Things to do in Costa Mesa the Coolest Spot in Southern California

Best Things to do in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa is often overlooked by visitors for the coastal and beach towns in Orange  County in Southern California. While many weren’t paying attention, Costa Mesa became the coolest neighborhood around with its incredible food scene, amazing shopping, and a fantastic local arts and culture scene. Costa Mesa is definitely has a locals-only vibe while out of towners flock to the beaches of Newport and Huntington Beach nearby.

Check out why you need to visit Costa Mesa on your next trip to Southern California. Here’s our guide for the best things to do in Costa Mesa.

Oh, and did we mention that Costa Mesa is an easy 20-minute drive to Disneyland?

Incredible Food Scene

Costa Mesa has become Orange County’s biggest culinary scene, with what seems like a new restaurant opening up every week there are several amazing places to enjoy a more than satisfying meal in Costa Mesa. Costa Mesa offers options beyond your typical plaza full of chain restaurants. Instead, you’ll find more independent restaurants with a huge culinary focus on quality and adventurous eats.

You could spend a really long time tasting your way around Costa Mesa, we recommend checking out the food hall at SOCO Collection & OC Mix, the restaurant and bar scene on 17th Street, and the independent eateries at both The Lab and The Camp on Bristol for some of the best spots to eat in Costa Mesa.

Amazing Shopping

One of the best things to do in Costa Mesa is take advantage of some of the best shopping Southern California has to offer. From the largest mall on the West Coast of the US, South Coast Plaza to small outdoor retail spaces and pop up boutiques – Costa Mesa has it all.

We recommend shopping at South Coast Plaza for your luxury and high end products or department store shopping, The Lab Anti Mall for your young, urban customers, The Camp for your outdoor enthusiasts, and the boutiques at SOCO Collection & OC Mix for fantastic culinary and household gifts as well as clothing, jewelry, and unique home furnishings.

Local Arts & Culture

Costa Mesa has an incredible local arts and culture scene. Locals take pride in bringing awareness to arts and culture in Costa Mesa, there’s even a committee that meets every month to discuss and help maintain and bring awareness to the local arts. I heart Costa Mesa wrote a great article about them and their efforts.

One of the best things to do in Costa Mesa is to get a taste of the local art scene. You can do this best by seeing a performance at Segerstrom Art Center, popping by an exhibit at Location 1980 to see some local artists and their workspace, or enjoying the Costa Mesa Art Walk stopping at cool outdoor art installations like Noguchi Garden.

Best Things to do in Costa Mesa

The Lab Anti Mall

Best Things to do in Costa MesaOne of the best things to do in Costa Mesa is shop and dine at The Lab, an anti mall. What’s an anti mall you may be wondering? The entire theme to this outdoor retail space is that its counter culture to combat retail monotomy. According to their website, LAB actually stands for, “Little American Business.”

Best Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaThe exterior of this small mall is decorated with scaffolding, art installations, and pop up boutiques set up inside and outside Airstream campers. There’s even a shoe store that sells shoes out of what looks like grocery store refrigerators. The stores here blend art with retail and of course, the biggest store in the plaza is Urban Outfitters.

Best Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaBest Things to do in Costa MesaOne of the latest and our favorite spots at the Lab would be Facade Funhouse, a pop-up exhibit where there are several different instaworthy scenes for you to interact with and get photos. We had a little too much fun here ourselves.

Besides having the coolest shops, cafes, and restaurants there are also regular events going on here making it one of the best things to do in Costa Mesa.

The Camp

Best Things to do in Costa MesaLocated directly across the street from The Lab is the Camp, an eco-friendly campus dedicated to nature related retail shops and restaurants. All of the shops and restaurants promote a healthy, environmentally friendly, and outdoor lifestyle and they also have tons of cute boutiques in campers like The LabBest Things to do in Costa Mesa.

Best things to do in Costa MesaWith stores like Patagonia, Seed People’s Market, and restaurants like Native Foods promoting healthy or outdoor activities.

