15 Fun Things to do in Costa Mesa (An Orange County hotspot!)

Orange County Museum of Art exterior in Costa Mesa California

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 fantastic local arts and culture scene, there are a lot of fun things to do in Costa Mesa. Oh, and did we mention it’s an easy 20-minute drive to Disneyland?

The best is that it definitely still has that locals-only vibe since most out-of-towners flock to the best beaches in Orange County like Newport Beach or Huntington Beach.

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! 

Disclaimer: This post contains commissionable links and was in collaboration with Travel Costa Mesa.

3 Reasons You Need to Visit Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa has an Incredible Food Scene

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

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, Mercado Gonzalez Northgate is an incredible authentic Mexican market and food hall, 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

cute shopping Plant Matter at The Lab Anti Mall in Costa Mesa California

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 shopping center 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 exploring Randolph Street for more great boutiques and independent shops.

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.

There are also fun shops at Paseo 17, a gorgeous Spanish-style courtyard with eateries, cafes, and great shopping.

Cool Local Arts & Culture Scene

Nogucci Garden Best things to do in Costa Mesa
Megan walking through the Noguchi Garden in Costa Mesa

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 Center for the Arts, 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.

Oh, and in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts complex you’ll find the completely FREE Orange County Museum of Art!

What to do in Costa Mesa

1. Visit the Lab Anti Mall

Shopping at The Lab Anti Mall in Costa Mesa California

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 counterculture to combat retail monotony. 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.

Some of our favorite shops are Creme Tangerine, a vinyl store with a great selection set in an Airstream camper outside of Urban Outfitters and Eco Now, a sustainable store that sells refillable products and other eco-friendly home and beauty products to help combat single-use plastics!

Also, if you’re in need of a bite or cocktails check out the Michelin-recognized Habana, a popular Cuban and Latin American that has a great laid-back, yet upscale ambiance.

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

Interior of Seed Peoples Market at The Camp in Costa Mesa California

Located directly across the street from The Lab is The Camp, an eco-friendly campus dedicated to nature related retail shops and restaurants. They also have tons of cute boutiques in campers like The Lab.

With stores like Purre Boutique, Seed Peoples Market, and restaurants like The Plot, a vegan restaurant. Pretty much all of the vendors here are promoting sustainability, outdoor activities, or independent businesses.

In 2024, we finally tried Folks Pizzeria and WOW! This pizza is fantastic, don’t miss ordering the bread and butter too. This is the best pizza in Orange County hands down.

inside the Mellowist plant shop in Costa Mesa California

Also, don’t miss some of the shops on the backside of The Camp in an area called “The Campout” like The Mellowist plant shop or The Inconvenience Store, a cool Japanese gift shop plus a dried florist shop!

Plus, there are a few great breweries right here too, but more on that in a moment.

3. Eat Your Way Through Northgate Mercado Gonzalez

inside Northgate Market Mercado Gonzalez in Costa Mesa California

This might be our new favorite place to get tacos in Orange County! One of the great new additions to Costa Mesa is the authentic Mexican market, Mercado Gonzalez at Northgate.

Not only will you find a full market full of produce, Mexican cuisine, an entire wall of fresh salsas, bakery, and home goods. They also have a butcher on site, you can get everything from chorizo to a grill throughout the market.

So our biggest tip for visiting this Costa Mesa hot spot is to come HUNGRY! There is an entire food court of different vendors to check out and dine your way around.

Each vendor offers different cuisines from different Mexican states, we ended up getting the tacos al pastor and the birria tacos with consome to split. Choosing where to eat was hard because everything looked and sounded amazing. I have my eyes on the tamales for next time!

Save room for dessert, they have a Churrería El Moro location, a staple from Mexico City that’s been serving up the best churros in, dare I say, the world?! I don’t know but when we were in Mexico City had the pleasure of trying them and we thought so. Plus, this churro company has been around since 1935 so it’s been satisfying for generations!

interior of Maizano Mexican Restaurant at Northgate Market in Costa Mesa California
interior of Maizano

Also, if you’re looking for more of an upscale, sitdown meal be sure to try a meal at Maizano. The menu features a rotating array of creative takes on traditional recipes from the vibrant states of Yucatán, Puebla, and Oaxaca paired alongside a great cocktail menu.

4. Shop & Dine around South Coast Plaza

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

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 center 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.

Collage at Bloomingdales at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa Orange County California

Oh, and to fit right in with the theme of Costa Mesa having the best food scene, South Coast Plaza also has some great dining options! Be sure to check out Collage, an Asian food hall located within Bloomingdales with great vendors serving up Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Singaporean food the name a few of the array of options!

There are also other great places to dine around South Coast Plaza so you don’t have to leave while shopping if you get hungry! Another great spot to check out for dinner is Populaire, a fusion restaurant combining the flavors of a French bistro and the flavors of California!

5. Visit Noguchi Garden

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

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 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. 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.

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.

7. Eat Your Way Through 17th Street

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

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:

Best things to do in Costa Mesa
The amazing gyoza at Oak & Coal

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, 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.

If you’re looking for a great cafe and breakfast option, head to Milligram Coffee at Paseo 17 (also featured later on this guide). They offer great breakfast items like avocado toast and a delicious, savory mushroom and burrata toast alongside other breakfast and lunch items with great coffee drinks.

Other honorable mentions would include Pie Society, a speakeasy bar located at a secret entrance on the back end of their pizza place.

Salt & Lime Modern Taqueria is a popular Tulum-inspired taqueria with everything from tacos, salads, to starters and shareables like their citrus salt and lime tortilla chips plus cocktails.

