The Orange Country isn’t just a beach-filled playground for the rich and famous.
Here in beautiful Southern California, we found a travel destination fitted for those that need to recharge their battery with retail therapy, art and good food: the city of Costa Mesa.
It’s a mere 20-minute drive from Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, yet remarkably is still off the tourist radar. Now that definitely piques our interest. We ventured to Costa Mesa for further exploring and turned it into this complete guide for all the top things to do in Costa Mesa.
Costa Mesa is known to be the ‘City of the Arts’ for its top-notch music and theater shows. If you ask us, Shopping Extravaganza should be Costa Mesa’s second nickname. There are tons of unique shopping – this ranges from quirky boutiques to the notorious South Coast Plaza that has visitors from across the country come out in droves.
Moreover, we witnessed firsthand that Costa Mesa is a delight for any foodie. The city knows how to do Southern comfort food well, though we found plenty other stellar dishes and its newest annual food festival the TASTE that’ll make you drool.
High-end shopping and arts are only some of the things to do in Costa Mesa. Let’s talk about more sights and award-winning restaurants. To wrap this ultimate Costa Mesa travel guide up, we’ll advise you on the best time to visit.
We loved the city so much, we wouldn’t mind living there. The state isn’t know for it’s affordable way of life, but it’s possible to find the cheapest places to live in California.
Tip: With Costa Mesa as a base, you can also consider adding Los Angeles as a quick trip, a 1-hour drive away. Or, cruise along the coast towards San Diego, which should set you back some 90 minutes.
Where to stay in Costa Mesa
Avenue of the Arts, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel
Avenue of the Arts has the Orange County vibe that you expect down to a T – it’s all about luxury and excellent service. Located next to a lake, this is the balcony view that you’ll want to catch. More importantly, whoever designed these hotel rooms needs to come over and re-decorate our house a.s.a.p.
Location is key. The hotel is right where you want to be: a hop away from South Coast Plaza and Segerstrom Center for the Arts. We suggest booking an extra night, because as a neat bonus the hotel offers daily round-trip shuttles to the Disneyland Resort. Our inner child is screaming!
The Best Things to do in Costa Mesa
If your heart skips a beat when we say “shopping heaven”, then you might want to sit down for this one. South Coast Plaza is one of most prestigious shopping malls in the world: it hosts around 250 stores and amongst them are more designer brands than we can count. There’s also a mix of cute boutiques and essentially you can spend your entire Costa Mesa trip here.
If you come from out of state, apply for a VIP Passport and grab offers from 100 of its stores and restaurants. Better yet, head to the second floor of their Saks Fifth Avenue wing to rest your feet in their VIP lounge called the Access Suite with complimentary snacks and drinks.
Fun fact: South Coast Plaza has the highest annual sales in the entire United States. We might have helped a little with that.
Stuff your face at ‘the TASTE Costa Mesa’
If you aim your trip right, hop in at the new food event ‘The Taste Costa Mesa’. This multi-day event hits the city in October to make any foodie lose their cool with food demo’s, elevated dishes and craft beer. We’re talking gumbo, lavender ice cream and pho-stuffed pies by the city’s top restaurants.
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An entrance ticket allows you all the food, activities and even drinks you can handle. Since dishes are bite-size you can try as much as your appetite can handle – challenge accepted.
Hit the Art Scene
Costa Mesa’s official motto is ‘City of the Arts’ and that does seem fair. For a city its size, the event calendar seems to be exploding with impressive activities each week. There’s always a ballet, exhibition or even Broadway show to see and a summer visit to Costa Mesa has the bonus of free concerts in Fairview park.
The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall especially is a must for classic enthusiasts and home to the three resident companies Costa Mesa has. Even from the outside, the concert hall is mighty impressive and worth a peek, though the interior wows all the same.
If you have more love for sculptures, follow the Costa Mesa Art Walk. It’s great strolling at your own pace – and stopping for ice cream as often as we want. This way you’re essentially turning the city in your own open-air museum. The walk includes the next Costa Mesa highlight on our list: Noguchi garden.
Relax in Noguchi Garden
If you want to get away from it all, we may have found the place. Hidden between office buildings, Costa Mesa has a secret garden by the Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. There are seven sculptural installations and you’ll quickly see why it’s an homage to the California terrain. Noguchi used simple lines, organic forms and indigenous plants to form a modern Zen garden that will leave you impressed. Don’t forget your camera for this one, or you’ll miss out on some otherworldly photo opps.
