For better or for worse, shopping malls have become the town squares of American society. Entertainment, along with shopping, is the name of the game for malls these days. So, a trip to the mall means a little shopping, something to eat, then catch a movie. And some malls do the entertainment thing better than others (Westfield Shoppingtowns notwithstanding). Here's my subjective take on the malls around San Diego County. I won't include "big box" centers , only your traditional shopping malls.
Located approximately one mile from the Mission Valley Travelodge
The class of San Diego malls, Fashion Valley has arguably the best of the upscale stores. Nordstrom, JC Penney, Macy's, Nieman Marcus and the new Bloomingdale's anchor this well appointed two-level outdoor mall. Where else will you find a Tiffany store? Good restaurants and an AMC multiplex make this a place to go beyond shopping. Burberry, Lily Pulitzer, Gucci, Ruehl, Apple and Sony Style store reflect the mall's cool factor.
Located approximately two miles from the Mission Valley Travelodge.
Westfield's Mission Valley Center The selection of shops and the gigantic AMC multiplex suggest a catering to the teen and young adult crowd. But it does have a two-level Target (always good to have), two Macy's stores and Nordstrom Rack, and a 24-Hour Fitness gym.
Horton Plaza's construction in the mid-1980s jump-started the Gaslamp renaissance. Its multi-level, somewhat confusing whimsical architecture is a must-see for any San Diego visitor. Nordstrom, Macy's and a wide array of shops and eateries make this the noontime stop for downtown workers.
OK, Otay Ranch Town Center just opened in fall 2006. So what makes it so special? Well, it's the first regional mall to open in 20 years. And it's not your traditional mall, but a "lifestyle" mall. Think: a neighborhood business district, only with upscale shops and department stores.
One of the many Westfield Shoppingtown entities, UTC is a pleasant outdoor mall. Located in the Golden Triangle area (and slated for a refurbishing), it caters to the yuppie/soccer mom crowd. The much-used ice skating rink distinguishes the mall from others of Westfield's homogenous stable. Nordstrom, Sears, and Macy's are the majors.
This quaint mall in La Mesa is the shopping center that time forgot. It's a cozy, well-maintained outdoor mall in La Mesa that is lacking in pizazz and choices - in fact, it's a bit dull. But in the world of mega-malls, sometimes dull is OK. Anchored by a two-story Target, a smallish Macy's, Grossmont also has a nice Pacific Cinema, and a two-level Wal-Mart.
Yet another Westfield mall, Parkway Plaza is the regional mall serving East County. This indoor, single level mall is a necessity in scorching El Cajon. Malls tend to reflect their clientele, and Parkway serves the unpretentious, middle America of East County. Young adult shops, a Regal Cinema and a food court make this the area's teen hangout. A two-story Wal-Mart is the newest tenant.
Located in the South County area, Plaza Bonita is the Westfield indoor, two-level counterpart to Plaza Camino Real. In fact, other than the more ethnically diverse makeup of the Chula Vista, National City area shoppers (Hispanic, Filipino), you wouldn't know if you were in Plaza Camino, North County or Plaza Bonita. But the mall is undergoing and extensive makeover, adding a Target, Borders Books, and 14-screen AMC Cinema by 2008.
Chula Vista Center is one of the smaller malls in the region, and often gets lost in the shuffle between nearby Plaza Bonita and the new Otay Ranch Towne Center. An older mall located in downtown Chula Vista, it has the only Sears store in the South Bay are. It's also anchored by Macy's, JCPenney, Mervyn's, and an ULTRAStar Cinema. Chula Vista Mall
Another generic, indoor Westfield mall, Plaza Camino Real serves the North County Coastal area (Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside). Two-level, with the usual assortment of over 170 stores, Plaza Camino is as undistinguished as North County Fair, except they have a MovieMax Theatre Plaza. A new Steve & Barry's University Sportswear and Bella Furniture are open.
Yet another Westfield shopping mall, North County (Fair) serves the North County bedroom communities of Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, etc. This large, two-level indoor mall is of mid-1980s vintage with your usual allotment of department stores and shops (JC Penney, Sears, Nordstrom). Before Westfield took it over, it was known as North County Fair, and people still refer to it as that.
Factory Outlet Malls:
They used to be called "factory outlet" stores and located in non-descript, glorified strip malls. Boy, have things changed. Today, San Diego's outlet centers are impressive retail complexes that rival your traditional regional shopping mall. And they offer you high-profile brands in their own dedicated stores, though to be honest, not all of them are "outlet" stores.
In fact, from my experience, I don't see a huge difference in discounts offered from any good sale at your traditional retail store. In fact, some of the prices seem awfully, well, retail. Nonetheless, many shoppers swear to outlet centers, attributing much to the perception that they're getting a discount on name brands. And if you feel like you're getting a bargain, then that's all that matters, right?
Las Americas is the county's newest outlet center and it is an impressive one indeed. Latin themed in architecture, this sprawling complex next to the Mexico border offers well over 75 stores to fill every designer addict's need. Nike, Hilfiger, Claiborne...you name it, Las Americas has it, and a new expansion has added even more stores including Neiman Marcus, Kennth Cole, Polo and Coach outlets. Take the last U.S. exit to Camino de la Plaza.
Carlsbad Premium Outlets
Carlsbad Premium Outlets is another sprawling complex serving the north county. With 90 stores in an attractive setting, next to the Carlsbad Flower Fields, this outlet center is heavy on the designer names (Karan, Cole, Lauren), and even has a Barney's New York outlet. 5620 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad, CA 92008.
Viejas Outlet Center
Viejas Outlet Center, located across from the Viejas Casino, is the county's first of the dressed up outlet centers. And it still is the best in terms of ambience. The Native American theme and meandering walkways and gardens lend to a more serene shopping experience, if that's at all possible. But it works. The shops are your usual assortment of outlet standbys (Hilfiger, Gap, Nike), but it's worth the drive to Alpine. Plus, don't miss the special water shows, Power of Nightfire during summer and Legend of the Ice Princess show during the holidays. Oh yeah, and you can hit the casino if you still have dough after shopping. 5000 Willows Rd. Alpine, CA 91901.
San Diego Factory Outlet
The first of San Diego's outlet centers, the Factory Outlet has fallen somewhat on hard times with the opening of the flashier Las Americas right across the street. Mainly because most of the orginal tennants abandoned this strip mall for the nicer Las Americas digs. But there are still a few shops where you can find bargains. 4498-B Camino de la Plaza, San Ysidro, CA 92173.