Malls are weird. There's the SoCal phenomenon of the outdoor, palm-tree-strewn mall; there's the mall that's trying to look more like a community street and less like a mall; and there's the classic, noxious-air-blown-in-from-all-angles, enclosed mall. My favorite—because I believe it to be the weirdest of the malls—is Plaza Bonita, on the National City and Bonita border.
It's a Westfield, the monolith that's taken over malls on both coasts, yet it still feels a little like things haven't changed much since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Westfield clearly hasn't put Plaza Bonita at the top of its priority list, and that's precisely why it's the only mall I go to.
Say you're in the market for cheap stuff—any kind of cheap stuff. Plaza Bonita has it. There are kiosks and/or stores with names like House of Lava, Homie Gear and Hip Hop Watches. Needless to say, those aren't the reason I go there. No, I go for the shoe stores—the kind that sell accidental vegan shoes. In other words, they're so cheap that they avoid the leather in favor of the pleather. And while a majority of these shoes are of the stripper variety, there are a good number that are actually cute. I'm partial to Leeds, a chain that's been around since I was in high school. They currently have a partnership with Halston, so those stripper shoes are extra classy. But the oxfords, both flats and heels, and the boots, both low and high, are ridiculously rad. And did I mention cheap? Think $25 to $50.
After I check out Leeds, I head on over to Judy's Shoes (great kids selection), June, Shoe Palace and Underground Station for even more cute plastic—er, vegan—shoes.
If you read this column regularly, then you know I have an unflattering addiction to Forever 21. At Plaza Bonita, they've dropped “Forever” (smart) and moved to roman numerals—XXI (less smart). But it's still filled with knock-offs of bigger brands and even throwaway copies of runway-ready designers. And the jewelry is spectacular, mostly priced at $2.90. Scarves run about $6, and the plethora of over-the-knee socks had me drooling.
XXI is just the tip of the cheap fashion iceberg here. There's a massive H&M, the only one I've seen in San Diego County with a kids section (called Crazy 8). There's the only Delia's store south of Orange County. There's a tremendous accessories store called Charming Charlie that's arranged entirely by color. And there's a bunch of one-off fashion shops that are weird, but interesting, like Body Basics and their $3 leggings, Reference, Revolution and Love Culture, a sluttier version of XXI. This JC Penney has the cheaper mini line, called MNG, of Penelope Cruz's Mango, and it's got a few fun pieces, crazy cheap.
If you have kids, the number of stores catering to them is staggering. Forget Gap and Old Navy. Here you'll find PS from Aeropostale, Pumpkin Patch, Princesa and Journey Kidz (yes, with a Z). Plus, there's a Sanrio store and a fairly ginormous candy store called It's Sugar.
Sounding straight out of Fast Times, the Piercing Pagoda is the place in the South Bay to get your ears pierced. You know what wasn't here in the '80s? A kiosk dedicated to making your ass look bigger. Plaza Bonita has two: Fajas Slender Bodies and Slender Boutique. This is not an array of Spanx, but rather the opposite— underwear with padded, silicone cheeks. They also have men's underwear with padded cheeks and the option for a padded groin.
But neither shop gets the title of my favorite store or kiosk. That honor belongs to the wonderfully creative My Pet Balloons. It's a balloon kiosk. And the balloons are shaped like pigs and dogs and cats. And they're on leashes. A million-dollar idea if ever I heard one.
Ultimately, Plaza Bonita is less about shopping and more about having a good time. But in this lull between summer and the holiday season, isn't that all we need?