What are the best shopping centers in Maryland? Maryland.com took a look and picked the centers we feel have gone out of their way to make your shopping experience as easy, safe and enjoyable as possible.

Most malls have increased their services for shoppers. Look for free gift wrapping, lounges, free local calling, Kiddie Kabs, package and coat checks, and mall perk programs. Good news, according to recent reports by the International Council on Shopping Centers, crime is down in shopping centers in the United States, following the country’s dip in crime. Also, investment in both staffing and equipment has made it nearly impossible to get away with a crime in malls. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself. No. 1 rule: Don’t leave bags unattended, and if you are alone at night or are carrying many bags, ask a security guard to walk you to your car.

So where should you go to shop in Maryland? Start with these 10 locations:

The Mall in Columbia The Mall in Columbia, the largest regional retail center in Maryland, is easily a top selection for one-stop-shopping. With 230 services and specialty stores and with such quality anchors as Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Hecht’s, Sears, JCPenney and L.L. Bean, you will be able to find everything you need. With 1.28 million square feet of walking room, you will need your most comfortable shoes. But if you have the stamina, you will be able to enjoy such quality specialty stores as Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, The Disney Store, The Gap, The Discovery Channel Store, Bose, J. Crew, and Bailey, Banks & Biddle. There is also Aromi d’Italia for a tasty Gelato between shops and a carousel for the kiddies. Services include free seasonal gift wrap, coat and package service, free strollers, free local phone calls, and Family Fun Day. The design is modern and airy with plenty of greenery and skyview. Developed by the Rouse Company, the mall is designed in a modern two- and three-level “U”shape. Web site: www.themallincolumbia.com

The Towson Town Center Two additional Rouse Company properties, The Towson Town Center and Owings Mills, also deserve mention. Towson Town Center has two department stores: Nordstrom and Hecht’s. Its all-star tenant lineup includes Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, babyGap, Banana Republic, Cache, The Coach Store, Crate & Barrel, FAO Schwarz, Pottery Barn, Rainforest Cafe, Sharper Image, Talbots/Talbots Kids and Williams-Sonoma. Services include complimentary diapers, limo/taxi assistance, free local calls, and weekly Family Fun Day. Towson Town Center is the dominant shopping center in the Baltimore metro area. Its strength lies in its strong department and specialty store lineup and market support. The center is designed in a 4-level A shape with about 180 specialty stores and services spanning some 968,000 square feet. Web site: www.towsontowncenter.com

Owings Mills Owings Mills continues to be distinguished in northwest Baltimore by its architectural elegance, which set new industry standards in 1986 when it opened its doors. The center is large with1.22 million square feet worth of strolling space. And there are plenty of popular destinations to choose from such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Ann Taylor, Aeropostale, The Bombay Co., Bostonian, Nine West and Shenk & Tittle as well as major anchor tenants Hecht’s, Macy’s, JCPenney, and Lord & Taylor. A 1998 renovation brought a 17-screen General Cinema Theatre to the center with stadium-style seats and restaurant park. Five new 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot restaurants (including Don Pablo’s Mexican Kitchen, Hops Restaurant/Bar/Brewery, Red Lobster, Tona Roma’s and Red Robin) opened in 1998 and 1999. Special services include free strollers, free wheelchairs, free seasonal gift wrap, free shopping bags, free local phone calls, and free seasonal coat and package check. Web site: www.owingsmillsmall.com

Savage Mill For unique items, shop Savage Mill, a charming old mill listed on the national register of historic places. You will find high quality antiques and collectibles shops such as E.J. Grant Antiques, Hands of Time, Race 1 Collectibles and Cele’s Old Mill Antiques as well as upscale specialty retail shops such as F&J Children’s Clothing, Classic Interiors, LaDecoratrice, Courtyard Gardens and Syl-Car Creations. With 50 stores and 249 dealers, there is plenty to keep you choosing. For a break from shopping, you can stop and see artists at work in their studios or take a seat at Rams Head Restaurant & Tavern, with home-brewed rootbeer, a fine beer list, live entertainment and quality menu. Web site: www.savagemill.com