Old Vine Cafe Costa MEsaWhile there are more eateries than shops at The Camp you will also find some of the best dining in Costa Mesa here. We dined at Old Vine Cafe, famous for their brunch and wine menu. We recommend checking this spot out for a brunch or lunch. Their eclectic menu is full of interesting options you can’t find at just any restaurant, including the rabbit mole I ate for my brunch.

Rabbit Mole Old Vine Cafe Costa Mesa

Old Vine Cafe Costa Mesa The food is fantastic and they offer a diverse wine selection. We even had a chance to speak to the chef Mark, who we found out also has a knack for travel and hosts an annual culinary tour to Southern Italy, where he attended culinary school. He is launching an additional tour this year which also piqued our interest. So beyond serving great food and wine, you can also plan out your next vacation all at Old Vine Cafe. Talk about being a one-stop shop.

South Coast Plaza

Best things to do in Costa MesaOne of the best things to do in Costa Mesa would be to shop at South Coast Plaza. This is arguably one of the best shopping destinations in the world and the largest shopping mall on the West Coast. It’s easy to spend a day in here shopping until you drop. There are over 250 stores, mostly luxury and designer brands split between South Coast Plaza and the bridge connecting to Crystal Court on the other side of Bear Street which also has designer retailers, restaurants, and many home furnishing stores.

With tons of restaurant and dining options, you can easily get lost in here for a day. If you have shopping to do, this is the place to be.

Want to get a free $100 gift card for South Coast Plaza? Check out the Indulge campaign going on until January 2018 here.

Noguchi Garden

Nogucci Garden Best things to do in Costa MesaWe love the arts & culture scene in Costa Mesa and especially the secret sculpture park that’s been under our noses for years and had no idea existed until recently. One of the most unknown artistic installments is in a business park off the Avenue of the Arts right along the freeway and close to South Coast Plaza. Noguchi Garden is a real hidden gem and a perfect spot to take photos. You seriously feel like you’re in another dimension or an alternate universe here.

Best things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaNoguchi Garden was completed in 1982 by Isamu Noguchi and funded by Henry Segerstrom. The concept of this space is a California scenario with the use of geographic features and symbolic landscape found in the state of California used in an artistic way in the sculpture park. The entire park is 1.6 acres and featured indigenous plants from California.

If this interests you consider doing the Costa Mesa art walk in the area with 15 different public art stops including Noguchi Garden. You can download the map and get more information on Travel Costa Mesa.

Location 1980

Location 1980 Best things to do in Costa Mesa

Artist Kristina Rose Baker

Location 1980 is one of the best things to do in Costa Mesa if you’re into local art. We were able to pop in during studio hours and check out the local artists who work on their projects here. What was refreshing about Location 1980 was how unpretentious it was. You felt like you were hanging out in your friend’s garage who also happens to be and know the coolest artists in town. Being here made me wish I had some artistic abilities so I could hang out in this creative space and work on my art.

Location 1980 Best things to do in Costa Mesa

Jesse Fortune, the Director of Location 1980

We really enjoyed the laid back non-judgemental vibe here. We were glad to have had the opportunity to be shown around and introduced to Location 1980 by artist and studio director, Jesse Fortune.

Location 1980 Best things to do in Costa Mesa

Artist Trey Jolley

While just dropping by like we did may not always mean you will get to take a look around, you can always check out their Facebook page and website for upcoming events.

Eat Your Way Through 17th Street

Best things to do in Costa MesaBesides having one great restaurant after another, 17th Street is one of the best stops in the area and offers some of the best things to do in Costa Mesa. This area has become one of the best dining locations in Orange County with new restaurants opening all the time, boutiques and shops, great alcohol and wine stores, and even great fitness studios.

One of my best friends used to live in this area and there was never a dull moment when we would hang out in her hood. With great spots like Side Car Doughnuts who offer fresh made doughnuts daily in unique flavors from maple & bacon to doughnuts that have poached eggs inside! The flavors change daily and often times sell out, so you’ll want to make sure you stop by early if you want a chance at a unique doughnut flavor!

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

The amazing gyoza at Oak & Coal

We were recently introduced to Oak & Coal, a Japanese yakitori specializing in meat skewers grilled over charcoal. They also have a great selection of craft beers on tap. We stopped by after a large meal so we just nibbled on some fantastic kimchi and pork gyoza which took us back to all our food memories of Korea and Japan.

