Traveling east on the 105 isn't the most scenic drive, but about midway between LAX and the 605, Plaza Mexico rises up from beyond the endless neighborhoods lining the highway, a pastel-colored beacon with its Spanish conquistador–influenced colonial architecture. This is a place that probably will remind you of past touristy trips to Mexico, replete with peaceful, gurgling fountains and tiled courtyards that are, of course, host to mariachi bands. While there are a few chain stores, most of the plaza boasts small independent businesses, including a bustling — but not overwhelmingly crowded — mercado; authentic restaurants with handmade tortillas and spicy fresh salsa; the divinely decadent and famous ice cream shop Paletería la Michoacana; an assortment of clothing and Mexican crafts stores; and a carousel for the kids. 3100 E. Imperial Hwy., Lynwood. (310) 631-6789,

—Katie Datko

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