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San Diego's Best 11 Shopping Malls

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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. Here's my subjective take on the malls around San Diego County. I won't include "big box" centers, only your traditional shopping malls.

1. Fashion Valley Center

Man holding shopping bags in mall
Britt Erlanson/Taxi/Getty Images
The class of San Diego malls, Fashion Valley has arguably the best of the upscale stores. Nordstrom, JC Penney, Macy's, Nieman Marcus and San Diego's only Bloomingdale's anchor this well appointed two-level outdoor mall. Where else will you find a Tiffany, Burberry, and Hermes store? Good restaurants and an AMC multiplex make this a place to go beyond shopping. H&M, Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss, Gucci, Ruehl, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony stores reflect the mall's cool factor. Tidbit: Parking is easiest and plentiful in the south-side parking structures.

2. Otay Ranch Town Center

So what makes Otay Ranch Town Center 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 like Macy's, Apple, REI, H&M, Ann Taylor. It hasn't garnered the shopping traffic that was expected of it when it opened in 2006, but its decent variety of stores and relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to stroll and shop. And it also includes a branch of teh San Diego County Library in the center of the mall.Tidbit: The "main street" allows parking in front of many stores. It's pedestrian friendly, with a dog park, too. For entertainment, an AMC multiplex and lots of dining including PF Changs, California Pizza Kitchen, Macaroni Grill, El Vitral and Cheesecake Factory.

3. Westfield Horton Plaza

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. There's a Regal Cinema multiplex and also a 24-Hour Fitness located here.Tidbit: The parking structures can be confusing for first-timers. They are designated by vegetables and fruits. Make sure you validate your parking ticket (with any purchase) for 3 free hours (4 hours with movie or restaurant purchase).

4. Westfield Plaza Bonita

Located in the South County area, Plaza Bonita is the Westfield indoor, two-level counterpart to Plaza Camino Real. In the past, 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 recently underwent an extensive makeover, adding a Target, Nordstrom Rack, H&M Fashions, 14-screen AMC Cinema, expansive food court and sit down restaurants. Now, the mall has a new, sleek, upscale sheen and is very nice. Tidbit: JC Penney, Nordstrom Rack, Target and Macy's are the anchor stores, and the food court is one of the nicest ones found at any mall.

5. Westfield University Town Center

One of the many Westfield entities, UTC is a pleasant outdoor mall and recently underwent an extensive renovation. Located in the Golden Triangle area, it caters to the yuppie/soccer mom crowd. The much-used ice skating rink distinguishes the mall from others of Westfield's predictable stable. Nordstrom, Sears, and Macy's are the majors, with your usual array of mall retailers like Apple, Tiffany and Crate & Barrel. As for dining, the mall has bumped up the fine dining choices with Tender Greens, Seasons 52 and Eureka! Burger. A 24-Hour Fitness has also been added to the mall. Tidbit: The ice rink and food court is the place to stay cool on hot days - a fun place to chill and people watch. During Christmas, the ice rink adds to the holiday flavor. And the new Arclight Cinema brings an upscale experience to movie lovers.

6. Grossmont Center

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, and a two-level Wal-Mart, Grossmont also has a nice Reading Cinema, Cost Plus, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and lots of mom & pop businesses. Tidbit: There's a surprisingly good choice of sitdown restaurants, including the Casa de Pico, BJ's Brewhouse, Panera, Claim Jumper, Fuddrucker's, Olive Garden, Hooley's Irish Pub and Shakey's Pizza for families.

7. Westfield North County

Yet another Westfield shopping mall, North County (Fair) serves the North County bedroom communities of Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, etc. Before Westfield took it over, it was known as North County Fair, and people still refer to it as that. This large, two-level indoor mall is of mid-1980s vintage with your usual allotment of department stores and shops (JC Penney, Macy's, Sears, Nordstrom), and is finally undergoing a mall refresh. It does have an Apple store and a new H&M. And Target recently opened a massive three-level store in the mall, and North Conty Tavern & Bowl next to Sears gives the mall a bit of some much-needed cool factor. Tidbit: Parking is plentiful, but the food court is small, and the sit-down restaurant food choices are limited (Red Robin, Macaroni Grill, On the Border), given the area demographics.

8. Westfield Parkway Plaza

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. Anchor stores are Sears, JC Penney, Macy's and a two-story Wal-Mart. And a Dick's Sporting Goods recently moved into the mall. Tidbit: There's a good sized carousel in the middle of the mall, and there's even a Bob's Big Boy restaurant, for those seeking nostalgia.

9. Westfield Mission Valley

Westfield's Mission Valley Center is the mall that started the development and urbanization of Mission Valley back in the 1960s, when there were more cattle than stores. Today, it kind of reflects the unbridled development of the valley itself - its layout is a bit of a mess (a remnant of the '60s) and it's the least aspirational of the regional malls this side of Plaza Camino Real. But unlike Plaza Camino, it has some things going for it. 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), Macy's, Nordstrom Rack, a Tilted Kilt Pub, and a 24-Hour Fitness gym. Tidbit: The mall's West Annex has home furnishing store West Elm, Gordon Biersch Brewery, Old Navy, Marshalls, and DSW Shoes. New restaurants built adjacent to the Target parking lot include Corner Bakery and Pei Wei.

10. Chula Vista Center

Chula Vista Center is one of the smaller malls in the region, and often gets lost in the shuffle between nearby renovated Plaza Bonita and the 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 and JC Penney and an ULTRAStar Cinema. BJ's Brewhouse, Carrow's and Olive Garden are the sit down dining choices. Tidbit: If you want to hit the mall in the South Bay, and don't like indoor malls, or aren't swayed by the higher end shops, Chula Vista Center is a perfect fit.

11. Westfield Plaza Camino Real

Another generic, indoor Westfield mall, Plaza Camino Real serves the far North County Coastal area (Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside). Two-level, with the usual assortment of over 170 stores, Plaza Camino is about as generic as a mall gets. It can be dropped into the middle of the country and no one would feel out of place. JC Penney, Macy's and Sears are the anchors. By all accounts, this mall needs some refurbished love. Tidbit: There is no food court (what?) but there is an independent Movie Max Cinema. You're better off heading to Westfield North County if you want a nicer mall experience

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