Photography tip: try to go in the midst of a sunny day for sharp shadows to match the clean lines in the sculptures. Your Instagram feed will thank you for it.
Address: 611 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa 92626
Mix healthy with eco-friendly and you’ll end up with The CAMP shopping center. This is not your classic shopping center – even walking around here is a good pastime as the architecture is a job well done. This place gives a big ‘love life, love nature’ vibe, and we’re here for it.
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The CAMP makes sure not to bore you with any big chain stores. It’s the place for small and local shop where eco-conscious is key. Even the food you’ll find here is seasonal and healthy. Visit at the right time and you can enjoy an art show or join for yoga at the Tree House.
Address: 2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
One hop away from the CAMP and you’re visiting its conjoined twin The LAB – short for Little American Business. This vegan-friendly spot famously calls itself the ‘anti-mall’, in part because it’s much more than shopping. Simply the art installations are reason enough that this place is one of the best things to do in Costa Mesa.
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Take your girls to the nail salon or visit the Wine Lab for wine tasting. Hit the vintage stores if you can still walk straight after that, but the LAB is also a nice place to simply hang out. As a bonus, a visit to the CAMP and the LAB will make your Instagram feed very happy.
Address: 2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
SOCO and the OC mix
Foodies, pay close attention. The OC Mix is where you want to go around lunchtime to sample a mix of world cuisines. Find your new favorite cheese, stock up on olive oil or visit an award-winning restaurant such as Arc.
Head over to specialty cocktail store The Mixing Glass – the first one in Orange County and set your home up with all essentials to mix your own perfect drink and impress your friends.
This isn’t all: the OC Mix is located within SOCO (short from South Coast Collection), which is the best thing to do in Costa Mesa for design. Get inspired in its showrooms and pop up shops. The downside to visiting SOCO is that you’ll need to figure out how to stuff that gorgeous side table in your cabin baggage on the way home.
Address: 3313 Hyland Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The Best Places to Eat in Costa Mesa
At Arc, you’ll find American classics done right. Chef Von Blöm and his team put effort in the details – all meals are cooked over live wood fires and everything is served in black iron. Pick a seat at the bar and you can enjoy the spectacle that goes on in the kitchen. As mentioned before, the restaurant is located within SOCO and The OC Mix, so plan your trip right.
Address: 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Old Vine Kitchen & Bar
The ideal spot for lunch, though they also have impressive tasting menus for dinner. Old Vine has a no-nonsense vibe with a cozy atmosphere. You can expect hand-made pasta, Mimosa Mondays and a very impressive wine list.
Address: 2937 Bristol St. Suite A-103, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Memphis Soul Café & Bar
Southern comfort food is the way to go after a long day of shopping in Costa Mesa. Memphis Café is a favorite amongst locals and the reviews are through the roof – pick anything off the menu and you’ve made the right choice. The building used to be a dive bar back in the ‘50s and that dark vibe still wears off nicely.
Address: 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Buttermilk pancakes for brunch, truffle mac ‘n cheese or vegan burger. Eat Chow is all about American food, though there’s nothing simple about it. They’re all over the place with a very extensive menu and why not – if it’s good, it’s good.
Address: 1802 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Get to this Cuban restaurant in the evening to see Habana transform into a cozy place with a live band on Fridays and Saturdays. Or, come here on a Sunday and you will never look at a brunch buffet the same. This is when Habana rocks tamales, plantains and even an omelet station. If that’s not enough, they’ll suffocate you in scones, chocolate croissants and heaps of fruit. Si, por favor.
Address: 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 92626
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When to Visit Costa Mesa
Honestly, when is it not a good time to visit this part of the globe? The famous Californian weather is pleasant for most of the year, so you’re set either way. That being said, August and September are perfect to hit the beach but aim for anything after Labor Day if you want to avoid school holidays. Remember, The TASTE hits the city in October, so we would combine a trip with this mouthwatering food event.
Has Costa Mesa tickled your travel bug? You’re in for a good ride now we’ve gone over all the best things to do in Costa Mesa. Personally, we’d turn this city into a Californian girls’ getaway if you consider CM’s holy trinity: food, arts, and shopping. Empty some space in your closet and add an extra notch to your belt – Costa Mesa awaits.
This post was created in partnership with Travel Costa Mesa. However, the opinions are all ours!