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 colourful, 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.
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 centres filled with designer and brand name finds.
Biggest of the bunch is Ontario Mills is California’s largest outlet centre. 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 Centre, where you’ll find deals at stores for Nike, Gap, Guess, and Armani Exchange.
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.
You’ve never seen a shopping centre quite like the Citadel Outlets near central Los Angeles. Discover more than 130 stores and a hotel behind an exotic, 520-metre façade straight out of Ancient Babylon—the remnant of a tyre factory dating back to the 1920s.
It looks like an ancient temple, and that’s not entirely misleading—the temple part at least. The Citadel is a shrine to contemporary shopping. The children will want to go to Gymboree and the Disney Outlet. Men can update their wardrobes at A/X Armani Exchange and Perry Ellis, while women should check out Kate Spade New York and other chic offerings.
Before your visit, check the events calendar for happenings such as Moms & Mimosas (take mum out on Mother’s Day!) or special discounts for service members during Military Appreciation Month. And once there, call by the Customer Service desk to ask for a Savings Card and a Savings Passport for additional discounts at several stores. Citadel Outlets is also home to Los Angeles’ California Welcome Center; the staff there will be happy to help you plan your next—or next dozen—stops. Find it and the location of all the stores with this map.
This outlet shopping centre also has an international collection of quick serve eateries, why waste time dining when you can shop? Look for Vietnamese food, sushi and Mediterranean shish kebabs. Like most outlets, Citadel has plenty of outdoor parking, but these car parks do fill up quickly at peak times. There is also a 9-floor multistorey car park opposite on Hoefner Avenue with 1,000 free spaces to handle the overflow.
Insider tips: if you're planning a visit to Disneyland Resort, about half-an-hour’s drive south (without traffic), consider visiting here too; Citadel offers an express shuttle service (for a fee) from several hotels in Anaheim. If you are in central LA, it’s even more of a no-brainer: there’s a free shuttle bus from multiple city centre locations. Citadel Outlets is also easily accessible via Metrolink.
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.
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.
You’ll find dozens of shoe shops alone, including Adidas, Aldo, Asics, Bass, Clarks, Cole Haan, Crocs and Converse (and that’s just from A to C!), not to mention designer fashions, sportswear, leather items and more at this open-air centre just off I-80, the main east-west corridor between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada range. Shop for bargains from iconic brands including Coach, Tumi, The North Face, Le Creuset and Banana Republic.
For the convenience of its shoppers, Vacaville Premium Outlets has a children’s play area, baby changing facilities and electric-vehicle charging stations. If you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up, there's a Starbuck’s and Kristin’s Coffee Corner on-site, along with DJ’s Grill and Deli for a meal and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for treats.
While in the Vacaville area, there’s lots to see and do. The nearby Suisun Valley is home to a booming winemaking industry; call in at Blue Victorian Vineyards or Wooden Valley Winery for a tour and tasting, or, in central Vacaville’s Town Square, visit Cuvee E, a wine bar specialising in local vintages. There are lots of ways to take advantage of the region’s ideal climate and terrain as well. Visit Browns Valley Open Space Preserve to go bouldering, or park up at dog-friendly, 190-hectare Pena Adobe Park for a hike, a picnic or an afternoon's fishing.