LAKE ELSINORE — Armed with hair-trigger credit cards, we set out at daybreak.
In two days, my shopping buddy Denise and I hit three outlet malls. We started at the San Diego Factory Outlet Center, which is really in San Ysidro, swung back to the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center, which is really in Lake Elsinore, and cut through vast stretches of nothing to the Desert Hills Factory Stores, which is really in the desert.
Now, 414 miles, 143 stores and four melted credit cards later, we’ve amassed piles of DEALS. It would have killed lesser men. Actually, it would have killed any man I know. But Denise and I are made of sterner stuff. We stalked the wild discount, battled bogus sales and came back with our trophies crammed in the trunk.
In San Ysidro, after a 2 1/2-hour drive from Santa Monica, we needed nourishment. But the only thing to eat at this huge shopping center is vending machine candy or pushcart hot dogs. Their one restaurant closed a couple months ago, making room for yet another store. We couldn’t argue with that. We got back in our car and drove to a Denny’s. You’ve gotta keep up your strength.
Back at the outlet center parking lot, we discussed strategy. We would hit systematically, starting at the north end of the somewhat down-at-the-heels shopping strip. First stop was the Book Warehouse. It was tricky terrain. The deals were there; we got nine books, but you had to aim carefully between the stacks of drivel.
We returned to the car and stuck our purchases in the trunk. Shopper tip: Park in the middle of the complex and unload often. Travel light and travel fast, I say. Next was the Dockers store. Bought a polo shirt for my boyfriend. Mercy kill.
At some stores, the selection fell at the extreme ends of the size spectrum. Roseanne Arnold or Twiggy could rake it in, especially at the L’eggs/Hanes/Bali outlet. Nike had some great shoes for Sasquatch. And we saw a lot of the same stuff over and over again.
By the time we hit the Marika outlet at the Mexico end of the San Ysidro center, we had notched five bags apiece. We had spent $385.61, combined, and saved about $320 off the retail prices, judging from the discounts noted on the tags. We headed north on Interstate 15 to Lake Elsinore, winding through the Santa Ana Mountains in that hush of satisfaction one feels after a day fulfilling a primal need, and fulfilling it well.
Since we had shopped well past moonrise in San Ysidro, we headed straight to dinner at Guadalajara restaurant in historic downtown Lake Elsinore, a three-block stream of brick sidewalks, cozy benches and Tivoli lights flowing past quaint storefronts. Actually, it was “G—-lajara,” according to the cursive neon sign. I had the “El Charro” and Denise had enchiladas verdes . We both had a congratulatory margarita. The food was terrific. And yet another deal. The El Charro, with steak, enchilada, chile relleno, beans, rice, guacamole and tortillas, was less than $10. The margaritas were only $3.25 apiece, and they were muy grande . Just the way we like ’em.
The Lakeview Inn was just one exit south on I-15, off Railroad Canyon Road. A bargain-hunter’s oasis if there ever was one. A double “spa” room for less than $50, with our AAA discount. The “spa” part is a whirlpool tub in the bathroom. That tub was a necessity after pounding the pavement all day. And despite our skepticism, there really was a lake and a view. Very pretty sunrise. We saw it in the rearview mirror as we set out for the next hunting ground.
One caveat about the Lakeview, though. The “continental breakfast” is a box of doughnuts and a pitcher of orange juice in the office. So we went back to historic downtown Lake Elsinore and found Granny’s Kitchen.
Granny’s Kitchen is just around the corner from G—-lajara. Corned beef hash, two poached eggs, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, for $3.95. Denise had blueberry pancakes, which she doused with more blueberries, then drowned in boysenberry syrup. And the coffee kept coming. We were outta there for less than $15, and we were torqued for speed.
The Lake Elsinore Outlet Center, a long rectangle of cream stucco and terra-cotta tile on the northern side of town, is 59 stores and growing. And it contains Mecca: the Liz Claiborne mega-factory store. It’s huge. It’s stocked. And it’s trouble with a capital T. This is where Denise got off her best shots: a dress, skirt, shirt and turtleneck. I would have bought this cute miniskirt, if I hadn’t felt like a popped roll of refrigerator biscuits after that breakfast. You always remember the ones that got away.
But it was also hot with a capital H, and this is shopping alfresco. Even going early, we were suffering. And we knew the desert awaited, so we limited our time to only four hours there. It’s heartbreaking to leave an outlet center after having gotten inside only half the stores. We spent two hours solid at Liz’s, though. We made quick hits at Van Heusen, Leslie Fay, Marika, Nike and Jones New York.