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Top 10 The Best Shopping Malls

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.

1) Fashion Valley Center

The class of San Diego malls, Fashion Valley has arguably the best of the upscale stores. Nordstrom, JC Penney, Macy's, Nieman Marcus and Robinson's May 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 have opened, and new Sony Style store has way cool electronics. Tidbit: Parking is easiest and plentiful in the south-side parking structures.

2) Westfield Horton Plaza

Horton Plaza's construction in the mid-80s 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. Tidbit: The parking structures can be confusing for first-timers. They are designated by vegetables and fruits. Make sure you validate your ticket (with any purchase) for 2 free hours.

3) Viejas Outlet Center

Not a shopping mall in the traditional sense, the Viejas Factory Outlet, opposite the Viejas Casino, is actually very pleasant. Not your typical outlet center, Viejas follows a Native American theme, with meandering walkways with water features. A wide array of well-known outlet stores (Nike, Hilfiger) is made for the bargain hunter. Tidbit: Check out the water fountain show - it's pretty entertaining especially at night. And the holiday themed Legend of the Ice Princess shows nightly at 7:30.

4) Westfield University Town Center

One of the many Westfield Shoppingtown entities, UTC is a pleasant outdoor mall. 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 homogenous stable. Nordstrom, Sears, Robinson's May and Macy's are the majors. Tidbit: The ice rink is the place to stay cool on hot days - a fun place to chill and people watch.

5) Westfield North County

Another Westfield Shopping Town, North County Fair serves the North County bedroom communities. This large, two-level indoor mall has your usual allotment of department stores and shops, including JC Penney, Robinsons-May, Nordstrom and Sears. As an indoor mall, it has a generic, unexciting quality. Not bad, but not all that impressive. Tidbit: North County Fair has a mall walkers program on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

6) 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. A two-story Wal-Mart is the newest tenant. Tidbit: A Family Lounge is located in the Food Court as a respite for those with little ones.

7) Westfield Plaza Camino Real

Another generic, indoor Westfield mall, Plaza Camino Real serves the North County Coastal area (Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside). Two-level, with the usual assortment of stores, Plaza Camino is as undistinguished as North County Fair, except they have a Cinema Plaza Theater. Tidbit: Mallwalkers fitness program meets on Tuesdays at 8:30 am.

8) Westfield Plaza Bonita

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. Tidbit: Plaza Bonita is a Wi-Fi hotspot - bring your laptop and hang out with connectivity anywhere in the mall.

9) 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, Grossmont also has a nice Pacific Cinema, and a two-level Wal-Mart. Tidbit: There's a surprsingly good choice of sitdown restaurants, including the new Casa de Pico.

10) Westfield Mission Valley

Westfield's Mission Valley Center is kind of a mess. Its layout is a mess (a remnant of the '60s) and it's the most downscale of the are shopping malls. 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, and a 24-Hour Fitness gym. Tidbit: Hot home furnishing store West Elm has opened in the mall's West Annex, along with Fuddruckers.

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