Although it was named after its topography—“coastal tableland”—Costa Mesa has become better known as a center for Orange County sophistication. Centrally located between San Diego and Los Angeles, the town (also home of summer’s OC Fair) combines a vibrant arts scene, renowned shopping, and a burgeoning foodie culture, all a mile from the Pacific Ocean.
Even if you play at the beach (or shop) by day, make time for a show at night in the acclaimed arts and theater district. Grab tickets to a summer concert at the Pacific Amphitheater or visit one of Costa Mesa’s more than three dozen art galleries, including the renowned Martin Lawrence Galleries. At the center of the art scene is the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the home stage for the American Ballet Theatre’s Gillespie School of Dance, the Pacific Symphony, and the Philharmonic Society. Even if you can’t snag tickets to a performance, you can take a free, behind-the-scenes tour or browse the more than two dozen pieces of public art in and around the theater complex.
If you’re more inspired by shopping bags than sculptures, head to South Coast Plaza, a destination mall with more than 250 designer retailers (including big names such as Hermès, Baccarat, Gucci, and more), an indoor carousel, and rotating art exhibits. Looking for something less mainstream? Try The LAB Anti-Mall, a unique indoor/outdoor shopping center highlighting the “Little American Business” (LAB) with cool boutiques, vintage finds, and hipster favorites.
To refuel, start browsing the local, and seriously diverse, foodie scene. Try Habana for Cuban specialties, Memphis Café for Southern fried chicken, or search out Anjin (hidden in a nondescript strip mall) for worth-the-wait Japanese-style BBQ prepared on your table's grill.
Shoppers and foodies alike can find common ground at the retail-meets-restaurants SoCo Collection and The OC Mix. Start your day with an Eggslice sandwich or a pitaya bowl from Birdie Bowl & Juicery. Then shop your way through more than 20 different interior design showrooms and fashion boutiques. Grab lunch at Taco María, helmed by two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Carlos Salgado, then head to a chocolate macaron class at The Pastry School, where master pastry chef Stéphane Tréand can teach anyone how to craft irresistible modern and traditional French pastries. (No judgment if you only go for a scoop of their house-made gelato.)
Get your second wind with a cup of fresh brew from Portola Coffee, at their flagship coffeehouse, or a bone broth latte from Farm & Culture Co. Once you’ve shopped ’til you’ve dropped, end your day with a glass of wine and a briny dozen at Shuck Oyster Bar, or with the wood-fired pizzas and comfort food from ARC.
Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.
“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” — actor Dennis Quaid
Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA.
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