Big-Bargain Outlet Malls
Praytino/Flickr

Big-Bargain Outlet Malls

With bucket-list magnets like Rodeo Drive and Union Square, California has undeniable star power when it comes to shopping. But all those fashion finds and gifts for everyone back home don’t have to come with hefty price tags. The state’s top outlet malls, featuring superstar big-name brands (think Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Prada, and Kate Spade) offer top-quality clothes, housewares, and accessories at dramatic discounts. While some outlets are set up as traditional outdoor malls, others have their own unique style—from colorful, sunny settings in the desert to a location in a former Los Angeles tire factory now reborn as lavishly embellished complex straight out of Aladdin.  

Inland Empire Outlets
Harriot Manley/ Sunset Publishing

Inland Empire Outlets

Inland Empire Outlets
Find bargains on brand names at major outlet centers

The only thing better than scoring the perfect outfit or designer shoes is to get them for a bargain price. That’s why shopping in the Inland Empire can be so sweet—it’s a hot bed of top-quality outlet centers filled with designer and brand name finds.

Biggest of the bunch is Ontario Mills, California’s largest outlet center. With more than 200 stores, it literally has brand names from A (Abercrombie & Fitch) to Z (Zumiez). Look for great deals in for clothes and shoes for men, women, and children, plus accessories, electronics, sporting goods, and home wares. There’s also a big selection at the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center, where you’ll find deals at stores for Nike, Gap, and Guess Armani.

Desert Hills Premium Outlets

Desert Hills Premium Outlets

Desert Hills Premium Outlets
Shop for bargains near Palm Springs

Here’s something to tempt you away from all that basking by the pool at your stylish Palm Springs resort. The 180-store Desert Hills Premium Outlets complex is a head-spinning bonanza when it comes to incredible bargains on clothes, accessories, shoes and housewares. And we’re talking some seriously swanky brands—Armani, Prada, and Versace all have outlets here, with the latest looks for a fraction of what you’d expect to pay for these ritzy duds. Even if you’re not in the market for an edgy, notice-me look straight out of Scandal, it’s fun to peruse these stores in a much less exclusive setting than the experience you get at their upscale boutiques.

The complex borders Interstate 10, the main route connecting Palm Springs to the Southern California coast, so it’s an easy (and essential) detour on your way to or from San Diego, L.A., or other points west.

Insider’s tip: For more bargain hunting, head to the adjacent Cabazon Outlets for deep discounts from Sunglass Hut, Guess, and other popular brands.

 

Citadel Outlets
Praytino/Flickr

Citadel Outlets

Citadel Outlets
Visit a shopping landmark near downtown L.A.

You’ve never seen a retail center quite like the Citadel Outlets. Discover more than 130 stores and a hotel behind an exotic, 1,700-foot/518-meter façade straight out of Ancient Babylon—the remnant of a tire factory dating back to the 1920s.

Even if it looks like an ancient temple, the Citadel is a shrine to contemporary shopping. Take the young ones to Tommy Hilfiger Kids and the Toys “R” Us Outlet. Guys can update their wardrobes at A/X Armani Exchange and Hugo Boss, while women should check out Kate Spade New York and other chic offerings.

This outlet mall also has an international collection of quick-serve eateries (why waste time dining when you can shop?). Look for Vietnamese food, sushi, and Hawaiian barbecue.

Insider’s Tip: If you're planning a visit to Disneyland Resort, about a half-hour’s drive south (without traffic), consider adding a trip to these outlets; Citadel offers express shuttles (fee charged) from several hotels in Anaheim.

Gilroy Premium Outlets
Rupert Ganzer/Flickr

Gilroy Premium Outlets

Gilroy Premium Outlets
Browse for bargains off U.S. 101

Thanks to its many farms and annual festival, Gilroy has earned the title of “Garlic Capital of the World.” But this Central Coast town is also a prime shopping destination, with the expansive Gilroy Premium Outlets offering 145 stores featuring leading brands and designers.

Some 84 miles/135km south of San Francisco and 41 miles/66km northeast of Monterey, the outlets make a great stop as you travel along U.S. Highway 101. Take your teens to check out cool fashions at Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet and American Apparel. Look for deals from such classics as Calvin Klein and Brooks Brothers. Or pick up premium workout gear at Lululemon Athletica and outdoor adventure clothes and gear at The North Face outlet. And the shoe selection ranges from casual Crocs to classy Cole Haan.

The Outlets at Orange
Vans Skate Park

The Outlets at Orange

The Outlets at Orange
Great deals near Disneyland Resort

Less than 10 minutes from the Magic Kingdom, there’s another destination that might be just as magical—if you’re into shopping for bargains in a surprisingly inviting setting. The Outlets at Orange complex features top stores and a host of other activities that don’t involve bargain hunting. Catch a movie at the AMC Orange 30, which includes an IMAX 3D theater. Rejuvenate with a treatment at the Burke Williams Day Spa, while the kids burn off some energy as they shred on the indoor street course and assorted ramps and concrete bowls at the indoor-outdoor Vans SkatePark. The popular skate park also offers equipment rentals and lessons.

But let’s not forget—you’re here for the shopping. Find marked-down merchandise at Neiman Marcus Last Call and seriously awesome deals at Nordstrom Rack and DKNY. Get a new surf-ready look at Hurley, or something slinky and lacy at Frederick’s of Hollywood.

Vacaville Premium Outlets
Marc Falardeau/Flickr

Vacaville Premium Outlets

Vacaville Premium Outlets
Stylish bargains off Interstate 80

If you’re heading from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento or Lake Tahoe, take a break and check out more than 120 stores at the impressive Vacaville Premium Outlets.

You’ll find designer fashions, leather goods, and home furnishings at this open-air center just off I-80, the main east-west corridor between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada range. Shop for deals at such icons as Eddie Bauer and Banana Republic. Or search for high-end looks at Gucci, Michael Kors, and Kate Spade New York. And if you need an item for your home, check out the classy offerings for less at Restoration Hardware.

San Francisco Premium Outlets
Toni Zernik

San Francisco Premium Outlets

San Francisco Premium Outlets
Travel east to save in the Tri-Valley

Looking for a little something special for that dinner out? Or maybe you want to nab some gifts for friends and family. Do it all at this collection of more than 100 high-end retail outlets in the Tri-Valley city of Livermore, east of San Francisco Bay, and you’ll probably have enough cash leftover to buy an extra outfit or two.

Read the roster of brands in this mall’s store directory and you’ll feel like your skimming through the latest issue of Vogue. Armani, Burberry, DKNY, Kate Spade New York, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada—it’s a wish list of designers, all with prices at up to 65% off full retail. You’ll find more than clothes here too: Le Crueset has an outlet, with big price cuts on high-end cookware. Also browse for baubles at Swarovski and other jewelry outlets, get a fresh scent at Lancôme, tell time at Movado, and snag a pair Skechers. Then buy a new suitcase to pack up your finds at the Samsonite outlet. As if that’s not enough temptation, plan your visit to this mall, formerly called Livermore Premium Outlets, on a Tuesday, and, if you’re age 50 or above, receive an additional 10 percent off at many stores, including Max Mara, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger.