Monday, February 6, 2012

Iconic L.A.: Santee Alley

SANTEE ALLEY is, to me, what Los Angeles is all about. A hidden treasure right in the heart of downtown near Los Angeles St & Olympic, Santee Alley has something to offer almost every Angeleno. As soon as I step onto the block, my nose catches wind of the magnificent scent of bacon wrapped hot dogs. These vendors occupy where the Alley crosses a street, each offering a slightly different variation of toppings for these treats. Some come with freshly grilled onions, others with green peppers, others with both. The hot dog is cooked so it has a few sear marks before being wrapped in bacon and cooked more until the bacon is a golden brown. This, combined with a fresh fruit drink which the vendors also often sell is a meal that is iconiclly Los Angeles to me, something I would have a hard time finding anywhere else and just wouldn’t feel the same if I did. Bacon wrapped hot dogs are not the only food available though, others sell freshly sliced mangos with chile and lime, Popsicles, and a hole-in-the wall restaurant at the end of the Alley has some seriously good and authentic Mexican food. Fish tacos cooked with onions, cabbage and salsa are my favorites here. Although it is delicious, Santee Alley is not known for its food. Rather, it is known for being a place where one can go and get cheap but quality clothing, accessories, shoes, toys, electronics and more. Extremely small to boutique sized stores line either side of the open-air Alley, while their workers try to lure potential customers in by proclaiming some of the deals they have; “2 for $10 sunglasses” or “3 for $20 t-shirts” are some of the most popular options. Whether I wanted shoes, jeans, a shirt or a coat, I could find it for a fraction of the price of what it would normally be at a mall or department store. It is where I will always check first when I need new clothes, and usually not need to check anywhere else.

Another thing that draws me to Santee Alley its how unpretentious it is. It is dirty, people are often selling bootleg DVDs, and many of the stores do not have a visible name. People just know if they want to get a lot of clothing for a little bit of money, they come to Santee Alley. It attracts all races and socioeconomic types of people, dozens of different languages are overheard as you walk around, and there is a certain life to the Alley that I have not seen anywhere else. I am shoulder to shoulder with thousands of like minded shoppers of all backgrounds, all intermingling and haggling with vendors to try to get the best deals. This, combined with the warm climate that usually accompanies this experience is something that is iconic to the city. There are many certain places about LA that I love, but Santee Alley is one of the ones that always comes to mind first. I have traveled to a fair number of cities throughout America, Canada and Europe, but I have never been anywhere that compares to or captivates me like this tucked away Alley in Downtown Los Angeles.

-- Derek Dellovo
photo credit: TK

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