There are honestly so many places to check out here that it could take you a year of eating out on 17th Street to determine your favorites. Other honorable mentions would include Pie Society, a speakeasy bar located at a secret entrance on the back end of their pizza place.

SOCO Collection & OC Mix

Best things to do in Costa MesaAnother amazing foodie spot in Costa Mesa is SOCO Collection & OC Mix located right along the 405 freeway. This is high on our list for best things to do in Costa Mesa not only because they offer an incredible array of food to sample around but because they have some darling pop up boutiques you can shop around as you nibble.

Best things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaWe recommend coming hungry with a friend you can split and sample around the different eateries here. We loved splitting tapas at the Spanish restaurant Pueblo, the queso fundido and ceviche was the perfect combo to pair with our fresh margarita and Moscow Mule.

Best things to do in Costa MesaWe also suggest trying a taste testing flight of the daily kombucha flavors at Farm & Culture Co. Our favorite ended up being Mango Habanero, yum!

There are also other great dining options like the award-winning Taco Maria, French cuisine at Bistro Papillote, and a great oyster bar Shuck to name a few.

There’s also a great olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting at We Olive & Wine Bar. And as the name suggests there’s wine available as well!

Best things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaThere’s even a great cheese spot across the way, a store specializing in spices from around the world, a specialty liquor store, and tons of boutiques that are perfect for gift shopping. I was so excited to discover that Bono Spera carried some of my favorite Korean beauty products!

Best things to do in Costa MesaBest things to do in Costa MesaSpend an afternoon with a friend here trying a dish at each place and browsing the boutiques. There are also fantastic home furnishing stores here if you’re wanting to give your home a new look.

Disclaimer: This post was in partnership with Travel Costa Mesa. As always all opinions, experiences, and photos are our own.

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  • I am totally convinced now to revisit Costa Mesa! I’ve only been to the mall and didn’t realize there was so much more. I honestly feel like I cheated myself by not exploring more. I wanna go back just to visit THE LAB ANTI MALL.

    • Ahh you gotta come back! The Lab has such a cool vibe to it! We love all the cute boutiques in the campers! The Camp is directly across the street and has the same sort of vibe/scene! Plus Costa Mesa has so many GREAT food options!

  • Lori Simonetti Sorrentino

    I don’t even know where to begin! This place is nothing like I remember (though it’s been a while) but the mix of funky shops, cool restaurants and innovative retail spaces are incredible. I bet you could spend days exploring – really love the Airstream shops and that rabbit mole looks sinful. Funny, I was wondering if some readers would know what to do with that pink thing you were holding on the couch! 🙂

    • Hahaha, that phone is old school! When were you last in Costa Mesa? It’s for sure got a fun young scene going on at the moment! We love all the artsy and small boutiques, especially the ones out of an Airstream camper! It’s time for you to come back!

  • megan_claire

    I love that Costa Mesa has a locals only vibe – something which is quite rare in southern California. I’ll have to include it on our itinerary for our next US road trip. And being so close to Disney is a mega plus, because I haven’t been to Anaheim yet!

    Cool that this has the OC’s biggest culinary scene – love the concept behind the lab anti mall. Looks like you had so much fun at the Facade Funhouse! The food at the Camp looks fantastic too – I might have to look into what’s involved for jumping onto one of Chef Mark’s tours to Italy! Cool photos from Noguchi Garden – seems like Costa Mesa really does have a lot to do!

    • Thanks Megan! You guys for sure should make a stop in Costa Mesa, it’s so close to Anaheim! Disneyland is also a big hit around our home haha The food in Costa Mesa is AMAZING! Let us know when you make it out here! If we are around it would be fun to explore this area together!

  • Kavita

    It’s been a long time since our last visit to California but I’m making a note of Costa Mesa for the next visit as it really looks like the kind of laid back place we’d love. A strong food scene is a big draw, as I definitely travel for great food, it’s a huge part of my travel experiences. And I enjoy appreciating local art and culture too. I love the idea of shopping at small indie places rather than the usual identikit mall! And the eco Camp sounds amazing as well. I think my favourite would be Noguchi Garden, we always visit local gardens and parks, particularly those with botanical aspect, and I love modern outdoor sculpture as well.

