San Diego's Best Shopping Malls

Horton Plaza shopping center
John & Lisa Merrill/Getty Images

San Diego has a variety of shopping malls dotted all around the city and surrounding county. While there are shops for every budget from frugal to luxury, it's not just shopping you can find at these malls. Entertainment is also the name of the game for malls these days. So, a trip to the mall in San Diego can mean a little shopping, followed by something to eat, and then a movie experience all without having to drive between. Here's a guide to the top shopping malls in San Diego.

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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 San Diego's only Bloomingdale's anchor this well appointed two-level outdoor mall. Where else will you find a Tiffany, Burberry, and Hermes store? Good restaurants and an AMC multiplex make this a place to go beyond shopping. H&M, Jimmy Choo, Hugo Boss, Gucci, Ruehl, Apple, Microsoft, and Sony stores reflect the mall's cool factor.

Tip: Parking is easiest and plentiful in the south-side parking structures.

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Otay Ranch Town Center

Otay Ranch Town Center has a decent variety of stores and a relaxed atmosphere makes it a great place to stroll and shop. It also includes a branch of the San Diego County Library in the center of the mall.

Tip: The "main street" allows parking in front of many stores. It's pedestrian friendly, with a dog park, too. For entertainment, there is an AMC multiplex and lots of dining, including PF Changs, California Pizza Kitchen, Macaroni Grill, El Vitral, and Cheesecake Factory.

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Westfield Horton Plaza

Horton Plaza's construction in the mid-1980s jump-started the Gaslamp renaissance. Its multi-level, somewhat confusing whimsical architecture is a must-see for any San Diego visitor. Horton Plaza has a Macy's department store plus a wide array of shops and eateries make this the noontime stop for downtown workers. The mall also has a Regal Cinema multiplex and a 24-Hour Fitness.

Tip: The parking structures can be confusing for first-timers. They are designated by vegetables and fruits. Make sure you validate your parking ticket (with any purchase) for three free hours between the hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you spend over $300 you can get all day parking validation. 

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Westfield Plaza Bonita

Located in the South County area, Westfield Plaza Bonita is an indoor mall located in National City that is a one-stop budget shopping experience thanks to having a Target, Nordstrom Rack, H&M, and more deal-worthy stores onsite. Westfield Plaza Bonita also has a 14-screen AMC Cinema, expansive food court, ​and a few sit-down restaurants.

Tip: JC Penney, Target, and Macy's are the anchor stores, and its culinary offerings range from Hot Dog on a Stick and Sbarro to Applebee's and Red Robin. 

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05 of 11

Westfield UTC

One of the many Westfield entities, Westfield UTC is a pleasant outdoor mall. Located in the Golden Triangle area, it caters to everyone from undergrads to families to business professionals. The much-used ice skating rink distinguishes the mall from other Westfield malls. Nordstrom, Sears, and Macy's are the major department stores, with an array of other retailers like Apple, Athleta, and Pottery Barn. As for dining, the mall has bumped up the fine dining choices with Tender Greens, Seasons 52 and Eureka! Burger. A 24-Hour Fitness and Arclight Cinema are also onsite.

Tip: The mall will be undergoing an expansion in 2017 to give the mall more of a first-class, resort feel, including courtyards, event space, high-end restaurants, and first-to-market retail.

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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 but makes up for it with convenience. Grossmont Center is anchored by both a Target and a Walmart, a smallish Macy's. Grossmont also has a nice Reading Cinema, Cost Plus, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, and lots of mom and pop style businesses.

Tip: There's a surprisingly good choice of sit-down restaurants, including the Casa de Pico, BJ's Brewhouse, Panera, Clam Jumper, Fuddrucker's, Olive Garden, Hooley's Irish Pub, and Red Lobster

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Westfield North County

Yet another Westfield shopping mall. Westfield North County serves the North County bedroom communities of Escondido, San Marcos, Vista, and neighboring communities. Before Westfield took it over, it was known as North County Fair, and people still sometimes refer to it as that. This large, two-level indoor mall has the usual allotment of department stores and shops (JC Penney, Macy's, Sears, Nordstrom), plus a massive three-level Target.

Tip: Parking is plentiful, but the food court is small, though it has some decent sit-down restaurant options (Red Robin, Macaroni Grill, Cheesecake Factory, On the Border).

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Parkway Plaza

Parkway Plaza is the main mall serving East County. This is an indoor mall, which is often a plus during the heat waves El Cajon gets. Parkway Plaza has many young adult shops, making this a popular teen hangout. There is also a Regal Cinema and a food court along with restaurants such as Applebee's and On the border. Anchor stores are Sears, JC Penney, Macy's, and a two-story Walmart.

Tip: There's a good-sized carousel in the middle of the mall.

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Westfield Mission Valley

Westfield Mission Valley is the mall that started the development and urbanization of the Mission Valley neighborhood of San Diego back in the 1960s. Today, it kind of reflects the unbridled development of the valley itself - its layout is a bit of a mess (a remnant of the '60s) and it's not one of the more aspirational of the San Diego malls, but it does have some things going for it. 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), Macy's, Nordstrom Rack, a Tilted Kilt Pub, and a 24-Hour Fitness gym.

Tip: The mall's West Annex has a Gordon Biersch Brewery. Restaurants built adjacent to the Target parking lot include Corner Bakery and Pei Wei.

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Chula Vista Center

Chula Vista Center is one of the smaller malls in the region and often gets lost in the shuffle between nearby renovated Plaza Bonita and the Otay Ranch Towne Center. An older mall located in downtown Chula Vista, it has the only Sears store in the South Bay area. It's also anchored by Macy's and JC Penney, and an UltraStar Cinema. BJ's Brewhouse, Carrow's, and Olive Garden are the sit-down dining choices.

Tip: If you want to hit a mall in the South Bay, and don't like indoor malls, or aren't swayed by the higher end shops, Chula Vista Center is a great fit.

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The Shoppes at Carlsbad

The Shoppes at Carlsbad (formerly Westfield Plaza Camino Real) is located in north Carlsbad and is in the process of reinventing itself. It recently underwent a much-needed refurbishment and expansion and switched ownership. It's still being determined how it will all play out in terms of services and retail options, but for now, you'll still find typical mall stores, such as Sears, Macy's, American Eagle, and Papaya.

Tip: Eateries are limited, but there is a Panera Bread if you're looking for a good meeting place for lunch before shopping.

Updated by Gina Tarnacki.

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