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
Shopping in the Inland Empire can be sweet if you know where to go—it’s a hotbed of top-quality outlet centers filled with designer and brand-name finds. Biggest of the bunch is Ontario Mills, California’s largest outlet center and home to a California Welcome 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. (More: Inland Empire Outlets)
About 9 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, a grand façade that resembles a former Hollywood soundstage welcomes shoppers to one of the city’s largest retail centers. Citadel Outlets—built around the remnants of a 1920s tire factory and boasting spacious, palm-tree studded outdoor plazas—very much lives up to what one might imagine an L.A. outlet mall to be like. More than 130 stores and restaurants and a hotel are here, as is Los Angeles’ California Welcome Center; the staff there will be happy to help you plan your next stops. Find it and the location of all the stores with this map. (More: Citadel Outlets)
Desert Hills Premium Outlets
Here’s something to tempt you away from your stylish Palm Springs resort. The 180-store Desert Hills Premium Outlets complex is a California collection of luxury outlet stores including brands like Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Tom Ford, and Valentino for a fraction of what you’d expect to pay. 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 tip: For more bargain hunting, head to the adjacent Cabazon Outlets for deep discounts from Sunglass Hut, Guess, and other popular brands. (More: Desert Hills Premium Outlets)
Gilroy Premium Outlets
Some 84 miles south of San Francisco and 41 miles northeast of Monterey, the 145 stores of Gilroy Premium Outlets make a great stop as you travel along U.S. Highway 101. Take your teens to check out trendy fashions at Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet and 7 For All Mankind. Look for deals from such retailers as Calvin Klein and Brooks Brothers. Or pick up premium athleisure at Lululemon Athletica and outdoor gear at The North Face outlet. And the Gilroy mall’s shoe selection ranges from casual Crocs to classy Cole Haan. (More: Gilroy Premium Outlets)
The Outlets at Tejon
A must-stop if you’re traveling along I-5 between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, The Outlets at Tejon offers four dozen stores and eateries to bargain-hungry shoppers, with a particular focus on apparel and footwear. Browse for a pair of Pumas, Adidas, Nikes, or Skechers at their namesake outlets, or try on a range of brands at Rack Room Shoes and Famous Footwear. Luxury brands are not numerous here, but you can splurge on a purchase at Coach, Le Creuset, or Kate Spade.
The Outlets at Orange
Less than 10 minutes from Disneyland Resort, there’s another destination that might be just as magical—if you’re into shopping for bargains in an 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, or rejuvenate with a treatment at the Burke Williams Day Spa, while the kids shred at the indoor-outdoor Vans Skatepark. When you do get around to shopping, you’ll find marked-down merchandise at Neiman Marcus Last Call, Nordstrom Rack, and DKNY. Get a new surf-ready look at Hurley, or something lacy at Victoria’s Secret. (More: The Outlets at Orange)
Vacaville Premium Outlets
If you’re heading from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento or Lake Tahoe, take a break and check out the 90 stores at the impressive Vacaville Premium Outlets, located in Vacaville. You’ll find dozens of shoe stores, including Adidas, Aldo, Asics, Bass, Clark’s, Cole Haan, Crocs, and Converse (and that’s just from A through C!), not to mention designer fashions, sportswear, leather goods, and more at this open-air center. For shoppers’ convenience, there’s a children’s play area, baby changing stations, and electric vehicle charging stations. (More: Vacaville Premium Outlets)
San Francisco Premium Outlets
If your California vacation list includes finding new designer duds, head to the San Francisco Premium Outlets, formerly called Livermore Premium Outlets, to find steeply discounted prices. The collection of more than 180 stores is about 40 miles east of San Francisco in the Tri-Valley city of Livermore. Read the roster of brands in this mall’s store directory and you’ll feel like you’re skimming through the latest issue of Vogue—and shopping here means you’ll probably have enough cash left over to buy an extra outfit or two. Then buy a new suitcase to pack up your finds at the Samsonite outlet. (More: San Francisco Premium Outlets)