A Man’s Review of San Diego Shopping Malls

November 21, 2007 at 3:14 pm (Random thoughts)

I have a well known and strictly enforced rule in my family that we will not be “getting into the Holiday Spirit” until, at the very earliest, the day after Thanksgiving.

There will be NO Christmas decorations put up.

There will be NO singing of Christmas songs.

There will be NO watching of Christmas movies.

There will be NO writing of Christmas cards.

It’s entirely unfair to Thanksgiving to be giving Christmas preferential treatment. Alas, our culture doesn’t feel the same and has made a perverse habit of forcing Christmas down our throats earlier and earlier each year to the point where not only is Thanksgiving getting robbed of it’s due respect, but even Halloween has taken a back seat to Christmas and in some truly deplorable cases even Columbus day.


While I try to put a damper on most things related to Christmas being practiced prematurely I can’t really argue with those who seek to get all of their “Christmas shopping” out of the way early. I have a strange bit of admiration for those who have crossed off every item on their list by the time December actually shows up. Nevertheless I am certainly not one of those people. I am procrastinator if there ever was one. I’ve been known to wait until Christmas eve, drive over to 7/11 and pick up whatever is left on the shelves for my loved ones. Christmas morning often looks like this…

Loved one- “Yay, Lotto scratchers.”

Me- “Yup”

Loved one- “Hmmm, travel sized toothpaste?”

Me- “You know for that trip we are going on in March.”

Loved one- “Um, 3 quarts of oil?”

Me- “But look below there’s also a paper filter.”

Anyway, you get the picture.

I am like this because I am a man, and men are born with a natural aversion to two words, “shopping” and “mall”. When you put those two words together and then put them into a sentence that includes the words “go”, “spend” and “day” you have a recipe for disaster. I would rather have dental work done by the guy who paints donkeys in Tijuana than spend any time and/or money, in a shopping mall. But I love my wife and she likes my teeth so I go with her to the shopping malls occasionally. And now that it’s actually time to be thinking about Christmas (almost) I’ve decided to treat my readers to a review of my least-hated shopping malls in San Diego County.

Before jumping right into my list let me explain something that may help you ladies understand the mind of the man.

When I began looking for a engagement ring for my wife I learned all about the “4 C’s” of choosing the right diamond. They were something like, Color, Cut, Carat, and Country of Origin. Ultimately I settled on a diamond that was a colorless square, almost a carat that was not from Sierra Leone (thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio).

Along those same lines I have derived a system for grading malls that all men will most likely agree with…

Closeness and Convenience – How far away is this place from my house? How long will I be stuck in traffic? How easy is it to park? Can I get in and out without having to pass 64 stores she wants to “just look” at? Is it near the freeway?

Costliness- How much more am I going to have to pay at this mall than I would have to at walmart for the exact same product? Does this mall have a valet? (A really bad sign). Does the average customer’s underwear cost more than my entire wardrobe?

Claustrophobicness- Am I going to feel like a sardine? Is this place a maze? Will I unintentionally be touching or touched by 7 different people at the same time?

Coolness- Are there any stores I actually care about? Is there any good entertainment options? What’s the food court like? And what about the actual temperature? Will I be melting inside this place?

The malls on this list (which also happen to be the only malls I can think of) will be subjected to a 0-5 bag scale for each of the C’s. Meaning the highest possible rating would be 20 bags.

Learn and enjoy

#1 North County Fair-

Closeness and Convenience- 4 bags. At just under 10 miles away mapquest estimates a 13 minute drive to this mall. The offramp feeds you directly into the parking lot where there are many spots provided you are willing to walk. NOTE: Walking a long distance through a mall parking lot is not a bad thing. Most people will walk twenty times that same distance once they actually step into the mall so what real advantage is there to parking closer? This is especially true when it comes to obese people who claim there obesity as a handicap so as to get to park in the reserved parking. I contend that anyone who is “handicapped” by obesity be required to park in the farthest spot possible to help them overcome their “diasability”.

Costliness-3 bags. While certainly not cheap (no mall is) it also isn’t ridiculously overpriced. I would call their prices “fair by retail standards”.

Claustrophobicness- 3 bags. The main corridors of this mall have been littered with cell phone hawkers and masseuses but it still remains the most comfortable of the 5 malls on this list.

Coolness- 1 bag. If it weren’t for Oggies and Red Robin this would be a 0 bag grade. Most of the stores in this mall are completely boring to me. I’ll usually spend a little bit of time in Sports Fever (which is featured at nearly every mall on this list so no real bonus) and suncoast, but buying anything at suncoast is just plain stupid since the same products can be bought at walmart or online for much less.

