Looking for all the exciting and fun things to do in Costa Mesa? We got you. 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, it became the coolest places to visit in Southern California!
With its incredible food scene, amazing shopping, and a fantastic local arts and culture scene, there are a lot of fun things to do in Costa Mesa. Oh, and did we mention that it’s an easy 20-minute drive to Disneyland?
We promise that after you check out our guide on what to do in Costa Mesa, you’ll be adding it into your California travel plans!
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3 Reasons You Need to Visit Costa Mesa
Costa Mesa has an Incredible Food Scene
Costa Mesa has become Orange County’s biggest name in the culinary scene. It seems like there’s a new restaurant opening up every week! You can find several amazing places to enjoy a more than satisfying meal in Costa Mesa. The city 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.
The Incredible Shopping
One of the fun things to do in Costa Mesa is to take advantage of some of the best shopping Southern California has to offer. From South Coast Plaza, largest mall on the US West Coast, 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 is for your young, urban customers while The Camp for your outdoor enthusiasts.
Don’t miss the boutiques at SOCO Collection & OC Mix for fantastic culinary and household gifts as well as clothing, jewelry, and unique home furnishings.
Cool Local Arts & Culture Scene
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.
What to do in Costa Mesa
1. Visit the Lab Anti Mall
One 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. It’s meant to be a counter culture to combat retail monotomy. According to their website, LAB actually stands for, “Little American Business.”
The 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 blend art with retail and of course, the biggest store in the plaza is Urban Outfitters.
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.
2. Head to the Camp
Located 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. They also have tons of cute boutiques in campers like The Lab.
With stores like Patagonia, Seed Peoples Market, and restaurants like Native Foods promoting healthy or outdoor activities.
3. Grab a bite at Old Vine Kitchen and Bar
While 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 Kitchen, 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.
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 Kitchen. Talk about being a one-stop shop.
4. Shop at South Coast Plaza
One of the fun 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. At the very least, it’s the largest shopping mall on the West Coast. 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.
5. Visit Noguchi Garden
Looking for hidden things to do in Costa Mesa? We love the arts & culture scene here; especially the secret sculpture park that’s been under our noses for years and had no idea existed until recently. It’s what to do in Costa Mesa if you’re looking for a cool photo spot!
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.
Noguchi 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.
6. Check out the Art at Location 1980
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. It just so happens that your friend is also one of 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.
We really enjoyed the laid back, unpretentious vibes 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.
7. Eat Your Way Through 17th Street
Besides having one great restaurant after another, 17th Street is one of the best stops in the area. It really offers some of the most fun things to do in Costa Mesa. It has become one of the best dining locations in Orange County. There are always new restaurants opening, boutiques and shops, great alcohol and wine stores, and even great fitness studios.
Where to Eat on 17th Street:
Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee
One of my best friends used to live in this area, so there was never a dull moment when we would hang out in her hood. With great spots like Sidecar 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! This has become such a popular spot that they now have several locations too and because of that you’re less likely to have to wait in a long line.
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.
8. Visit SOCO Collection & OC Mix
Another amazing foodie place to visit in Costa Mesa is SOCO Collection & OC Mix, located right along the 405 freeway. This is high on our list for fun 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.
We recommend coming hungry with a friend. That way you can split and sample around the different eateries here.
A few great places to try and awesome dining options include the award-winning Taco Maria, Shuck oyster bar, and everything at Greenleaf Kitchen & Cocktails.
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!
There’s even a great cheese spot across the way, a store specializing in spices from around the world, and a specialty liquor store. Not to mention the tons of boutiques that are perfect for gift shopping.
Spend 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.
9. See a Show at Segerstrom Center of the Arts
If you’re looking for what to do in Costa Mesa as far as performing arts go, you’ll want to check what’s happening at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. This beautiful performing arts complex is the only one of its kind in Orange County and has multiple venues.
Segerstrom Hall is is an opulent opera style theater that often hosts larger performances like Broadway musicals and ballet shows.
The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is home to an impressive organ and often hosts musical events like jazz and cabaret shows.
The Judy Morr Theater is a much more intimate theater that’s typically used for ballet rehearsal.
There’s also the American Ballet Theatre, the School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities, the Orange County Museum of Art, South Coast Repertory, and cafes here too!
You’ll want to see what’s happening during your visit!
10. Costa Mesa Art Walk
One of the most fun things to do in Costa Mesa is walk along the Costa Mesa Art Walk where you can enjoy a self-guided walk to over 20 cool pieces of public art! We weren’t kidding when we said Costa Mesa is known for its art scene!
You can easily just walk along the Art Walk or Travel Costa Mesa has an audio tour you can use to guide you along and learn a bit more about each of these artworks on your phone.
Many of the works are cool sculptures and include the Noguchi Garden earlier on this guide along with a beautiful stained glass dome inside South Coast Plaza’s Jewel Court!
Where to Stay in Costa Mesa
If you’re wanting to explore all the best things to do in Costa Mesa, you’ll want to stay in a central location, which is easy as there are some great hotels in Costa Mesa to choose from!
The Westin South Coast Plaza is one of the more luxurious stays in the area, this 4-star hotel located steps away from South Coast Plaza and the Orange County Museum of Art. Better yet, this is a pet-friendly stay!
The Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa Hotel is another beautiful 4-star hotel in the same area that has a great outdoor pool with cabanas and has beautifully decorated bohemian rooms for a stylish stay.
If you wanted to stay by the beach you’re in luck. Just a few miles away from Costa Mesa is Newport Beach, which has great options including Newport Beach Hotel, a charming beachfront hotel on Balboa Peninsula with ocean views!
Fun Things to do in Costa Mesa (Post Summary)
- The Lab Anti Mall
- The Camp
- Old Vine Kitchen & Bar
- South Coast Plaza
- Noguchi Garden
- Location 1980
- Eat Your Way Through 17th Street
- SOCO Collection & OC Mix
- Segerstrom Center for the Arts
- Costa Mesa Art Walk
Costa Mesa is known for having a fantastic food scene in Southern California, being a great place to stay in Orange County near some of the best beaches, having fantastic shopping at South Coast Plaza and its other malls, and is most known for its arts and culture scene being nicknamed the “City of the Arts,” for its reputation for being a fine performing arts scene and collection of public art.
Costa Mesa is only around a 15-minute drive from Disneyland without traffic which makes it a great place to stay outside of Anaheim and closer to the beautiful beaches of Orange County when visiting Southern California and planning a trip to Disneyland!
Costa Mesa is worth visiting and staying at during your time in Southern California especially if you want to take advantage of all the great shopping at South Coast Plaza, The Camp, and The Lab Anti Mall. Costa Mesa is also worth visiting if you want to enjoy the best performing arts venues in Orange County including the Segerstrom Art Complex. And, Costa Mesa is just a few miles away from great beaches including Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
If you’re planning to spend more time in Southern California, check out some more of our travel posts, like this guide to the best things to do in Laguna Beach, this guide on what to do in Palm Springs, or this guide on things to do in Joshua Tree. And, of course, don’t miss popular spots like Los Angeles or San Diego.
Check out more amazing places to visit in California by doing one of these road trips!
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