Non touristy Santiago: San Diego neighborhood
When I returned to live in Santiago, after some time abroad, it wasn’t easy to find where to stay permanently. If you want to rent a place, you need a lot of papers to prove you have been working in the country for at least a year and a million other things. So even being Chilean I had to ask for help from a friend’s friend, who had a rental apartment. That’s how I ended up living two blocks away from the San Diego neighborhood. I had never looked at it so closely before, but from my balcony you can see all its movement and, although it doesn’t feel like the ideal place to live, there was a lot I hadn’t noticed before; a certain charm.
This neighborhood is one of the oldest ones in Santiago, it’s located south from Alameda Avenue, along San Diego street and its surroundings. It is a purely commercial neighborhood, but it hides some of the city’s iconic places. I can’t say it’s tourist site, but when you know it you also know a little more about the real Santiago. So if you have time and you’ve already visited La Moneda, take a little detour and get to know San Diego.
If you go in from the north, the first thing you’ll see are several used book stores, old magazines and even the newest best sellers, both in English and Spanish. The smell of old books fills the air of the whole street and if you go into a shopping arcade you can find old literature jewels, in stores attended in some cases by the owners, who have been collecting dust for several decades, just like their books.
Upon arriving to the corner of San Diego and Alonso de Ovalle streets, a giant warehouse is advertised as the Chinese Mall. If you are visiting Santiago and want to buy cheap, leave your bags with one of our keepers nearby, because in the Chinese Mall you can find everything: clothes, wallets, makeup, electronic devices and things you didn’t even know you could need. If you run out of space, you can even buy a new suitcase. The most reasonable thing is to leave the shopping for the end of the day because you still have a few blocks to walk.
After the books, there are many shops that sell bicycles, spare parts and helmets. If you liked Chile so much so you decide to stay, this is the place to buy your new “traveling companion”. Everything here is cheaper than anywhere else in the city and if you want something special, some places still make the bicycles they offer.
In the neighborhood there are also two emblematic concert venues: Caupolicán Theater and Cariola Theater, which although been left aside for many years, have got new life because of alternative bands. Both theatres are the favorites for k-pop and heavy metal bands. Some famous bands also like to play there, like Faith No More. So it doesn’t hurt to check the coming events.
If it’s already lunch time, one of the most traditional restaurants in the city center will certainly be open: Las Tejas. A large space full of small tables, claiming to be “The Palace of the Terremoto (earthquake)”. If you have been in Chile for a while and have not yet tried a terremoto, this is the opportunity.
This typical Chilean beverage is a mix of pipeño wine (unbranded young wine), pineapple sorbet, grenadine and some bitter liquor, such as Fernet or Araucano. The terremoto is a sweet and deceiving drink. Its name comes from the fact that after one glass you will probably be very tipsy and you will experience more than one, the same that happens with earthquakes in Chile. Las Tejas is one of the few places in Santiago that offers this drink all year round, although it’s generally consumed during our national holidays in September. In this place you can also eat typical Chilean dishes, like beans and spaghetti, cazuela or arrollado. It’s not a fancy place, but you can have a good time and feel very Chilean. If you go on a Friday or Saturday night, usually there is live music and a big parties start from zero.
If the terremoto makes you feel bad you can go and confess your sins in one of the most beautiful churches I know: Los Sacramentinos Church (Santa Isabel and Arturo Prat streets). This example of fine architecture was inaugurated in 1919 after being under construction for almost 10 years. The architect (Ricardo Larraín) was inspired by the famous Sacré-Cœur in Paris. Apart from its beauty, it is located right in front of a square, which makes it possible to take beautiful pictures without anything blocking the view. The church isn’t open at all times so if you have the chance to enter or, even better, attend one of the free classical music concerts offered at the beginning of the year, don’t hesitate, because it has awesome acoustics.
Behind Los Sacramentinos, you will find Juegos Diana, a kitsch icon of the city. This “amusement park” mixes classic arcade video games with dance video games machines, a carousel and even a small wheel of fortune, from where you can see the neighborhood from above. Every person born in Santiago during the 80’s has a photo in this place full of colors. Even if you don’t want to play the entrance is free, so go in and look, it’s worth transporting yourself in time.
Some years ago, right next to Juegos Diana’s amusements, Espacio Diana was born. A cultural center where you can take dance lessons, including cueca (our national dance) and attend great plays. Right next to is La Diana, a super hipster restaurant which, although expensier than the rest of the neighborhood, shares the playful decoration of Juegos Diana and is not bad for a mid-afternoon cocktail or dinner.
If you feel sick of been surrounded by so many people, you can walk through Parque Almagro, a green park that stretches between Cousiño Palace on San Ignacio street and San Diego street. This green place in the middle of the city is a haven among the crowded streets. During the day you can see families and people working out, but I don’t recommend going after sunset, as it can turn to be a little dangerous.
And a personal bonus track: If you like visiting farmers markets, walk along Coquimbo Street on Wednesdays or Saturdays, between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., from San Diego street. You can find a lot of people selling all sorts of vegetables and fruits. And you can even have something to eat at improvised street restaurants.
San Diego neighborhood has all this and isn’t suitable for conventional tourists, but highly recommended if you want to mix in with the “common people”. Nearby, you can store your bags with one of Airkeep’s keepers; who knows, might be me.