It’s A Mall World After All

By David Perloff and Assia Mortensen
Main photo by Brevin Blach
Mall photos by Stacy Keck

(Published in the December 2010 issue)

Living in a town where dreams of a white Christmas are dashed by blue skies and balmy breezes, channeling the holiday spirit can be a challenge. Legions of red-aproned Starbucks baristas help compound the cheer, but when the day calls for sleigh bells and wreaths aplenty, the malls are where it’s at.

If sitting on a stranger’s lap makes your stars twinkle, scratch that itch at any of the major San Diego shopping centers, most of which are offering Santa sessions every day in December. And whether you want to catch a flick, meet a chick (or dude) or even go bowling or ice-skating, yule probably find yourself at at least one of these Finest City malls this season.

Simon Fashion Valley

Back when Ted Williams was still playing baseball, the Padres home stadium (from 1958 to 1967) was Westgate Park, located on the site that is now Fashion Valley (owned and operated by Simon Property Group).

Drawing about 18 million visitors each year-that’s nearly 50,000 people a day, and a whole lot more than the Padres could hope for in any stadium-Fashion Valley is widely regarded as San Diego’s premier upscale shopping center, a reputation bolstered by its being home to the county’s only Bloomingdale’s, Tiffany & Co. and Jimmy Choo stores, to name just a few.

When its $18 million remodel is completed in September 2011, Fashion Valley will have a renovated food court; new landscaping, signage and lighting; plus softer chairs and couches throughout to promote socializing and increase shopping time. What it won’t have is Saks Fifth Avenue, which is abandoning its underperforming Mission Valley post. The anchor’s replacement has yet to be announced, but you can bet the new tenant will keep up with the Joneses (and the Guccis and the Jacobs).

Size Matters: 200 stores; 1.7 million square-feet

Fare Enough: Bing Crosby’s Restaurant and Piano Lounge, The Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen

Now Showing: AMC Fashion Valley 18,
Fashion Valley 7007 Friars Road, Mission Valley, 619.297.3381,

Westfield UTC

If Jack Frost is nipping at your nose while you’re holiday gift-hunting in San Diego, you must be at UTC, home not only to fabulous shopping but also to Ice Town, an indoor ice-skating rink that offers daily public skating sessions.

Situated on 75 acres, UTC (formerly known as University Town Center) opened its doors in 1977. These days, “the mall attracts more than eight million fashionforward shoppers annually,” says Michelle Predko, regional marketing director for Westfield, the retail property group that operates UTC, Westfield North County, Horton Plaza and Mission Valley Center, among countless others.

Given its Golden Triangle location, UTC draws a diverse clientele, ranging from soccer moms (who’ve congregated here since before the term “soccer mom” was invented) to students from UCSD. The new, weekly UTC Certified Farmers Market, held Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m., has been bringing in yet another fresh crop of patrons.

Size Matters: 150 stores; nearly 1.1 million square-feet

Fare Enough: Cozymel’s Mexican Grill, Miami Grille (Cuban cuisine), Chuao Chocolatier

4545 La Jolla Village Drive, University City,

Westfield Horton Plaza

Built in the mid-'80s to breathe new life into downtown, Horton Plaza has become iconic of the Gaslamp’s renaissance. Created by celebrated architect Jon Jerde (whose work on the project scored him a spot on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics design team), the five-story structure, with its angled passageways and surprising geometric features, resembles a postmodern sculpture as much as it does a traditional shopping mall.

Tourists and conventioneers contribute to Horton Plaza’s annual visitor load of 11 million, but locals love the place, too. It serves as a lunch spot for legions of downtown office workers by day, while providing nightlifers the opportunity to score a fresh look and a secure parking spot (free for three hours with validation) for a night on the town.

An upcoming remodel, slated for a 2013 completion, is set to give Horton Plaza a more open feeling along Fourth Avenue, where brick walls and parking structure entrances will be softened by soaring glass storefronts and an overall boost in curb appeal.

Size Matters: More than 120 stores; 835,000 square-feet

Fare Enough: O’Brothers (organic burgers), Sarku Japan, Steak Escape

Now Showing: United Artists Horton Plaza 14

Westfield Horton Plaza
324 Horton Plaza, Gaslamp, 619.239.8180,

Westfield Mission Valley

If he ever visits Westfield Mission Valley, Howie Mandel might finally stop asking, “Deal, or no deal?” With Loehmann’s, Charlotte Russe, Nordstrom Rack and Target stores all in one spot, this shopping center is all about deals. Still more discounts can be found across the street at Off Fifth, the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet.

