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Let's go to the mall: 10 shopping centers that are tourist destinations in their own right

Even in an era when everything can be ordered online, some brick and mortar shopping centers continue to thrive and attract tourists. “They’ve managed to redefine the traditional mall,” says Corey Bialow, a retail real-estate broker and consultant working with national brands. “The whole idea that malls have died is overstated.”

He shares some top shopping centers that appeal to travelers with for USA TODAY.

American Dream, East Rutherford, New Jersey

The country’s largest mall, covering more than 3 million square feet, partially opened late last month just west of Manhattan. The center includes a theme park and NHL-sized ice rink. A water park will open on Nov. 27 and North America’s first indoor ski and snowboard park are slated to follow in December.

“There’s really nothing like it. It’s a real destination shopping experience where you’d go to spend the day,” Bialow says. The stores, which will open next year, are touted as “experiential,” with special offerings and designs, including Lululemon and Hermès flagship stores.

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American Dream:  Nickelodeon Universe brings the thrills indoors 

Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota

Until recently the country’s largest mall, this Minnesota behemoth attracts more than 40 million visitors a year. It includes an aquarium, an indoor Nickelodeon amusement park and two attached hotels. Plus, it has more than 500 stores.

“It’s a real destination shopping center with everything under one roof,” Bialow says.

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Woodbury Commons Outlet, Harriman, New York

Bialow describes this open-air center 50 miles north of Manhattan as the “number one shopping outlet in the country,” with the country’s largest collection of luxury designers. “It has every luxury brand, every traditional brand. The size of the stores is just incredible. You could spend an entire day at the outlet.

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Forum Shops at Caesars, Las Vegas

Like everything else in Vegas, this mall is a little larger than life, with light shows and moving statues. It boasts art galleries, restaurants and plenty of high-end retailers.

“They’ve created a really cool entertainment environment,” Bialow says. “It’s exciting. It’s loud. It’s Vegas.”

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Ala Moana Center, Honolulu, Hawaii

Considered the world’s largest open-air shopping center, this Honolulu landmark is particularly popular with Asian visitors. “For many, it’s the first stop in the U.S. and the first time they’ve seen American and European brands,” Bialow says of the mall, which became the first U.S. mall to record $1 billion in sales back in 1998.

“It’s really an incredible shopping experience,” Bialow notes. “A lot of the luxury retailers have stores that you would find on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.”

It has two Prada stores, and two Chanel stores –  one of which specializes in shoes.

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Sawgrass Mills, Sunrise, Florida

Central and South American shoppers come by the busload to the country’s largest outlet center about an hour north of Miami.

“It offers tremendous value. It’s a fun environment where you can bring your kids. There’s a ton of restaurants and lots of activity,” Bialow says. “It’s a Disney-type crowd. Sawgrass has done a nice job of maintaining a family-type feel.”

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South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, California

Picture Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive under one roof, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what to expect in this Southern California shopping center, south of Los Angeles, Bialow says: “It’s a luxury shopping experience.”

The mall features pop-ups and French designers and has begun to offer bespoke experiences with boutiques offering bespoke menswear, customized jewelry and made-to-order shoes.

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Houston Galleria, Texas

A Texas mainstay since 1970, this mall has adapted with the times, adding new retailers, including a Tesla showroom. It also has digitally native brands like mattress retailer Casper, custom menswear boutique Indochino, and Detroit-bred luxury goods maker Shinola, and remains the largest mall in the state.

“They’ve brought in new restaurants. They have new entertainment options,” Bialow says. “They’ve done everything right to stay relevant in today’s retail environment.”

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Tysons Corner, Virginia

For more than 50 years, this suburban center has attracted shoppers from across the Washington region and also appeals to workers based in the area.

“There’s a great offering of men’s stores driven by the fact that Tysons has a really big daytime suburban office population,” Bialow says. Plus, the mall, which is often a testing ground for new stores – Apple opened its very first retail location there in 2001 – has strong youth appeal.

“They’ve reinvented and redeveloped a whole section to bring in all the brands that appeal to a younger clientele,” Bialow adds. 

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King of Prussia, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

The country’s third-largest mall, this Philadelphia area shopping mecca includes two centers that have been combined into one.

“They’ve done an excellent job of redeveloping,” Bialow says, including adding digitally native brands like Warby Parker eyewear and a Peloton stationary bike showroom. New restaurants include Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, Yard House and True Food Kitchen.

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