Location: 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, at the San Diego (405) Freeway and Bristol Street.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Known for: The largest shopping center in California, South Coast Plaza is the Rodeo Drive of Orange County, with nearly every luxury brand in the universe under one roof. The mall has 250 boutiques and 30 restaurants.
What you'll find: Almost everything you could ever want or need. Anchor stores are Bloomingdale's (the best one in Southern California), Nordstrom, Macy's, Sears and a small Saks Fifth Avenue. Boutiques include Chanel, Hermes, Prada, Balenciaga, Marni, Miu Miu, Chopard, Harry Winston, Rolex, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and Cartier boutiques, mixed with mall regulars such as J. Crew, Gap, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic. The CH Carolina Herrera store, featuring the designer's lower-priced line, is notable, as is the only SoCal outpost for the French luggage and handbag brand Longchamp. The only West Coast John Lobb men's footwear boutique is here, as are the only SoCal DKNY and Donna Karan boutiques. And don't forget about the hard-to-find third level, where you will find foodie favorite French bistro Marché Moderne, as well as the Christian Louboutin and Oscar de la Renta stores.
An outdoor bridge over Bear Street connects to South Coast Plaza West, formerly called Crystal Court, where there are even more stores — Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Loft, Chico's, Talbots, Nike and more.
As a bonus, nearby Metro Pointe at South Coast, owned by a separate company, houses discounts aplenty at Nordstrom Rack, Loehmann's and Marshalls.
Vibe: Tourists, tanned and toned moms in tennis skirts, and ladies who lunch. (Overheard at lunchtime at the next table at Quattro, "I'd have another glass of wine, but I have carpool.")
Survival strategies: Pace yourself, drink lots of water and wear comfortable shoes. When it comes to shopping, this is the big leagues. Try parking in the small lot behind the south parking structure between Bloomingdale's and Saks. It's usually not so crowded. Also note there are four concierge desks throughout the main building. They all offer package check services, as well as stroller and wheelchair rentals.
Take a break: Forget the food court. Fine dining abounds, whether you grab a steak at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's, a foie gras torchon at Marché Moderne or an order of garlic noodles at AnQi by Crustacean. For more low-key fare, try Quattro for pasta and salads, Lawry's Carvery for roast beef sandwiches or the Champagne Bakery — a nice respite outside by the bridge over Bear Street to South Coast Plaza West — for a latte.
Holiday cheer: The carousel horses are transformed into reindeer, and kids can take pictures with Santa at his workshop in Carousel Court or enjoy craft activities in Santa's Village. Check the website for updates on live musical performances between now and Christmas.
For kids: The carousel, between Sears and Bloomingdale's in Carousel Court, has several kid-friendly destinations clustered nearby, including Rainforest Cafe (check out the large aquariums), the Lego Store, Disney Store, Sanrio, Pottery Barn Kids and Puzzle Zoo. To catch a movie, there's the Edwards 12 Theatre at Metro Pointe.
Nearby: The Segerstrom Center for the Arts (600 and 665 Town Center Drive) hosts music, dance and theater productions (including South Coast Repertory's "A Christmas Carol" Saturday through Dec. 24). And when you've had enough shopping, the Noguchi Sculpture Garden (2 Town Center Drive) is about as serene as it gets. For a fee, there are also daily shuttles from Disneyland-area hotels.
Impressions: With multiple levels, locations and shops, it can be quite overwhelming. But as long as you focus, and plot out a route, there's something here for everyone. When it comes to fashion, this mall would be perfect, except that it doesn't have Neiman Marcus. And the fashion selection in boutiques isn't always as edgy as you'd find in Los Angeles, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you're looking for.
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