By Susan & Simon Veness
Aah, Florida! Land of great beaches, theme parks and nightlife. Oh, and great food, of course. But, if we told you the Sunshine State is also justifiably renowned for its superb shopping, would you be excited? You should, you know, because this is most definitely the place to come for world class retail therapy.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere without stumbling upon a dazzling mall, outlet centre or an array of original boutiques that are sure to tempt you into bringing back a wealth of gifts and souvenirs, from big-name designer apparel to alligator-shaped chocolates and salt water taffy (chewy American candy).
This is also the place to come for cheaper-than-back-home cosmetics, jeans, shoes, trainers and sports gear, as well as over-the-counter chemist’s products (look for the huge Walgreens and CVS stores), Apple gadgets and pet toys.
The likes of massive Walmart and Target stores are almost tourist attractions in their own right, while other names for a wide range of bargains are Marshall, Ross, Beall’s, Kohl’s and Old Navy. But, for the big, purpose-built shopping centres that can easily keep you occupied for hours (if not days!), the following selection offers the very best:
Florida Mall, Orlando
In the heart of Orlando tourist territory, this indoor mega-mall offers four department stores among a dazzling array of 250-plus shops, as well as an impressive food court, another five full restaurants, a hotel and even family entertainment centres in the shape of The Crayola Experience and M&M’s World.
Bal Harbor Shops, Miami
Possibly Florida’s most swanky shopping destination (although both Naples and Palm Beach would argue otherwise!), Bal Harbor is South Florida’s designer label hangout, boasting a ritzy indoor-outdoor setting for more than 100 shops, ranging from Swiss fashion house Akris to iconic Australian brand Zimmerman, plus delectable dining at Hillstone.
International Plaza & Bay Street, Tampa
Florida’s west coast is not short of shopping style but, for just about everything under one roof with an adjoining outdoor complex, this takes some beating. It features more than 200 stores, including big-name outlets Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, plus 16 restaurants, all in the two-storey mall and neighbouring outdoor lifestyle ‘village’ with some fab dining choices.
Worth Avenue, Palm Beach
While the Palm Beaches has its share of malls and indoor centres, the real retail gold of the area lies in the half-mile stretch of Worth Avenue, dating back to the 1920s and now the social and celebrity hub of this fashion-conscious city. It also featured in our recent blog in the ‘Hidden Gems’ series, which you can find on this link.
The Galleria, Fort Lauderdale
Here’s another upscale indoor centre that offers big-name shopping in a classy setting as well as a terrific array of restaurants, including Seasons 52, Coopers Hawk Winery and Truluck’s. The array of shops is equally impressive, with the likes of American Eagle, Banana Republic, Sephora and Williams-Sonoma for a well-rounded offering.
Town Center, Boca Raton
When it comes to eye-catching, Boca Raton’s principal retail centre is right up there with the best, with a great location just off motorway I-95 adding to its appeal. Again, you’ll find big-name department stores mixed with fashion-brand boutiques such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, all benefiting from a recent multi-million-dollar refurbishment.
5th Avenue South, Naples
The historic Main Street of Naples is not only the place to see or be seen at night (thanks to its marvelous array of restaurants, bars and cafes), it is also the day-time epi-centre of the city’s fancy shopping outlets, with a dazzling selection of boutiques, galleries and other one-off stores that all have that ‘something different’ factor.
Premium Outlets, Orlando
Bargain hunters in central Florida beat a heavy path to these two enormous outlet complexes on the busy International Drive corridor of Orlando, featuring several hundred brand-name stores offering well-known labels at deeply discounted prices. This is the place to come if you have an empty suitcase (or three!).
Aventura Mall, Miami
For Miami’s main indoor shopping centre, visitors flock to the Aventura Mall, the largest in terms of square footage in Florida and the second largest in the USA. It features more than 300 luxury-accented stores, including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, and even its own arts programme to ensure a memorable visit.
Silver Sands Premium Outlets, Destin
When it comes to north-west Florida, or the ‘Panhandle,’ the big shopping lure is this smart outdoor centre that appeals to locals and visitors alike – and is good enough to draw them away from the nearby beaches that the Emerald Coast is renowned for! With 110 name brand and designer outlet stores, Silver Sands ticks all the boxes for a memorable shopping experience.
St John’s Town Center, Jacksonville
This is another outdoor ‘lifestyle’ mall that offers a wide variety of popular shops – including Apple, Pottery Barn and Ann Taylor – along elegant, palm-lined pedestrian streets. The dining is equally compelling here, with the likes of upscale Capital Grille, Mexican-flavoured Cantina Laredo and the eclectic Cheesecake Factory.
Miracle Mile, Miami
For another South Florida shopping adventure, the lovely Coral Gables suburb features almost a mile of high-quality boutiques and cafes along a central section of Coral Way. The lushly landscaped avenue is home to a wonderful collection of one-off shops, including original jewellers, home furnishings, art galleries and unique collectibles.
Sawgrass Mills, Fort Lauderdale
Saving the biggest for last, head west out of Fort Lauderdale and you encounter the mind-boggling world of Sawgrass Mills, covering a whopping 440 acres and home to more than 350 shops, ranging from Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom to Burberry and Diesel, plus TWO food court and another 15 full-service restaurants. Spoiled for choice? Absolutely. A danger to your wallet? You bet. But then, that’s Florida for you…!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.