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Save Some Money and Look Less Like A Mall Rat in Chinatown

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LA's sprawl and car culture can make it difficult to discover great shopping destinations that are off your beaten path. Hidden Gems explores the city's nooks and crannies to clue you in to places you might have otherwise missed.

Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

Everybody knows that Chinatown—in any city—is great for authentic dim sum. But not everyone knows that LA's Old Chinatown Plaza is home to some kick-ass shopping. Now, we're not necessarily recommending you rock a head-to-toe look purchased here, but you can tastefully add some Asian-inspired flair to your wardrobe at insanely reasonable prices.

When you enter the plaza, you'll spot a covered jewelry stall to your left, filled with pieces for $10 and under. The best finds are the bangles and bracelets in jade and neutral-lacquered beads, that could easily be worn by the armful. Necklaces with buddha-etched wooden beads or colored thread strung through old coins are perfect for channeling a bohemian vibe, and simple $1 band rings are too good to pass up because, seriously, when was the last time you bought jewelry for a buck?

Just beyond the jewelry stand is K&A Co II, where you might be overwhelmed by the wall-to-wall merchandise, but get over it: we promise you'll discover some beautiful silk apparel to justify any dry cleaning bill. Kimono robes with florals, butterflies, peacocks, cranes and cherry blossoms come in between $26 - $30. There's brightly patterned tunics with similar patterns, in addition to some featuring Pucci-esque graphic prints, that'll run you less than $35. You'll also find the traditional embroidered satin slippers and purses, as well as sweet paper parasols to shield you from the SoCal sun.

Across the plaza is Gin Ling Gifts, the one clothing retailer that boasts a stock of more upscale and, in some cases, slightly more Western-influenced clothing. But don't let that fool you into thinking you're not still getting a deal: a striking red jacket that's a mix of military and Chinese motifs sells for $50, while a minimalist grey vest adorned with Chinese characters costs only $28. And, if you're really ready to embrace the culture, there's gorgeous custom-made qi pao dresses for around $100. We can guarantee you won't find custom-made clothes anywhere else in LA for that price.

In addition to fun fashion, there's also lots of affordable decorative housewares and art sold in the plaza, like chopsticks, paper lamps, fans, swords with dragon handles, buddhas and even the odd ninja star. (We can definitely support affordable decor that also doubles as a security system, unless you're actually being robbed by ninjas, in which case you have bigger problems.) It's true that you may not always be dealing with store owners who speak very good English, but that's all part of the adventure and charm. Beyond the killer inexpensive gear you can score, there's delicious people watching and eye-catching backdrops for photo ops. And yes, there's also great, authentic dim sum—hit up Golden Dragon right across the street. (Text by Claire Heath)

· Old Chinatown Plaza—930 N Broadway
· K&A Co II—951 Sun Mun Way, (213-620-1092); open 7 days, 10:30PM - 7:30PM
· Gin Ling Gifts—441 Gin Ling Way, (213-617-1452); open Mon - Fri 11AM - 6PM, Sat 11AM - 7PM, Sun 11AM - 6PM