The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Shopping Malls

We've watched as several of Houston's shopping malls have withered and died over the years. Northwest Mall, once a bustling spot, lost its big names stores one after another, but it's still hanging on - barely. These days it houses a giant antique mall and most of the eastern side of its parking lot has been taken over by the expansion of Highway 290. (We have our fingers crossed that once the construction is over, Northwest Mall will bounce back, but, sadly, we doubt it.) There are some malls that are hanging in there, and there are some that are flourishing. Taking into account, the variety and number of shops and restaurants, parking, event schedule, parking and atmosphere, here's our list of the top 10 shopping malls in the city.

10. Willowbrook Mall 2000 Willowbrook, 281-890-8000

Macy's anchors the Willowbrook Mall at one end. There are also JCPenny's, Sears and Dillard's stores, along with a good number of smaller shops (in comparison) including a Michael Kors and Apple. Food choices are good, though we do wish there was more high-end, sit down alternatives. Most of the clerks give good directions to shoppers who are a little lost. And the crowd is well-behaved (no mad dashes to the sales counters or groups of unruly teens hanging around). Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

9. Katy Mills Mall 5000 Katy Mills Circle, 281-644-5000

Katy Mills Mall isn't the sort of mall you can run in to and grab one or two items. Even if that's your plan, once you get there, the number and array of shops lure you in. Stores include Marshall's, Burlington Coat Factory, GAP, Books-a-Million and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th. There's also a good sized AMC theater complex --- and we have to admit, a couple of vacant shops. Thankfully, the open anchor spots are at the end of the mall so you can do quite a bit of shopping without having to pass them (empty storefronts are so depressing). 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

8. Highland Village 4055 Westheimer, 713-850-3100

Highland Village describes itself as a "carefully edited collection of upscale boutiques, national retailers and restaurants." Okay, we agree with that. There are good, if slightly predictable choices, such as Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn. More exotic, one-of-a-kind boutiques vs upscale shops would be welcomed. Highland Village has a good array of restaurants, including Smith & Wollensky, RA Sushi and PF Changs. Hours vary by store.

7. First Colony Mall 16535 Southwest Frwy, 281-265-6123

Most of us call First Colony Mall "the Sugar Land Mall," but we're sure First Colony would like it if we stopped that. True First Colony is a bit of a drive if you live in the Heights or Montrose, but for anyone southwest of downtown, it's worth the time. Dillard's, Macy's and JCPenny's are the anchor stores. There's also an AMC theater complex. Other shops include an Apple store, Barnes & Noble, Coldwater Creek and Foot Locker. First Colony isn't as plush as some of the other upscale malls in the area, that's because it's meant for shopping, not just see-and-be-seen shopping. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

6. Woodlands Malll 1201 Lake Woodlands, 281-363-3409

Macy's, JCPenny's, Dillard's and Nordstrom anchor The Woodlands Mall, one of our favorite spots for both serious shopping and browsing. Lots of events at the family friendly mall keep things hopping. One of the big attractions (for us, at least) is the variety of food - the mall has everything from Chick-fil-A to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

5. Uptown Park Houston 1101 Uptown Park Blvd., 713-850-1400

For its size, Uptown Park Houston has a wonderful variety of shops and services, from LUCHO and M Penner Houston, to Cigar Vault and Crave Cupcakes. There are spas and the like on site, including a new Drybar. There's even a dentist and a plastic surgeon in the park!

4. Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center 420 Meyerland Paza, 713-664-1166

There were a couple of bleak years there a while back for Meyerland Plaza. It lacked the bigger name stores that attracted people for window shopping and for a bit the adjacent theater complex was the busiest spot in the Plaza. That's changed, thankfully. There are great shops and good food choices. Like other outdoor malls, Meyerland Plaza has some satellite restaurants in the outer regions of the parking lot (which can get full, so get there early). One of Meyerland Plaza's most attractive features is its neighbors - across the street there's an always bustling Fadi's Mediterranean Grill and a popular candy shop.

3. LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch 23501 Cinco Ranch, 281-395-5533

LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch bills itself as "a 34-acre, 300,000 square foot Main Street style mixed-use development." Translation: it's a huge mall that doesn't feel like a mall. Located on the outskirts of Katy, LaCenterra is a bit of a drive for us inside-the-loopers, but it's worth the time and effort. It might take you a couple of trips before you can visit all of the mall; seems like there's always another must-see store or restaurant around the corner. We like D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe for casual dining and Perry's Steakhouse & Grille after dark. LaCenterra is the most beautiful of the malls on our list, without all the upscale glitz or snobby attitude. Don't get us wrong, LaCenterra is plenty upscale in its offerings, it's just that it does upscale with a casual feel. The parking garages are cleverly surrounded by shops so they don't just sit there, looming over everything, there's a plaza and two lakes on site. . 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m Sundays.

2. Memorial City Mall 303 Memorial City, 713-464-8640

A previous winner of Best Shopping Mall in our Best of awards, Memorial City Mall still has the goods. Macy's, Target, Dillard's, JCPenny's and Sears are the anchor stores with plenty of mid- and small-size shops to complete the range of offerings. While the mall has been in existence for a while, constant renovations and remodeling have kept it looking fresh and new.

1. The Houston Galleria 5085 Westheimer, 713-966-3500

Topping our list is the grand dame of them all, The Galleria. With more than 2.4 million square feet of shopping space, some 400 stores and restaurants, two hotels and two office towers, The Galleria is a busy, busy place. Shoppers should remember that around the holidays when traffic around the complex can get snarled. It's as much a tourist attraction as it is a shopping mall, with gads of folks stopping by just to gawk. But we understand, with a huge ice rink at its center, the multi-floor Galleria is a wonderful place for people watching and window shopping. Shops like Tiffany & Co., Tommy Bahama, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple and Cartier keep the cash registers ringing all year round, but during the holidays The Galleria becomes a mother ship calling all the fashionistas home.

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