    • Absolutely! This entire area has a unique vibe to it! You have to come back and check it out!!

  • Sonal Kwatra

    I can kick myself for not visiting California the one and only time I visited the US! Costa Mesa looks very good – one of those places where I can easily get stuck for a long time and change my itinerary. 🙂 I can already imagine myself going crazy with my camera inside the lab anti mall. Noguchi Garden looks like a music festival location. Love it!

    • More reason for you to come back! 😉 You’re so right Noguchi does have a festival vibe to it.

  • Paige Brown

    Okay, SOLD! My cousin is an editor in LA, I’ve been to visit him multiple times and we’re now fighting because he never brought me here! Seriously, this is at the top of my 2018 Cali list. The Camp gives me all the feels. My parents own a greenhouse, so I grew up constantly digging in the dirt and it remains one of my passions, so I love that they’ve brought the greenhouse feel to an environmentally friendly shopping center! Too. Freakin. Cool. I also love the Facade Funhouse, you guys always look like you’re just having the best time. Costa Mesa, here I come!

    • Oh no way! You gotta come back! That’s funny I used to work in a greenhouse growing up!! I love that feel at The Camp too! You can easily do some damage in the shops too because everything is so cute/awesome from clothes to trinkets! And you have to get here before the Facade Funhouse is gone! I think they are only here until the spring!

  • Wow, I haven’t heard about Costa Mesa and I didn’t know that it has a boat load of amazing things to experience. California is truly a great place to get lost in, will surely try to experience all what you’ve had experienced here. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    • You’re so right LaiAriel, California has some amazing places! We love Costa Mesa, hope you get to come and see it yourself soon!!

  • Oh my goodness! Costa Mesa looks so quirky and fun. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the beach, but I love cool neighborhoods like this. I am definitely planning on checking it out the next time I’m in Southern California – it may be sooner than I think, as my son is looking at colleges in LA.

    • No way! What a perfect excuse to come! I am surprised to hear you don’t like beaches but what’s great is Costa Mesa isn’t a beach city! For those who like the beach though it’s close enough 😉

  • Wow!! Simpy wow. The pics look amazing and as you’ve rightly described, Costa Mesa looks colourful, quirky and fun! Never been to the Americas, but this seems like a must do place in our itinerary!

  • Susanna Kelly

    Umm I am obsessed with this place hahah. I always go for small business and quirky boutiques. I love the idea of the anti mall and the green right across from it. It’s great that the added in all the fun spots for photos too, as yours turned out great. Next time I am in SoCal I would love to visit Costa Mesa.

    • Thanks Susanna! It’s such a fun area with great shops, photo spots, and fooood! Hope you get to make it soon!

  • Nailah

    Wait! When did all this cool stuff pop up in Coast Mesa? Def worth a day trip… wanna join me? 🙂

  • The Lab and The Camp both look so cool — totally the types of places I would want to hang out to do some writing/ reading. I think Oak and Coal would be my ‘must-try’ of this list, though. That is, if I had to only pick one thing!

    Also, I love that shot of you both at the Noguchi Garden. Looks like a band photo! Great tips here, thanks so much 🙂

    • Thanks Nathan! Oak & Coal is a GREAT choice! Also, The Lab has some good spots to hang out and write/read!

  • Chris Bloomfield

    I have never heard of an anti-mall, but it looks pretty cool. I love the mix of art and small businesses. The gyoza looks divine and cooked perfectly. In fact all the food looks delicious and now I am hungry! I guess I better break camp and head to Costa Mesa because it looks like my kind of place.

    • The gyoza was AMAZING! The entire area is really fun! I think this is the first anti mall we have ever heard of too!

  • So many cool hipster spots! I really need to explore southern California – I’ve only ever been to San Diego! Is it wrong that when I hear about South Coast Plaza it instantly makes me think of Laguna Beach (the show)?

    • Hahah not at all! I actually saw LC there last year shopping in South Coast haha…But Costa Mesa is seriously a fun spot to hang out!