Shopping Southern California: The ultimate fashion outlets and a lofty challenge

“Hold on, you’re basically taking your dream holiday….and this is work?” That’s what my mom said, in response to my telling her I had to jet off to California for a week to “work,” last month. And she wasn’t wrong. If given the choice of having a holiday where I lay about on a beach for a week, or a holiday where I can shop until I drop for seven days straight, I’ll always choose the shopping holiday. I’m a hunter, of sorts. I love a bargain and absolutely adore any chance to shop somewhere new. Southern California, while not new to me, has a shopping scene I’ve never had time before to explore before. So, when Simon Shopping Destinations asked me if I wanted to pack a bag, come out and explore three of their destinations in California and write about the whole adventure, I didn’t have to second guess my answer. It took me mere moments to picture the sun on my back and the bargains in front of me. I was off to California, wallet in hand and my arms ready for the loads of bags I’d inevitably be lugging. Here’s the full story:


Flashback with me a few weeks. We flew into LAX and spent our first and second night of the trip in Los Angeles. Our first shopping excursion was set for Orange County, just a short drive away from LA (depending on traffic of course), and only minutes away from the famed Disneyland Resort. Yes, shopping can be an easy part of a Disney holiday. Just saying. There’s more fun out there than just a hug from Mickey and a Disney Parade. The Outlets at Orange was actually where I found myself in the most trouble on this trip. With more than 120 outlet and value stores including Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Neiman Marcus Last Call and Nordstrom Rack, I was giddy with excitement as we set off on our first look around the shops.


Minutes after I had spent more than I care to admit in Neiman Marcus Last Call, I set myself a challenge that I thought would make the whole experience more exciting, and yes, this was a decision made all on my own. I was going to put an outfit together, head to toe, at every outlet centre we would visit on this trip. That would mean three outfits in three days, all on the spot with no previous knowledge of what I’d find in the stores, and with an added hurdle of making sure every item bought was at least 50% off. If The Outlets at Orange were anything to go by, this would be a cinch. The hardest part would be narrowing down which way to go with each outfit and finding the perfect place to shoot each look after it was selected. If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen this whole thing take place live. I did a pretty good job of keeping people in the loop on stories as I went on the hunt (I saved everything over on the gram, if you wanted to go back and relive it – just look for the “Shopping California” highlight).


But let me step back a minute or two here and start from the very beginning of day one, in The Outlets at Orange. I knew shopping 120 stores was going to require a bit of a caffeinated and sugar loaded start. So, it all began with strategy over a hazelnut latte and a cinnamon swirl at The Corner Bakery online. With my map opened, I planned my attack. I had three hours to shop on this day and I had to put forward a well timed and concise method of movement. I mapped out where I’d start, the stores I had to hit and the ones that weren’t top of the list that could be saved for last, if there was time. There was one break only, for lunch at Johnny Rocket’s (love!), but I could eat quickly and be back at it.


Now, it should be noted that The Outlets at Orange is an open air shopping experience. But, don’t worry, Londoners, this isn’t British weather. We’re in LA, where their chance of rain is like our chance of sunshine. I was actually breaking a sweat by the time I ran into the third store. My first purchase(s) was made at Neiman Marcus Last Call, as mentioned. My second came from Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th and my last from Nordstrom Rack. I actually completed the outfit for day one in the first 90 minutes, but felt the need to get in as much exploration of the other brands as time would allow. I only wish I had a bit more time to check out things like the IMAX, indoor skatepark and bowling that were also on site. Seriously, people of Orange County, you are very lucky to have this in your backyard.


So, here’s a look back on the day, starting with the outfit that was created from shopping that day. Every single piece was under $200 and over 50% off (the jacket was actually 85% off… yup…. the hunter is very satisfied with the kill!)

The end result outfit, all purchased from The Outlets at Orange:

Day two and I had traded in my flats for actual trainers to get around the outlets. Amateur mistake on the first day, wearing footwear that wasn’t made for running. This is a marathon, people, a shopping marathon. Day two was one that had us visiting California’s largest outlet and value retail shopping destination with over 200 stores. This is Ontario Mills and it felt like it existed in an entirely different universe to The Outlets at Orange County. First of all, this outlet is located indoors, completely, so the weather doesn’t factor into your enjoyment level. You can find escape here in the pouring rain and not think twice about it while shopping the seemingly endless halls. From the Coach Factory Store to the Restoration Hardware Outlet store (how did I not know this existed?), I was cursing my decision to only bring one suitcase. And why oh why is it unacceptable to bring a sofa home on the plane? I found earrings by the bucket load in Off Saks, a skirt in Banana Republic and three sweaters in Polo Ralph Lauren. I bought a Donna Karen dress for $17, some J Crew heels for $8.99 and even a white linen blazer for the less than the cost of lunch. Oh the pride I felt in bringing these goodies home to the hotel closet! It was a good day indeed and such an easy trip from Los Angeles. However, we weren’t headed back to the big city as the day concluded. Instead, we were headed out to shop a completely different destination, found just outside a Los Angeles local’s weekend favourite…. Palm Springs.

The end result outfit, all purchased from Ontario Mills:


With suitcases in tow, we made our way from Ontario Mills to the new hotel in Palm Springs. The weather was absolute perfection, if not a tad too hot. But, you won’t hear me complaining. People back in London were wearing winter coats on Instagram and I was wearing next to nothing in an attempt to keep myself cool. Oh, California, I do love thee so and even more so now that I’ve discovered the pleasure of your shopping offering. Anyway, I’m getting off topic. There’s still one more day to detail and you haven’t got all the time in the world to hear me wax lyrical about toasty California days. So, off we go to our final destination – Desert Hills Premium Outlets.


This is where things start to get silly. This isn’t like any outlet shopping you’ve ever seen before. In fact, if you mention Desert Mills to any LA native with a love for Palm Springs, you’ll be met with a smile and a warning to “watch your wallet.” It’s dangerous here….for your savings account. The deals are so hot that your credit card may just melt. Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Burberry, Coach, Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Saint Laurent Paris and Tom Ford are just a few of the big names you’ll find with shops here at Desert Mills. And if you didn’t know any better you’d think you were shopping an offshoot of Rodeo Drive. Desert Mills is beautiful. The storefronts feel so luxurious it’s almost impossible to imagine there would be anything affordable beyond them. But, dear reader, the deals here are insane and unparalleled. The rumours were true and I feel ashamed, almost, to admit that my shopping here went above and beyond styling one look. So that I won’t be disowned by my partner, I’m keeping some details to myself here. But, I can say my final look was one of my favourites, with items from all of my favourite luxury stores. This time there was nothing that rang up over $100, and absolutely everything was 80% off or more. When I sat down to calculate this, I felt mighty proud of myself. So, without further ado, here’s a look at the day at Desert Hills, my outfit from the day shopping and a little look into our time in Palm Springs, including an absolutely stunning day with Red Jeep Tours courtesy of the Palm Springs Tourist board (cannot recommend this enough).

The end result outfit, all purchased from Desert Hills Premium Outlets:

Heading to the States and planning to shop?