Despite the two-level Target, however, Mission Valley’s offerings do not target only the frugal. The mall is also home to Macy’s, Macy’s Home Store and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Size Matters: More than 130 stores; 1.5 million square-feet

Now Showing: AMC Mission Valley 20,

Fare Enough: Seau’s The Restaurant, Outback Steakhouse, Gordon Biersch

Westfield Mission Valley
1640 Camino Del Rio North, Mission Valley,

Westfield North County

Sure, the weather here in paradise is near-perfect most of the year, but 20 miles inland is a different story. If you can see frost in winter, and sometimes feel like you’re in the Arizona desert during the summer, you must be in Escondido (not that there’s anything wrong with that). For you, the shopping gods (in this case, Westfield) present the climate-controlled oasis that is Westfield North County, the mall formerly known as North County Fair.

Located off the same I-15 exit as San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly the Wild Animal Park), Westfield North County pulls in seven million shoppers each year. Safari Park’s annual crowd is around one million.

In addition to its anchors (Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penney and Sears), the traditionally-designed, two-level, indoor facility has an Apple store, Bebe, H&M, Victoria’s Secret and all the usual suspects. If things go according to plan, the center will soon welcome its newest player, North County Tavern & Bowl, which will be STRIKE! three from the group behind existing Tavern & Bowl locations in East Village and East Lake.

Size Matters: 146 stores; 1.25 million square-feet

Fare Enough: The food court offers 25 options

Westfield North County
272 East Via Rancho
Parkway, Escondido,

Las Americas Premium Outlets

Drive south on I-5, past downtown and the Coronado Bay Bridge. When you pass the Chula Vista Salt Works (they’ve been producing salt there for 100 years), keep going. As you approach the “Illegal Immigrant Crossing” signs, you’re almost there. Then, just when you think you’re leaving the land of gringos, hang a right at the LAST USA EXIT. You’ve just arrived at Las Americas Premium Outlets. Bienvenida!

Operated by Simon, the same property group that owns and operates Carlsbad Premium Outlets and Fashion Valley, Las Americas is just a stone’s throw from the border. The proximity lends a warm and multi-cultural vibe, enhanced by the fact that many customers and merchants alike are bilingual.

Purchase holiday gifts from Victoria’s Secret, Sony, As Seen On TV Showcase or Swarovski. Or skip the presents and treat yourself to a new wardrobe at deep discounts from big brands like BCBG Max Azria, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Polo Ralph Lauren and Banana Republic. Either way, just don’t miss the exit. (Insider’s Tip: If you do, pull over and say this to the first native you see:

Soy un idiota.

Dónde está Estados Unidos?)

Size Matters: 125 outlet stores; 560,000 square-feet

Fare Enough: The Great Steak & Potato Co., Iron Wok Asian Bistro, Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen

Las Americas Premium Outlets
4211 Camino de la Plaza,
San Ysidro, 619.934.8400,

Carlsbad Premium Outlets

If Don Quixote lived in San Diego and needed some fresh, brand-name duds at a discount, he’d shop at Carlsbad Premium Outlets, located at the windmill exit (aka Palomar Airport Road) off I-5.

Built adjacent to the Flower Fields, where six to eight million Tecolote Giant Ranunculus bloom each spring, Carlsbad Premium Outlets (according to the shopping center’s own marketing) offer “Legendary Brands. Abundant Selection. Real Savings.” Given that stores including Polo Ralph Lauren, BCBG, Calvin Klein, Barneys New York, Juicy Couture, Kenneth Cole, Lacoste, Michael Kors, Salvatore Ferragamo and Theory sell their products for 25 to 65 percent off retail prices, even the Man of La Mancha himself could afford to shop here-after he’s done attacking the windmill, of course.

Size Matters: 90 stores; 290,000 square-feet

Fare Enough: Bellefleur Restaurant, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, San Sai Japanese Grill.

Carlsbad Premium Outlets
5620 Paseo del Norte, Carlsbad, 760.804.9000,

Fashion Valley’s director of marketing and business development, Francine Miley, was photographed at Santa’s Holiday House in Center Court at Fashion Valley
Styling: Julie Walke. Hair and makeup: Carlton Hair Salon & Day Spa. On Francine: Dress by Tory Burch, shoes by Jimmy Choo, jewelry by Tiffany & Co., handbag by Henri Bendel