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Outlet Malls and Upscale Shopping in Northern California

Where to take your shopping detours on your next trip to San Francisco, Tahoe or Sacramento.

Livermore outlets

We travel for a lot of reasons: for a change of scenery, to visit friends, to get some sun, to broaden our cultural horizons, to eat too much. We rarely hop on a plane specifically to hit up the mall—but that’s not to say we don’t jump at the chance to sneak a little shopping in while we’re out exploring the world. And if we can find a bargain or two while we’re at it? All the better.

On your next trip to Northern California, a pit-stop at the Premium Outlets is certainly in order. The Vacaville shops—located in the sweet spot between San Francisco and Tahoe—sprawl across several parking lots, but the trek is worth it if you’re on the hunt for deals. (Just be sure to caffeinate first at the hip Starbucks pop-up shop, built inside a shipping container.) You’ll find most of the usual suspects here (Kate Spade, Coach, Gucci, Michael Kors) along with a few rarer finds: Vacaville may boast about being home to the Jelly Belly factory, but we were much more intrigued to stumble across one of the few Restoration Hardware outlets in the West.

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Above, Vacaville Outlets; below, Livermore Outlets.

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If you’re spending a weekend in San Jose, on the other hand, the Livermore Outlets (about a 45-minute drive north of the city) offer your best shopportunities. The mall is designed in an oval, so just pick a direction and go: you’ll wind up at the Barneys New York Warehouse eventually. And if you’ve got the patience to dig through the racks, invest some time at Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, which hawk racks and racks of remainders from big name brands for sweet price points.

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Wherever you’re planning your spree, sign up for the Premium Outlets’ VIP Shopper Club beforehand online to get a voucher for an exclusive coupon book. After all, every dollar you save means you’ve got another to spend when you leave the sweet embrace of the outlet mall for the real world… for example, when you pop into the upscale Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. The open-air mall eschews carts and kiosks in favour of gorgeous flower beds; each store is designed with its own thoughtfully designed façade (Polo Ralph Lauren channels a southern plantation; Marimekko surrounds frosted glass with thick black frames). Today you can shop flowy resort-inspired wear from Calypso St Barth or splurge on buttery soft linens at the Frette store, and up to 30 new stores will be joining the 58-year-old shopping centre in the coming year, but you may well be too mesmerized by the high-tech gizmoes in the recently renovated Bloomingdales to take notice: the dressing rooms feature mirrors with adjustable settings to mimic the lighting conditions of the great outdoors, the office and a candlelit dinner, and an iPad interface to help shoppers call an associate or check inventory for alternative colours, sizes and styles. (Though it’s hardly surprising: this fitting-room-of-the-future is, after all, located just a few miles from Apple HQ.)

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