Located along California’s scenic Pacific coast in Orange County, Costa Mesa is a city of about 110,000 residents that was incorporated more than seven decades ago.
Back then, the area was primarily dedicated to agriculture and cattle, but over the years, it has become more developed and its population has increased nearly ten-fold.
It’s located just a few kilometers from some of the Golden State’s most famous beaches, including Huntington Beach to the North and Newport Beach to the south.
Visitors to Costa Mesa have a variety of outdoor recreational, artistic, cultural, and dining options at their fingertips. Day trips to San Diego and LA are popular for those who don’t mind braving the often congested freeways.
1. Noguchi Garden
Located on Anton Boulevard in Costa Mesa, the award-winning Noguchi Garden is one of the area’s premier outdoor attractions.
Construction of the garden began in the late ‘70s. It now comprises nearly two acres and features indigenous and exotic plants, flowers, and trees.
The garden is divided into a number of distinct areas, including walking paths, fountains, and cultivated gardens that seamlessly incorporate natural and humanmade elements.
The garden is often referred to as the California Scenario, is open to the public regularly, and is located just a few kilometers from the downtown area.
2. South Coast Repertory Theater
For more than 50 years, the South Coast Repertory Theater has been an iconic local live entertainment venue.
Located on Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, it typically gets rave reviews from industry authorities and those who know a good production when they see one.
The theater’s season generally runs from early fall to early summer and features productions that run the gamut from old classics and contemporary comedies to musicals and murder mysteries.
The theater’s staff also offer a variety of programs aimed at community residents, such as workshops, guest speakers, and residencies for aspiring actors and producers.
3. Fairview Park
At more than 200 acres, Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park offers abundant wide-open spaces perfect for those interested in distancing themselves from the crowds and enjoying the great outdoors without wasting time traveling to distant state and national parks.
The park features a network of trails that wind through a variety of natural environments; they’re open to walkers, runners, bikers, and horseback riders.
Picnicking and flying kites and remote-controlled airplanes are also popular activities. Throughout the year, the park is a public event venue hosting festivals, fairs, an annual fish fry, and a carnival.
4. Costa Mesa Estancia
California’s history has largely been influenced by Mexican immigrants, who’ve come north over the years looking for steady work and better lives.
They’ve brought their customs, cuisine, and architecture with them, the latter of which is evident in the Costa Mesa Estancia, one of the oldest original structures in Orange County.
The historic home is perched on a bluff above the Santa Ana River wash in Estancia Park. It has been preserved in near-original condition as a memorial to the area’s pioneers, who came nearly two centuries ago.
The home was originally built as a residence for cowboys and ranchers who tended large herds of horses and cattle in the area.
5. South Coast Plaza
Parts of Orange County are among the most affluent communities in the country. There’s no shortage of upscale retail options for those interested in stocking up on stylish garb while in the area.
South Coast Plaza is located on Bristol Street in Costa Mesa and features a variety of high-end boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and national and international brand stores like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bloomingdales.
The plaza is within walking distance of many of the city’s premier hotels and beaches. It offers services not typically found in traditional malls, like personal shopping, foreign language assistance, and currency exchange.
6. Bad Coffee
Though its name may be a perfect example of reverse psychology in marketing, there’s pretty much general agreement that Bad Coffee’s java is decidedly good.
The business was established in 2016 by a couple of self-professed coffee snobs determined to bring high-quality beverages to thirsty Costa Mesans.
Previous guests have commented on the shop’s abundant natural lighting, comfy chairs, easily accessible electrical outlets, and fast Wi-Fi.
Bad Coffee is located on Adams Avenue in Costa Mesa. The menu includes a variety of non-coffee options like chai tea, sparkling water, and juice, as well as fresh baked goods like muffins and pastries.
7. Segerstrom Center for the Arts
The Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a multi-venue entertainment attraction located on Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. It was founded in the mid-‘80s.
It’s a modern performing arts attraction with stunning architecture that is now home to several area musical organizations, including the Pacific Symphony and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
In total, the center’s distinct halls seat nearly 6,000 visitors. They offer a variety of year-round performances appealing to a range of guests, including children.
The center’s staff also offer a variety of workshops and special events such as summer camps, art classes, and a dance school.