Grand total= 11 Bags

#2 Horton Plaza-

Closeness and Convenience- 0 Bags. Nearly 22 miles away you are lucky to get to this mall in less than 40 minutes, plus you’ll have to negotiate an insane parking garage.

Costliness- 4 bags. This one may come as a shocker but Horton Plaza is the only local mall to have a “Steve and Barry’s”. If you’ve never been to this store you’re missing out. Most of their clothing is merely casual type clothes, but it’s very cheap casual clothes (which is what casual clothes should be). I have some pants from there that cost 8 dollars. That’s less than the salvation army would charge. Of course everything else in this mall is ridiculously overpriced.

Claustrophobicness- 0 bags. This place is a nightmare. If you manage to make your way out of the parking garage and into the actual mall you’re still faced with a daunting labyrinth that causes you to feel like a lab rat searching for a piece of cheese. And to make matters worse they don’t have maps. Actually the more I think about it I don’t think they make mall maps anymore so you’re simply on your own.

Coolness- 5 bags. This is far and away the coolest mall in San Diego. It has a movie theater and an actual theater, theater. It’s located downtown which is cool because downtown has fabulous eateries all over the place and best of all it’s just a few blocks away from PETCO Park!

Grand Total = 9 bags.

#3 UTC-

Closeness and Convenience- 1 Bag. This mall is just 13 miles away but it still takes at least 20 minutes to get there because of the 5 mile stretch of stop lights on Miramar road.

Costliness- 1 Bag. When you visit this mall you know you are in La Jolla. There isn’t a single reasonably priced store in this mall.

Claustrophobicness- 2 bags. Not great and not terrible. It’s pretty much the spacing of your prototypical mall.

Coolness- 4 bags. UTC has the one feature that puts every other mall to shame. An iceskating rink surrounded by a food court. Whenever I get a chance to watch hockey AND make my wife happy by going to the mall I consider that a great thing.

Grand Total= 8 Bags

#4 Mission Valley-

Closeness and Convenience- 2 Bags. This mall is about 19 miles away but can be arrived at in a little over 20 minutes (depending on traffic) thanks to it’s terrific freeway access.

Costliness-1 Bag. Standard overpriced retail goods for San Diego. Perhaps if it were located further away it would have better prices.

Claustrophobicness- 1 Bag. I can’t stand the narrow ramps you have to march up from the parking garage. You can never make it up walking next to your wife instead you have to walk single file, this is awkward because you’re not sure if your responsibility as a husband is to lead the way or to guard her from behind.

Coolness- 2 Bags. They have a movie theater which is nice, but they also have 24 hour fitness which makes the above much worse. Getting out of the way of sweaty people makes sense, but on those ramps you can’t get out of the way they just drip all over you. Disgusting! But Seau’s makes a pretty good Buffalo chicken sandwich so I’ll make that sacrifice.

Grand Total = 6 Bags

#5 Fashion Valley-

Closeness and Convenience-1 Bag. While locationally it’s about the same as Mission Valley (17 and half miles; 22 minutes) it’s ranked a bag less because of a horrible freeway offramp and disgustingly poor parking situation (see below).

Costliness- negative 3 Bags. This is the most overpriced mall in San Diego and they are proud of it. They have added to their reputation of snootiness by turning one of their parking garages into “up front parking”. This means that for just $5 you can demonstrate how little money means to you by paying for the right to park the exact same distance as other spots in the parking lot. Even worse I have heard radio advertisements promoting the fact that they now charge you to park as if it were a positive thing. This is ludicrous. As mentioned earlier, closeness in mall parking is completely unnecessary. Once you get into the stores you’ll find that every single item in every single store costs more than you can find anywhere else on the planet. You simply cannot find a bigger waste of money than FVM.

Claustrophobicness- 1 Bag. I think this may be improving because they are pricing so many people out. Most schmucks can’t afford to buy anything here so they are staying away. This is positive if you are just in the mood to window shop, but again, if you buy something here you are stupid.

Coolness- 3 Bags. The redeeming qualities of this mall are that it has a nice movie theater and two great restaurants; Pizzeria Uno (Fantastic deep dish!) and Cheesecake Factory (Always a good place to take your wife on a date). There is also the added benefit of perhaps meeting a local sports celebrity. Pablo Honey once met LT at the Coach store. I think LT was confused and was looking for a replacement for Norv Turner and instead found himself surrounded by brown leather.

Grand Total = 2 Bags.

So there’s my rundown of the best and worst malls in San Diego county. I’m sure this will come in handy for all my male readers who still haven’t caught on to the wonders of online shopping and hopefully it will help my female readers to cut their husbands a little slack.



