Once upon a time I hated Los Angeles. Like many San Franciscans, I had little good to say about this city that is completely sprawled out, filled with air-polluting time-sucking traffic, swarmed with size 0 plastic surgery buffs and seemed to offer little in the way of cheap fun entertainment. But my brother has lived there for awhile now and loves it and I love my brother so I’ve gone to visit plenty of times … and I admit that I’ve been won over. I still don’t love LA. I’ll probably never choose to live there. But I’ve learned to see it for the interesting and magical place that it can also be.
A main thing that has helped me open my mind to Los Angeles is that on my past few trips there my brother and I have made a point to go down interesting, fun, affordable things. He loves the parks in Los Angeles and has now taken me to several of them. There are some amazing parks there with great trails, stairways and sometimes views. He’s also taken me to a series of random plaecs and events, from a Tofu Festival in Little Tokyo to a summer night concert on the beach at Santa Monica Pier. These things make me smile.
About a year ago he took me to Santee Alley in the fashion district for the first time. We went back again on this most recent trip that I just recently got back from. It’s a fun place to go do some people watching. Basically it’s like a swapmeet that takes place in corridors of alleyways. There is yummy street food, lots of noise and general chaos. There are also super cheap bargains on things, especially clothes and accessories, if you’re in a shopping mood. I’m more a watcher than a shopper generally although this time around my brother did buy me a dress I was eyeing. Here I am wearing it:
So the first time we went to Santee Alley it was me, my brother and my sister. This time it was me, my brother and my mom. Last time we got chili-covered fruit and then a cup of esquites (corn off the cob with cream, chili, toppings …) This time I just got a diet soda even though I eyed a few other things including the sno-cone my brother got. He also got corn on the cob this time. The food is a good reason to go here.
Most of the shopping is on street-level but the buildings are taller than that and I think there are a few things on the upper levels to see although all I’ve ever been to up there are the restrooms. Santee Alley is the main street and it stretches across many, many blocks, but the streets parallel to it are all part of the deal as well with discounted shops pretty much everywhere.
When I say discounted I mean that you can get five packs of new socks for $5 each. This time around I did get some tank tops (4 for $14) because that’s a basic staple I always wear and needed more of. I also got a pair of 99 cent earrings. That’s because my souvenir style thing I always get for myself on a trip is a piece of really cheap jewelry.
The crowds here can get a little overwhelming. The shop owners stand outside yelling (mostly in Spanish) to try to get you in their stores, which can also get overwhelming. I like the experience but only when I’m in the mental space to be amidst chaos.
I do have to say that there is one thing here that completely disturbs me and that’s the people who are selling small pets on the side of the street. So basically they’ve got birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other small animals and they’re trying to get people to buy them. Have you ever seen – if not in real life then in a movie or TV show – when the police come to a place where street vendors are and all of the unlicensed vendors quickly gather everything (which is usually already on wheels) and run off? Well that’s what happens here and so you can imagine that the animals really are not treated well. I’d be surprised if they live long when they do get purchased. Some of them didn’t even look alive as we walked by them. It was the height of a heat wave when I was there and it was about noon so these animals were definitely not in a happy space. It’s depressing.
I should also add that this place is notorious for counterfeiting of brand name items, which is certainly why some of the stores can offer such cheap prices. We had a classic experience this time around … we were walking back to our car, passing by a McDonalds when a man literally jumped out from behind a bush and asked, “Coach? Louis Vuitton?” trying to get us to buy some knock-offs. We did not …
I don’t want to end on a negative note. Santee Alley is a great shopping destination and people-watching spot in LA as long as you take it for what it is. It’s been open since the 1970s and is open every single day of the year. And this is only one part of the Fashion District which, according to Wikipedia, spans 90 full blocks. There are cheap fabric spots where all of the fashion school kids apparently shop. There are name brand stores and boutique stores and thrift stores and ethnic stores. There is lots to see and lots of characters that populate the story of this place.