8. Orange County Museum of Art
Though it’s technically in Santa Ana, just a few kilometers outside Costa Mesa city limits, the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) is an attraction worth a visit for those who can pull themselves away from the area’s scenic beaches and chic shopping venues.
The museum is located inside the South Coast Village and features an impressive collection of thousands of items that center on California history, from the turn of the 20th century to the present.
Items on display include historical photos, sculptures, Native American art, and contemporary digital, video, and multimedia works.
9. The CAMP
For the bohemian crowd who tend to shun mainstream attractions like national chain coffee shops and shopping malls, The CAMP is a popular alternative.
Located in Costa Mesa’s trendy SoBeCa district, it is a popular remote working and social gathering spot characterized by green spaces and small businesses selling a wide variety of organic food and drinks, health and body products, and locally-made arts and crafts.
The weather in Orange County is perfect for outdoor activities most of the year. The CAMP doubles as a live entertainment venue featuring musical performances, art walks, film screenings, and culinary events.
10. Los Lagos Course at Costa Mesa Country Club
For golfers, there may be no better year-round climate than that found in Southern California’s Orange County.
The Los Lagos Course at Costa Mesa Country Club is one of the area’s best golf values, and it plays just more than 6,500 yards from the blue tees.
The par-72 course is well-known for its groomed greens and fairways, beautiful scenery, and the water and sand hazards that keep things interesting without making them overly difficult.
Course amenities include a fully-stocked pro shop, restaurant and bar, and practice facilities for those who need to warm-up before hitting the links.
11. Hanare Sushi
Tucked into a rather unremarkable storefront on Bristol Avenue in Costa Mesa, Hanare Sushi is one of those culinary gems that tends to get missed by all but the savviest diners.
Though traditional sushi and sashimi are generally the stars of the show, Hanare’s limited menu includes contemporary entrées like squash soup garnished with caviar, and steamed lobster with a mushroom reduction.
The restaurant’s prices are definitely on the high side, so it may not be a great fit for big families looking to fill empty stomachs on the cheap.
That being said, for those looking for a unique dining experience in a relaxed environment, it’s definitely worth checking out.
12. Huntington Beach
Located just ten minutes from downtown Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach is known worldwide as Surf City.
The beach features big waves, world-class surfers, fantastic beaches, and sweeping sea views. It draws millions of visitors annually.
Though many visitors prefer to find a quiet stretch of beach to enjoy the sand, sun, and surf, Huntington Beach hosts a number of annual sporting events such as professional beach volleyball and surfing tournaments.
The beachfront area includes tons of restaurants and shops, plenty of parking, and bathrooms with showers that are great for washing away sand and salt at the end of a long day.
13. Whale watching Tours
Especially when they’re calving, whales are relatively common sights in the warm Pacific waters off the Southern California coast.
Many whale watching tours depart from Newport Harbor. Regardless of when you’ll be visiting, you’ll have a great chance of seeing several species of whales and other marine mammals.
Blue, finback, and humpback whales are commonly sighted; they often leap from the water causing impressive splashes.
Whale watching tours are often one of the most memorable experiences of many visitors’ vacations. They’re particularly popular for families traveling with animal-loving children.
Guests also frequently see seals, killer whales, and porpoises.
14. Bommer Canyon
What’s now Bommer Canyon was once one of the area’s original cattle camps.
The preserved canyon is characterized by impressive rock formations, deep ravines, and idyllic stands of shade trees that make it popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.
Located in the city of Irvine, just ten kilometers northeast of downtown Costa Mesa, it is designated as a state and national natural landmark.
The canyon features a number of trails, but some are only open to those visiting as part of a guided group.
If you’re traveling with a dog, you’re out of luck; they’re not allowed in Bommer Canyon.
15. The Bowers Museum
Unlike most of the area’s museums that tend to focus on California art, history, and culture, The Bowers Museum on North Main Street in Santa Ana’s collection includes an eclectic mix of items from all over the world.
The museum is named after a philanthropic local man who donated the land in the ‘30s. Though its collection started small, it has grown to include more than 10,000 pieces from as far away as China, South America, India, and the South Pacific.
The museum’s staff frequently host temporary exhibits from private collections and other institutions, and there’s a dedicated kid’s area onsite.
Santa Ana is about 15 kilometers north of Costa Mesa.