  1. Franky said,

    I’ve thought for all these years that the green fuzz growing on your back and chest was mold… you know, because you’re old. I now, in fact, realize that it is because you are the Grinch.

  2. Defending FFL Champ said,

    “Holiday Spirit”

    What “Holiday spirit”??? What happen to “Christmas Spirit”???

  3. itsasecret2u said,

    Oops, comment #1 was me. 🙂

  4. danielbalc said,

    Unlike some I am not the least bit offended by the word “Holiday”.

    I love Christmas time. However I am against Christmas time during some other holiday’s time. It only cheapens Christmas to try and celebrate it all year. As Syndrome said, “When everybody’s super; than nobody will be super.” Same rule of the thumb applies to Christmas celebrations.

    Don’t you see the problem with this happening on November 17th?


    Note the countdown on the right hand side of the page, “There are only 359 days left till the Santa Claus parade comes to Oakville next year.” BLECH!

  5. danielbalc said,

    “Christmas” to “Holiday” reference 10-1

    c’mon ffl cellar dweller you’ve got to allow for a little variety.

  6. RubeRad said,

    Hey, you didn’t rate the two malls in my neck of the woods: Grossmont and Parkway Plaza. With freeway access, I bet they are easier (quicker) to get to than Horton Plaza, and as each of them is anchored by a WalMart, they’re probably on the cheap end. Plus Grossmont has Fuddruckers and Cost+. Parkway has Oscar’s and a carousel. Both have ColdStone. And one of them (Parkway?) has a paintball store. And both of them have decent movie theaters. And I’d rate them both at 4-bags for non-claustrophobicnessialitism.

  7. danielbalc said,

    Last week I ate a a mexican joint outside of grossmont called “casa de la pico” or something like that it. It was a whole lot of fun. It was also my first time ever at grossmont and since I didn’t go inside of anything else I can’t possibly rate it.

    As for parkway I went there once about 3 years ago and I saw the carousel. Again, I can’t possibly rate it.

    Why don’t you do your own rating and throw it out there for my east county readers? Then again, I think you’re my only east county reader.

  8. 5najeras said,

    I was very wise to choose a husband that shares my passion for shopping, clothes, shoes, accessories, and when we have money, style. We don’t discriminate, we love all the malls San Diego has to offer. 🙂


    Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the Way!
    Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh, hey!
    Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the Way!
    Oh what fun it is to ride on a one horse open sleigh, hey!

    Fact: This song was actually written for Thanksgiving.

  9. pokerforprofit said,

    I was very wise to choose a husband that shares my passion for shopping, clothes, shoes, accessories, and when we have money, style.

    Are you sure that is a husband you chose? 🙂

    Hey, you didn’t rate the two malls in my neck of the woods: Grossmont and Parkway

    I used to fear for my life everytime I went to Parkway when I used to live in El Cajon. That place used to be a hotbed for “15 year old hispanics with bandanas who think they are gang members” gangs. Maybe it has changed.

  10. Laura said,

    I guess the mall out in Carlsbad is too far? Or too obsure, maybe. And if you are going to go there, why not make it all the way to the outlet stores…

    I avoid malls if I can – online shopping is the way to go. But I have daughters who like to go t o the mall, so I guess I suffer for them *sigh*

  11. Laura said,

    I meant obscure – sorry!

    What do you think about almost-malls, like the Escondido Promenade and the one in Mira Mesa with the Edwards Theatre and all that? I hate trying to even go to the movies at Mira Mesa because there is NEVER any parking, even if you have to walk far!

    As to the earlier part of your post, I don’t put up any Christmas until after Thanksgiving, either. I like keeping Christmas to Christmas-time! (And I haven’t done much gift shopping yet, except for one item for my grandbaby and the girls’ annual ornaments – bought the day after Thanksgiving, if you can believe it. At Cost Plus World Market, no waiting in line, parking almost at the door in 4S Ranch. One of my all-time favorite stores….)

  12. Defending FFL Champ said,

    Christmas/Holiday comment.

    Just like giving you a bad time. None of that bothers me either. By the way, I am not the FFL cellar dweller. Have you noticed who’s about to take down the first place team tonight. Look out Pablo.

  13. Jessica said,

    Hey I’m an East County reader! But I guess I don’t matter.

    Parkway Plaza is just about the ghettoist mall I have ever shopped in. Here is my review of it:

    Closeness and Convenience – 4 bags (to me) I live in San Carlos, which hardly anybody knows where that is located. Parkway Plaza is just a short trip away maybe 10 minutes.

    Costliness- 2 Bags This mall has most standard mall stores, but also as an added bonus a Wal-Mart so you can get grocery items and Disney Store stuff all in one trip.

