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What You Need to Know About Shopping in California

Boutiques, shops, and malls are once again fully open, and here’s everything you need to know about shopping in the Golden State

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From the bustling stores in San Francisco’s Union Square to the outlet offerings at Ontario Mills to Orange County’s famous malls, California is home to some of the world’s best spots to shop—and there’s never been a better time to indulge in some much-needed retail therapy. Thanks to a new COVID-19 public health order effective June 15, all retail destinations are open at full capacity with physical distancing and mask mandates for vaccinated individuals lifted across the Golden State.

In addition, California no longer has a travel advisory in effect, meaning that fully vaccinated individuals are free to visit their favorite shopping destinations without the need to test or quarantine. However, some exceptions do apply, so advance planning is strongly suggested. Here’s what you need to know about shopping in California in summer 2021.

Navigating the Reopening

“We’re so excited to have a full reopening with no capacity limits, and have that consistency throughout the state of California,” says Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association. Over the course of the past 15 months, guidelines for retailers and shoppers have varied from county to county, but Michelin says that all regions are now following the same guidance. “From a retail perspective, we don't see any area of the state that's not in compliance,” she says.

For vaccinated shoppers and travelers that means, for the most part, a return to normal. Those who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 are still asked to wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces. Different businesses may also impose their own rules and requests, so it’s important to be mindful of signage.

Michelin explains, “It may take some time for some people to get used to the new guidance.”

Supporting Independent Retailers

Michelin says shopping at locally owned businesses across California is always a good idea—but there’s never been a better time to show your support. “When you step into a store, you will feel the gratitude and the impact you are making by shopping in the community,” she says. “As you visit different parts of California, you can take that part back home with you.”

For example, you can find a pair of where-did-you-get-those jeans at Santa Barbara’s Ace Rivington, a sustainable, denim-focused apparel brand. The owner, Beau Lawrence, says he used a few months of the 2020 shutdown to create a new-and-improved brick-and-mortar location. “I cut every single board in the new store myself,” he says. Customers who enter the La Arcada Plaza shop can enjoy a warm welcome from Lawrence (he loves to suggest places to eat, drink, and explore in his hometown), as well as hands-on tailoring to ensure every person walks out with perfect-fitting jeans.

As far as COVID restrictions, Lawrence says he does have a sign up in the front of the shop asking anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated to wear a mask “for the sake of my kids.” But he adds that he’s thrilled to have the mask mandate lifted for vaccinated shoppers: “I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s faces. Smiles are so important.”

Returning to California’s Amazing Malls

The Golden State is world-renowned for its incredible indoor and outdoor shopping malls—many of which were closed or restricted for months during shutdown. It’s no surprise that with the new public health ordinance in place, retailers are experiencing an influx of shoppers in search of a hands-on, luxury experience.

“We expect the number of visitors this year to meet or even exceed pre-COVID levels,” says Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing for South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand for the in-person shopping experience, which enables people to browse, see, touch, feel, and smell before buying.”

Like many retailers large and small, South Coast Plaza has health and safety measures in place to ensure shopper comfort. Face coverings are required for unvaccinated guests with complimentary masks available for all. The center also has a state-of-the-art air filtration system and UV-spectrum lighting to prevent the spread of germs, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations and regular cleaning of all high-touch surfaces.

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