By: Scott Smith and Sandra Wells

Until we recently visited Westfield Century City, we had the impression that many mall stores were closed, but WCC was popping (check for what is open). After major renovation 2013-2017, it reopened to rave reviews for its upscale transformation. Many of the walls are even covered with painted images from the Annenberg Space for Photography. It also now has lots of touchless parking and strong security. Though an outdoor mall, masks and distancing are required, so expect lines at some of the most popular places.

Yes, there are the massive department stores, where shopaholics could get lost for days: Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom. There are also high-end retailers like Tiffany and Swarovski, as well as quality brands with broad appeal, such as Disney, The Container Store, Warby Parker, Anthropologie, Amazon Books, and Sephora (which has the best selection of affordable, beauty supplies).

High-tech early adopters will be thrilled by Tesla (auto, solar, and batteries), Lucid Motors (luxury EV sedans), Electra Meccanica (one-seater EV), and Dyson (advanced purifiers and cleaners). The top floor has the vast Eataly marketplace of restaurants and vendors of imported Italian products.

What we enjoyed most were the specialty shops, such as Lovepop’s 3-D greeting cards, Saje’s aromatherapies, Theragun’s massage tools, and Whom Home’s custom-built, eco-friendly furniture. There are also lot of kiosks and rotating pop-ups in the Town Square (such as Katie Cazorla’s Color Flash one-minute gel manicure).

The Americana at Brand The Glendale version of Hollywood’s Pacific Grove was ranked the favorite mall by Los Angeles Magazine. It starts with plentiful parking, beautiful design in a green outdoor setting (including a gold statue in a dancing fountain), a trolley for the weary (though it is an easy and less crowded walk compared with the three levels inside at the Galleria next door).

The sole department store is Nordstrom’s, known for is excellent customer service and primo brands, but you need to have the means and taste for $60 sunglasses and $700 baby strollers. They do offer on-the-spot tailoring and personalization of many items. The men’s department is filled with classic paintings of men to study while trying things on. The On Running brand of shoes Scott found very comfortable and supportive. Sandra is a fan of the MAC Cosmetic line.

Some of the other notable stores include Sur La Table (cookware), Samsung Experience, Disney Baby, and Indochino (custom-tailored menswear). The most interesting specialty retailer was “Kiehl’s, an apothecary since 1851.” Its knowledgeable staff explained the extensive research, herbs, and vitamins that go into its skin, hair, and body care products, such as the “clinically-proven dark spot corrective solution” and “rare earth pore cleanser.”

But the real surprise came from real-world browsing of two bookstores. Amazon’s features only tomes and technology that have received at least four star ratings. These included the Marvel Encyclopedia New Edition with intro by the late Stan Lee (Scott interviewed him twice). We came across lots of fun and useful books we never would have noticed online, including Martha Stewart’s Very Good Things: Clever Tips and Genius Ideas for an Easier, More Enjoyable Life and Bill O’Neill’s Interesting Stories for Curious People: A Collection of Fascinating Stories About History, Science, Pop Culture and Just About Anything Else You Can Think of. They were even selling Bruce Lipton’s classic from 2005,The Biology of Belief, which explains why everyone needs therapy.

We had not been inside a Barnes & Noble in a year and had forgotten what a treasure trove it is. We had to pull ourselves away after an hour of skimming the Newstand, with hundreds of niche magazines like Philosophy Now, Ol’ Skool Rodz, Ancient Warfare, All About Space, and Movie Maker.

We could have spent the entire day in the New Books section. General Nonfiction titles included Erin Brockovich’s Superman’s Not Coming: Our National Water Crisis and What We the People Can Do About It and Jennifer Ackerman’s The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Although we have a keen interest in American history, we had heard nothing about most of what was on display, like David Michaelis’ Eleanor (a landmark study of Eleanor Roosevelt) or Ibram Kendi’s Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa hosts 275 retailers in 2.8 million square feet (indoors, but so vast you barely realize it), with pre-COVID annual sales of $1.5 billion, topping all other U.S. malls. A full day is required to even cruise it properly. Unlike most malls, it has lots of free parking.

SCP has many distinctive features, including the California Scenario sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi, a stained glass dome, and chandeliers that look like inverted pyramids, which overhang the seasonally decorated and stunning central court. The background music is classical, reflecting its ownership by the Segerstrom family, whose concert halls are part of the complex (the Orange County Museum of Art will reopen there in 2022).

All the luxury retailers are represented, including Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Bulgari, and Louis Vuitton. Catering to the same audience is the Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Once you get past the acres of perfumes and jewelry, you can go up to the second level for the men’s department, which features the currently hottest sneakers by Balenciaga, promoted by Cardi B and other rappers, which have distinctive features, like the lace-less ones that can be just slipped on, those with an unusual amount of ventilation, and others with extremely heavy soles. The women’s department caters to Asian visitors who can afford a $9,500 raincoat or blazer for $2,295.

The mall also hosts May Co. and Bloomingdales. The latter is notable for its vast selection of top quality dishes and ceramics, kitchen tools, bedding, and Samsonite NeoPulse luggage, with its extraordinary level of protection.

We most loved some of the specialty stores. Porsche Design exhibits not simply a car (on a $250,000 screen), but a wide range of products from watches to laptops. Stella McCartney offers fake leather handbags softer than animal skins and phony furs more gorgeous than dead animals. Aveda’s line of cosmetics and skincare are plant-based and purer than anything else on the market, including products to revitalize the scalp and stop hair loss.

Investing in the local economy is a good thing, allowing you to unleash your inner shopaholic without going over your budget. But you can also just browse any mall for fun (and break your Zoom addiction).