    Claustrophobicness- 1 bag Every time I go here I just want out as soo as possible. Plus I don’t like taking my kids because they cry every time I tell them they can’t ride the $4 a ride carosel. I’m not spending $12 for a 2 minute carosel ride.

    Coolness- 1/2 bag As mentioned above there is a Wal-Mart in the mall! Plus as if having a Wal-Mart isn’t bad enough people push the stupid Wal-Mart shopping carts arounf the whole mall. It is so bad that stores put up signs saying please don’t bring your oversized shopping cart into our tiny store. I give it half a bag because it has a Disney Store and I love all things Disney.

    Total 7 1/2 bags

    As for Grossmont, this happens to be my husbands favorite mall because he grew up around San Carlos/La Mesa he has shopped here most of his life. I do not share the nostalgic feelings he has for it, it’s not bad but it’s not that special.

    Closeness and Convenience – 4 bags It’s about as close if not closed than Parkway to me.

    Costliness- 3 Bags This mall has some unique stores like a store to buy Nurse’s scrubs. It also has a great 2 level Target!

    Claustrophobicness- 4 Bags This mall is an outdoor mall like a mini UTC mall and it’s never that crowded.

    Coolness- 2 bags It has a 2 level Target!

    Total 13 bags

  14. danielbalc said,

    Atta girl Jess,

    Thanks for stepping in and reviewing the malls I have no knowledge of.

    But in keeping with the title of the post you should have had Zack do the reviews.

    I’ve been to a two story target before but I don’t know where it was, I’m not quite sure. I did like seeing the shopping cart escalator. very cool.

    that carousel costs 4 bucks a ride? yikes. That’s more than the one in Balboa park which is really cool because you get to pull the rings and try and get a free ride.

    I’m kind of surprised that no ladies have stepped up to defend their mall of choice against my criticisms. Methinks they might actually agree with my reviews.

  15. Pablo Honey said,

    The Target you speak of is in Mission Valley, right next to Outback.

  16. itsasecret2u said,

    I agree with your reviews, though my mall-knowledge is largely centered around North County Fair. My mom likes to drive her Lexus down to Fashion Valley when she shops, so, though I’m not very familiar with it, the costliness rating you gave it (negative three bags) seemed likely to be true to me.

    NCF gets some nostalgia points for me, though it looks progressively more and more different with each passing year (anyone else remember Broadway, May Company, and Robinsons?). I have to say, too, that I appreciate the “Expectant Mother” parking at the Westfield malls. I don’t always use it (it’s good to walk when you’re pregnant), but if all the open spaces are super-far away, it’s nice to have the option.

  17. Laura said,

    I know where San Carlos is – my aunt and uncle have lived there since forever. It is the home of Cowles Mtn.,Patrick Henry High School, Lake Murray. It’ s kinda like where Mission Gorge begins…Not to be confused with Del Cerro, which is the next neighborhood west and closer to SDSU. I think it was an original suburb of San Diego when there was still open space between San Carlos and La Mesa.

    So hasn’t anyone ever shopped at Plaza Camino Real? That is the one near Carlsbad, you can see it across the lagoon off of the 78…the last mall in this county before Orange County.

    By the way, my husband avoids malls like the plague. The only one he really goes to out of necessity is North County Fair, because it is closest and Nordstom carries the work boots that he prefers. Otherwise he pretty much sticks to the local strip malls and the Carmel Mtn. Ranch “almost-malls”.

  18. Laura said,

    By the way, I HATE Parkway Plaza! It has been ghetto at least since 1979, which is the last time I shopped there. And that was only because I lived in Lakeside (also ghetto – well not really, more like Hicksville), and it was closest ( I was a teenager at the time and hadn’t been driving too long, so I didn’t usually drive too far away from where we lived…)
    So anyway, sorry, Jess…Grossmont is probably nicer and closer for you, and definitely better than trying to negotiate MissionValley/Fashion Valley!

  19. danielbalc said,

    Yeah Laura, about a year ago i went to Plaza Camino Real. It’s disturbing to me that in my first year of marriage I have been to at least 4 malls I had never been to before.
    My biggest complaint about that mall was that it’s right by the coast so you’d think the weather is probably fairly good year round but they still made it an indoor mall. Other than that nothing either good or bad stands out to me.

    Your husband is a wise man.

  20. thedrunk51 said,

    where i come from, we say christmas. and i’m with you – i wouldn’t even set foot in a store that had christmas *stuff* out before thanksgiving.

    made it rough on my wife for thanksgiving grocery shopping, but hey, i have my principles.

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