Arundel Mills Why not a little cutting-edge entertainment and recreational venues to complement your shopping? At Sun & Ski Sports, shoppers (or their children) can test the latest equipment and footwear on its 24-foot-high, in-store rock climbing and ice wall, inline skating demo track and/or indoor ski and snowboarding simulator. You will also find entertainment venues like Jillian’s, an entertainment and dining megaplex and Muvico Egyptian 24 Theaters, a 24-screen, Egyptian-themed movie theater with valet parking and child care provided by licensed teachers. And for fishing, hunting and boating enthusiasts (or for those on your list) stop at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. With 1.28 million square feet, there is plenty of retail space at Arundel Mills for such favorites as Bed Bath & Beyond, Books-A-Million, Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse, Off 5th Outlet and Old Navy. Web site: www.arundelmills.com

The Avenue of White Marsh Reminiscent of a traditional town setting, The Avenue of White Marsh gets points for evoking a sense of community. Its replica of Main Street makes you forget you are in a shopping center. Quality stores (Pier 1 Imports, Ann Taylor Loft and Golf America), restaurants such as Bayou Blues Café and Red Brick Station Restaurant & Brew Pub as well as the 16-screen Loews Theatre line a narrow street just long enough for a parade. RTKL, a Baltimore firm, designed the center with the parking lots positioned behind the buildings so there is nothing interfering with the Main Street image. In the warmer months, you can sit among sculptures, a plaza and a fountain and watch people passing by. Web site: www.theavenueatwhitemarsh.com

Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis One wouldn’t think one could get a feeling of intimacy with 1.1 million square feet worth of space and more than 175 stores, but Westfield America Inc. somehow accomplished this with its teak wood and single floor design. The center’s major anchors include Hecht’s, Nordstrom, JCPenney, Lord & Taylor and Sears, which is slated to open next spring. You will also find such specialty shops as Bose, William Sonoma, Banana Republic, Torrid, Discovery and Ann Taylor. Border’s Books is slated to open next year. Ser vices include free local calls, free wheelchairs, free Kiddie Strollers, Kids Club and Mall Walker Club. In July 2000, it replaced its existing theater with a new multi-screen Crown Annapolis 11 Theater. It also added 16,000 square feet of new mall shops and restaurants in an open-air entertainment district. Web site: www.annapolis.shoppingtown.com

Montgomery Mall Another Westfield America property, Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery is a must-visit with fresh modern setting complemented by an all-star line up of retailers that include Crate & Barrel, Ann Taylor, bebe, J. Crew, California Pizza Kitchen, Britches, Banana Republic, Gymboree, The Disney Store, Warner Bros., Eddie Bauer, Nine West, Museum Company and The Bombay Co. With 173 specialty shops and anchors Nordstrom, Hecht’s and Sears, you will surely find something for everyone on your list. The Montgomery Mall has 1. 25 million square feet of space so be prepared to do some walking. A $19 million redevelopment is currently underway at the center including relocation by The May Company of its Hecht’s Home Store to the second level of the former JCPenney Department Store space and the conversion of the first level into an Old Navy. Web site: www.montgomerymall.shoppingtown.com

White Flint Together with top-tier anchor tenants Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Border’s Books & Music, and Dave & Buster’s, White Flint also boasts an impressive list of specialty shops in its 800,000 square feet of space. Shops such as Bath & Body Works, The Sharper Image, Pottery Barn, The Bombay Co., The Franklin Mint Gallery, Williams Sonoma, Tokyo Pearl, American Eagle Outfitters, Banana Republic, and The Coach Store should have you well taken care of. An extra bonus: free valet parking is offered at P.F Chang’s China Bistro as well as at The Cheesecake Factory. Other services include an indoor fitness and walking program, Ticketmaster services, as well as free wheelchairs/strollers. Web site: www.shopwhiteflint.com

Prime Outlets of Perryville/Queenstown/Hagerstown The Prime Outlets must be mentioned for their convenient locations, top-tier brand names and outdoor setting. Perryville is right off of 95 and practically next door to Cal Ripken’s museum, Queenstown is miles from the Bay Bridge, and Hagerstown is adjacent to the Black Rock Golf Course, not to mention the Antietam Battlefield. Bring the family. The three outlets boast such names as Nike Factory Store, L.L. Bean Factory Store, Jones New York, Etienne Aigner, Banana Republic, and The Coach Factory Store. Perryville is the smallest of the locations with 35 stores. Hagerstown has the largest selection with 75 stores. All locations also feature an outdoor playground, free wheelchairs and strollers and group tour packages and discounts. Web site: www.primeoutlets.com