businesses here have been in the area for generations, making this example of an ethnic enclave one of the most established in San Jose. The first Michelin-starred restaurant in San Jose, ADEGA, is also located in Little Portugal. Check out the spot for simple, authentic, and delicious Portuguese food.
Cultural enclaves in Southern California
Little Saigon, San Diego
Little Saigon San Diego is a relatively new example of an ethnic neighborhood in California. It was dubbed Little Saigon in 2008, but the state’s Vietnamese population has been around for way longer. The ethnic neighborhood—located between Euclid and Highland avenues—was officially recognized to preserve and celebrate the prevalent Vietnamese culture in the area.
Today, the neighborhood offers fantastic programs to its residents—Little Saigon Soccer Club, leadership, and tutoring programs to name a few. This San Diego neighborhood also has many points of interest that are worth checking out. Visit the Little Saigon Mural before stopping by Da Nang Corner for the best pho ever.
Little Ethiopia, Los Angeles
Little Ethiopia in Central L.A. is famous for its large collection of Ethiopian restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. Like other ethnic neighborhoods, Little Ethiopia was also established to recognize the residents and businesses in the area.
Miracle Mile and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are only five minutes away from this ethnic enclave. After getting your cultural fix, head to Buna Ethiopian Restaurant and Market for mouth-watering dishes. You’re going to want to order the entire menu—everything is irresistibly delicious
Cambodia Town, Long Beach
Also known as Little Phnom Penh, Cambodia Town is the official name of the one-mile-long district along Anaheim Street. You’ll find anything and everything Cambodia-related in this ethnic neighborhood.
There’s plenty to explore here—restaurants, jewelry shops, and clothing stores, as well as churches, temples, and service centers for Cambodian-Americans. Monorom Cambodian Restaurant is an authentic and affordable spot for tasty cuisine.
Ethnic neighborhoods in Northern California
When Chinese immigrants first came to California, they initially settled down in San Francisco (dubbed the Big City). But many later moved to Sacramento, which was then called the Second City. This led to the establishment of an ethnic enclave, known today as Chinatown Sacramento.
In contrast to the highly segregated S.F. Chinatown, Sacramento’s district used to have more open and fluid boundaries. This allowed its residents to travel for business and pleasure and enter the middle class.
Today, the Sacramento neighborhood is much livelier than it used to be. When walking around Sacramento’s Chinatown Mall, you’ll come across Chinese elders practicing their morning Tai Chi. Here, you’re surrounded by authentic Chinese shops and eateries in a welcoming environment.
Little Manila, Stockton
Attracted to agricultural jobs in the Central Valley, many young Filipino men made Stockton their home in the 1930s. By 1946, Little Manila had the largest Filipino community in the nation. Sadly, in the 1950s and 60s, large sections of this ethnic enclave were bulldozed for “improvement purposes,” despite opposition from residents.
Today, Little Manila stands as a great ethnic enclave example of resilience against discrimination and marginalization. The nonprofit Little Manila Rising worked hard to restore the buildings of the vibrant district in the San Joaquin Valley.
Japantown, San Francisco
Japantown in San Francisco is one of the three remaining recognized Japanese ethnic enclaves in the United States. The ethnic neighborhood is also one of the oldest and largest in the country. Whether youʼre coming to visit or reconnecting with your roots, there’s something for everyone in this S.F. neighborhood.
Japantown in San Francisco traditionally celebrates two major festivals every year. Each April, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival is held for two weekends and the Nihonmachi Street Fair is held on one weekend in August. Visiting this ethnic neighborhood allows you to take part in awesome traditions—you get to see the culture in full bloom.
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