A world away from iconic Los Angeles, a few suburbs over
Downtown L.A. is wildly underrated. Most people who visit Los Angeles for the first time rarely venture there; often citing the grittiness of it, the difficulty of travelling there from the Hollywood/Beverly Hills area, or the lack of tourist attractions. This made me intrigued, because in all of the places I've been, the 'downtown' part of a city is normally one of the most popular with tourists: brimming with life, full of interesting things to do; and in most cases, relatively affluent.
Despite confusion about what it had to offer, some of my favourite travel blogs had urged readers to visit, and emphasised that it was one of the most exciting, upcoming areas of the city. The more I researched, the more I was curious. How could a place with such fantastic history have become so notoriously unkempt, dangerous and edgy in the 80′s and 90′s? And how different was it now? And most importantly, what could it offer that other areas of Los Angeles couldn't?
One word: contrast. Gleaming skyscrapers literally stand alongside apartment buildings that look as if they've come straight out of The Glass Menagerie, and empty streets turn into bazaar-like alleys at the blink of an eye. Amongst this, the greatest drawcard is Santee Alley, in the heart of the city's fashion district. Don't visit expecting Rodeo Drive - in fact, it's practically the anti-Rodeo drive - but therein lies the appeal.
Like a market in Southeast Asia (or more fittingly, Mexico, considering the sheer amount of Spanish conversation you're likely to overhear), street food is ubiquitous, bartering is commonplace and vendors frantically compete for customer attention. It's edgy, exciting and overwhelming in the best way possible.
The sheer variety of items you'll encounter is interesting in itself - an inflatable luchador, anyone?
If the chaos of the alley is too much, a number of larger, less-frequented stores in the surrounding streets offer similarly priced items.
As an alternative to well-worn tourist paths on a visit to Los Angeles, it would be remiss not to consider downtown's Santee Alley and the surrounding fashion district.