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The mall issue: Santa Monica Place

November 20, 2011
  • Santa Monica Place.
Santa Monica Place. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Location: 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica. From the 10 Freeway, take the 4th Street exit north and turn left on Colorado Avenue.

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.

Known for: Santa Monica Place, a $265-million remodel of a Frank Gehry-designed structure, reopened in August 2010. Shoppers waited for hours the first day to find parking spaces, browse luxury stores and give thanks that they no longer had to make the grueling drive to Beverly Hills or Century City to shop Coach or Tiffany or Louis Vuitton. The facility offers views of the nearby pier, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. Plus, there's a concierge service that will help shoppers with hotel referrals, restaurant reservations and copy and fax services.

What you'll find: The new Santa Monica Place — redesigned last year — has three levels of stores that face inward, many overlooking a large courtyard. Unlike its past incarnation, the shopping center is open to the elements, which makes for lots of natural light on sunny days. Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's anchor Santa Monica Place, and other high-end tenants include Barney's Co-op, Betsey Johnson, Burberry, Coach, Juicy Couture, Kitson, Louis Vuitton, Tory Burch and Tiffany. Fast fashion dominates on the second floor, with offerings such as Charlotte Russe, Angl and Hot Topic. The top floor is mostly about eating, drinking and gazing at postcard-like views.

Vibe: Santa Monica Place hums with activity, even during a recent visit on a rainy afternoon. Some of the patrons carry bags from stores on the nearby Third Street Promenade, one of the Westside's great tourist draws, and the patrons snapping photos at Santa Monica Place suggest a spillover. (Or is it the other way around?) But there are locals browsing and buying as well, packs of teens and thirtysomething women with $300 worth of blond highlights who sit in wicker lounge chairs distributed throughout the facility and speak into their cellphones — loudly — about their plans for the evening. Parents wheel strollers past stores as they clutch the hands of older children. Window displays are welcoming, and some of the outside seating areas near the third-floor food court are reminiscent of cabanas at exclusive resort hotels. The whole place smacks of casual beach-side affluence.

Survival strategies: Santa Monica Place offers valet parking ($8 for the first two hours, $2 for each additional hour with a $20 max). If you dine at one of the restaurants, you receive three hours complimentary valet. Nearby parking includes Santa Monica public lots. Shoppers who dislike crowds might want to do their business in the mornings.

Take a break: The third floor is focused on food, with several restaurants and a food court whose offerings include sushi, tacos, pizza, kebab, ribs, wok fare and crepes. The Market is a large space with a series of counters devoted to high-end specialties including chocolates, cheese and sandwiches. The Blue Stove restaurant in Nordstrom offers small plates and a decent wine list.

Holiday cheer: Santa Monica Place will feature snow on the Plaza level at 7 p.m. nightly through Dec. 24. Kids can breakfast with Santa from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 3 and 10 and bake cookies at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 17.

Nearby: Third Street Promenade is across the street (Broadway), and Santa Monica Pier and the beach beckon, a five-minute walk away.

Impressions: Even though Santa Monica Place reopened 15 months ago, it still feels shiny and new. For veteran shoppers, a walk through Santa Monica Place should offer a contact high at the very least. Bargain hunters may be disappointed, but there's always the possibility of drinking a cup of coffee in 70-degree weather on the dining deck while the rest of the country rakes leaves or shovels a path to the driveway.

—Alice Short

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