plaza bonita – my mall

Come along, pack a bag and take a trip through memory lane, or at least, my memory lane.

I was thinking about Plaza Bonita the other day, boy has that mall changed, and how much time I have spent there. Then I found this entry. Never knew that this mall opened the same year I was born, serendipitous how some coincidences just… are.

Plaza Bonita will be where I remember Christmas, as Christmas was portrayed in movies, and more specifically in the classic A Christmas Story. I remember my parents taking me there one year during the Christmas season and that’s where I saw the place decorated, there was even a Christmas train set running in one of the store windows, might’ve been Kay Bee’s, long gone are the Kay Bee Toy Stores. That memory of me holding my dad’s hand as I watch that train run circles in the little snowed out model village has always remained with me. I don’t remember asking my parents to buy me anything, I just remember being there and it being like how it’s supposed to, how it is on TV and in the movies. Very few moments in real life have ever “felt” the way they were “supposed” to.

Could this feeling or rightness sensation be due to the fact that I was young, impressionable, and conditioned to feel this way? No, because every year I go to San Diego during Christmas time and I end up at Plaza Bonita, it’s never been the same. Now there’s an actual train that kids can ride around in the mall, that’s nice, but it’s not a train set that’s run independent from a conductor or an engineer, or imaginary if non-existent passengers.

So back to the mall itself, the wiki entry is pretty accurate. The mall had an autumn feel to it, I always associated it with browns and earthy colors, but it was never something that I would point out or discuss. As previously mentioned Kay Bee is no longer there, let alone anywhere, following in their example are; Miller’s Outpost/Anchor Blue, Robinson’s May, B Dalton, Walden Books, Rising Sun, Comics N Stuff, Montgomery Ward, Mann Theatres… and then Borders more recently. I’m sure there are other stores that I’m leaving out, but these are the ones that come to mind immediately. We also bought our piano at the mall and had lessons there once a week in the evenings, which we wasted away because my brother and I spent our time at the Nintendo cart, where they had a bunch of consoles set up with different games, not sure if anyone else remembers that cart on the ground floor. I wasted my parents’ time not taking those piano lessons there seriously, instead focusing on video games, but in my defense, the lessons were free and short.

Another fond memory I have of Plaza Bonita that is not there any more was this particular ice cream stand in the food court, which I was not aware of till later on in life, going to the mall was just a foreign concept to me. This ice cream stand introduced me to floats, I found the child-equivalent to heroine, and I would always get a float everytime we went there. The float was called “the Superman,” it had sherbet blue, red and yellow ice cream with Sprite, I loved it and I haven’t had it, nor found it, since then. One particular Sunday that we were at the mall after I had consumed that Superman float, we went to the Tilt arcade, my brother Ellison and I played Golden Axe. As kids we only had so much money, my dad found us and started feeding the machine when we died in the game. That was the last time that he ever did that, from then on he pushed for the home game systems, cause they saved money. Which was true, but it also could be generational, the novelty and attraction of an arcade machine was not something that clicked with him, but I’m forever grateful for that one time gesture, so much so that I still remember it twenty plus years later.

Moving on from child hood memories of Plaza Bonita, I also spent time there as a teenager in high school. Building up to this point, there was a lot of dark clouds that hung over the mall. Plaza Bonita was where the trouble makers and the gang bangers hung out. It was where you went to be shot, someone did get shot there, and you would go there to be around trouble. So naturally that’s where we went after school, a bunch of kids walking in a group just there to kill time. It was the default hang out of choice.

The mall has changed a lot from my first memories of it. Westfield bought it out and expanded to include; AMC Theaters, H&M, Target, Outback. There’s never been a lack of people who frequent the mall at all, if anything I don’t go to Plaza Bonita as much because of the people, how hard it is to find parking and just walking/wading through crowds. But it’s like family, it’s a part of me and I can hate on it as much as I want, but I’ll still go there when I can. I’m glad the mall is still there and not closed down or turned in to something else.



  1. Oh geez…Kay Bee and Miller’s Outpost…I used to shop at 5-7-9. You probably wouldn’t remember that store, as it catered to girls…and people getting shot…mmmhhmm. I remember when the rainbow was there. And how I used to get dropped off so I can go to the Sanrio store and stock up on stationary…memories. I always end up going there too, just because it’s closer..And yes. I have ridden the train all around the ground floor. 🙂

  2. Great article. I haven’t been in San Diego since 1996 when I went to visit my aunts and cousins. To this day I remember watching Transformers: The Movie (1986) with my mom in the Mann’s theater , located on the first floor, I saw many movies at that theater. I remember going to Kay-Bee’s after seeing the transformers movie, I ended up getting a Hot Rod action figure. The first image that comes to my head when I think of the plaza bonita mall would have to be that penny fountain. I remember always, always asking my dad or my mom for pennies to throw in the fountain. Corn dog on a stick was just marvelous, that lemonade was tasty.

    Last but not least, I definitely remember that Nintendo stand, I remember playing a copy of TMNT 2: The arcade game and so were the other kids, this was around 1990, it was THE game to have along with turtle mania sweeping up the nation at that time. What really stood out to me from the Nintendo booth was that there were multiple consoles for anyone to play with and I especially dug the feature that’d allow to switch between differen nes games at will, just hit the screen and select what title you wanted and bam, there it was.

  3. Great post! This mall was my childhood as well. I don’t know when it first opened and I am curious.

    I wish I could have the vanilla ice cream bar, coated with chocolate and peanuts from back in the day. I believe it was on the 2nd floor above Miller’s Outpost.

    I also miss the squared Sicilian pizza from the first floor. I remember frequenting TILT upstairs and playing Daytona USA; I felt like I was watching the future, back in the ’90s. Playing free video games, the cart on the ground floor, was pretty cool! Games like Street Fighter II and new version of Contra.

    The nostalgia brought me here. Thanks for posting this on your site!


    1. Hey David, thanks for the comment. I’m curious, how did you find this post of mine? Yes, I think you’re correct about Miller’s Outpost. And TILT was on the second floor as well, the new arcade just isn’t the same.

      1. Hi Eugene,

        I was feeling nostalgic and I googled “plaza bonita mall ice cream” and your link was the 7th search result on the first page.

        The TILT on the ground floor seems like an empty shack and you’re right, it isn’t the same anymore. I wish I could go back for a bit; I guess it was a different time, a different world.

        Do you know when the mall originally opened? Have you found the Superman float available anywhere else? Thanks for sharing your great article!


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