Let other people roam the highways in search of stunning vistas and greasy spoons with Guy Fieri fury. My idea of a road trip is simple: to go canyoneering through the two greatest retail monuments in the land—Camarillo Premium Outlets and Desert Hills Premium Outlets—all in one weekend. A 677,000-square-foot sepulchre of designer deadstock, the Camarillo outpost is where millions go each year to buy past-their-prime items (or factory lines) from Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Brooks Brothers, and hundreds of other brands. Hard-learned lesson: With so many shops (160), outlet trawling requires fiscal discipline.
I blow more than $600 in three hours before driving south to Palm Springs, where I’ve got a reservation at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club. The place puts me in strategic range of the Desert Hills Premium Outlet, 20 minutes up the road. The late-’60s party vibe of the Ace means anything goes fashionwise, so a cocktail dress ($38!) with a pair of ankle boots (70 percent off!) and leather handbag (practically free!) work just fine down the catwalk—er, dirt path—to the hotel’s famously remodeled Howard Johnson for fish tacos before a dip in the hot tub. You need to stay limber if you’re going to survive another day of wild spending.
With 130 stores, the desert mall is smaller than Camarillo, though an expansion is under way. Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg are top spots for browsing, but while a $1,500 shirt reduced to $900 may be a bargain to someone, that person isn’t likely eating a Wetzel’s pretzel outside of Palm Springs. The atmosphere at Desert Hills is more pleasant—lighter crowds, for one thing—but after three hours of shopping, the day’s haul is modest: a Le Creuset stockpot (reduced to $78 from $125) and a pair of $10 Banana Republic shades for the ride home. If only I could get 50 percent off traffic, too.