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Itinerary: Cinco de Mayo

April 29, 1999|TRACY JOHNSON

In 1862, Cinco de Mayo--May 5--was the day a band of vastly outnumbered Mexican soldiers defeated powerful invading French troops under Napoleon II in Puebla, Mexico.

These days, Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of that feat--one that, in fact, attracts more attention here in Los Angeles than in Mexico. In anticipation of the battle's anniversary next Wednesday, this weekend is full of fiestas and festivals.

Friday

Start celebrating at L.A.'s very own pueblo, the Olvera Street Plaza (Los Angeles Street south of Alameda Street. [213] 625-5045). This replication of a Mexican village market is a small fiesta every day, but for Cinco de Mayo it's going all out with a celebration Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The free event is likely the oldest celebration in town, continuing for more than five decades. More than 100,000 people are expected over the weekend to take part in the weekend festivities, which include live music on three concert stages all weekend. The event also includes traditional Mexican food and cultural exhibits.

Saturday

Get a feel for the 19th century by taking a self-guided tour of one of the two historic missions in the Los Angeles area, Mission San Fernando (15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills, [818] 361-0186, $4; $3, children/seniors; free under age 7) and Mission San Gabriel (428 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, [626] 457-3048, $4; $1 ages 6 to 12).Founded in the late 1800s, the 21 missions across the state represent the first arrival of non-native Americans to California. Each mission has its own story to tell about the history of our state. In addition to bringing Christianity to California, the missions brought livestock, fruits, flowers and industry to California and provide a glimpse of the beginning of the state's modern civilization.

Sunday

Party down at the 10th Annual Bud Light Cinco de Mayo Festival sponsored by KLVE-FM (107.5), La Nueva KSCA-FM (101.9) and KTNQ-AM (1020) radio stations.

Top Latino artists will headline the free music festival at the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area (1000 N. Durfee Ave., South El Monte. Free, but tickets required. [626] 575-5526), including 22-year-old Colombian rock sensation Shakira and Spanish pop diva Rocio Durcal.

Other performers include Los Tiranos del Norte, Los Mismos and Graciela Beltran, along with numerous others. In addition, festival-goers can see ballet folklorico dancers, enjoy traditional Mexican fare or jump on a ride. Tickets are available at Jons, Payless Foods, Super-8 Foods, Top Valu, Value Plus and other grocery stores.

The Encino Farmers Market (17400 Victory Blvd., Encino, [818] 708-6611, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) celebrates Cinco de Mayo with traditional mariachi music and free pinata games and balloons. Mariachi Pavatao and Juvenil Tenochtitlan will perform at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., respectively, and the L.A. Culinary Institute will do a cooking demonstration with seasonal fruits and vegetables.

If you're still shopping for farm-fresh food, head over to the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the Los Angeles Farmers Market (6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m., [323] 933-9211). In addition to browsing the shops and fresh food that make up L.A.'s original farmers market--open 65 years ago--you can take part in the fiesta. El Mariachi Recuerdos de Mexico and Mariachi Guadalajara will provide traditional music, and folklorico dancers will take the stage. Sample the carnitas and green-corn tamales made especially for the festivities and wash 'em down with margaritas.

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