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.

8. Visit SOCO Collection & OC Mix

Best things to do in Costa Mesa

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 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

Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa California
Editorial credit: mikeledray / Shutterstock

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

Editorial credit: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock

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! 

11. Visit the Orange County Museum of Art

Orange County Museum of Art Joan Brown Exhibit in Costa Mesa California

One of the best free things to do in Costa Mesa located within the Segerstrom Center of the Arts complex is take in all the artwork at the Orange County Museum of Art.

OCMA features a permanent collection of over 4,500 artworks from artists with ties to California from the 20th and 21st centuries. They also offer rotating exhibits, so no two visits are the same.

We spent a little over an hour browsing their collection including a temporary exhibit by artist by the Bay Area artist, Joan Brown whose work we really loved and were grateful to have been introduced to her work through their impressive exhibit.

There’s also an outdoor terrace, restaurant, and bar on site so you’re welcome to plan a whole afternoon or evening around visiting. Or do what we did and before visiting go enjoy breakfast or brunch at Outpost Kitchen, an Aussie-inspired cafe and restaurant with insanely delicious breakfast and brunch items!

The building the museum is housed in is also a work of art in of itself designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his studio architects at Morphosis.

12. Check out the Craft Breweries

Flight of tastings at Gunwhale Ales in Costa Mesa California

It’s no secret we are huge fans of a good craft brewery and if you’re like us, heading over to Randolph Street is what to do in Costa Mesa for you as there are three breweries all in a small, walkable area from one another to check out!

Gunwhale Ales focuses on farmhouse-style ales along with hoppy varieties like IPAs. They have a cool, rustic space with great indoor and outdoor areas to enjoy your beer or tastings.

Salty Bear Brewing has an impressively large tasting room and outdoor garden area to sit back and enjoy. Offering an array of beers to choose from including a nitro draft, to kolsch, IPAs, pilsners, stouts, and seltzers to name a few options – they have something for every type of beer drinker here.

Green Cheek was our favorite brewery only because they had the best selection of hoppy and hazy IPAs, which are our favorite! Their colorful tap room also offers a full food menu too if you fancy yourself some California gastro-pub cuisine while you drink.

13. Shop Around Paseo 17

The courtyard at Paseo 17 in Costa Mesa California

One of the most aesthetically charming hidden gems in Costa Mesa is Paseo 17, right off of the foodie haven of 17th Street is this adorable Spanish-style courtyard full of boutiques, businesses, and Milligram Coffee mentioned earlier.

For a moment you might even think you’ve transported to Europe, but nope you’re just in a quiet oasis off of the bustling 17th Street!

Purre Boutique in Paseo 17 in Costa Mesa California

Check out Purre Boutique, they have a curated collection of refined womenswear, accessories, and little gifts.

Slow Goods is another beautiful boutique selling home goods, kitchen ware, and gifts all inspired around the slow, coastal living lifestyle.

Mama Bijoux is a small fine jewelry store designed by Katie Miller with an adorable storefront.

14. Check out the Vintage Shopping

inside Landers Supply House in Costa Mesa California

I am a huge fan of checking out vintage shopping options whether we are at home or traveling, you never know what you’re going to find and it’s always fun to see the different curated collections different shops have to offer.

There are actually quite a few great options around Costa Mesa including popular second hand and thrift shops where you can buy, sell, and trade your own clothes including Buffalo Exchange at The Lab and Crossroads Trading near Triangle Square.

My two favorites though are two you can’t find elsewhere!

Check out 2nd STREET USA at The Camp for one of the best and large collections of second-hand clothing ranging from Japanese clothing, designer clothing, and other cool finds with some of the best presentation I’ve seen in a second-hand store of this size.

Another great stop is Lander’s Supply House which caters more towards Western-wear, biker apparel, and cowboy/cowgirl clothing with a bit of Southern California flare. Check out their famous cowboy boot wall, browse their accessories from belt buckles to cowboy hats, and check out all their leather accessories.

If you’re into brands like Pendleton, you’ll find their items and adjacent brands vintage items here plus a few of their own label goods. The entire experience of shopping here is fun and I love how they did their merchandising and displays.

If you’re into finding used home goods, check out The Find, a consignment store that has furniture and home decor. While you might not be packing a chandelier in your suitcase back home, they do mostly have larger furniture items but also artwork and other home goods that are worth browsing if you’re into that as much as I am!

15. Check out the Perfectly Pink Cafe at Coffee Dose

interior of Coffee Dose cafe in Costa Mesa California

Fellow pink fans rejoice! This is one of our favorite things to do in Costa Mesa becuase we LOVE the color pink! If you didn’t know that, we seek out pink places from staying at pink hotels in Bermuda (along with hanging out on pink sand beaches in Bermuda) to doing a whole pink themed Palm Springs itinerary to name a few.

Coffee Dose is not your average coffee shop. Not only is it pink with the most fun interiors and ambiance, but they offer a menu of seasonal artisinal lattes, your favorite coffee drinks, breakfast and lunch items, and the best espresso martini we’ve ever had!

Also, their merchandise is fun and if you’re looking for a fun gift for a coffee lover, you’re going to love their Anti-Bitch Coffee Beans you can purchase!

There’s now a few locations of Coffee Dose, but the Costa Mesa location is their flagship. And nearby in Costa Mesa is their adorable drive-thru location, that’s also PINK, called MicroDose!

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)

  1. Shop Around The Lab Anti-Mall
  2. Head to The Camp
  3. Eat Your Way Through Mercado Gonzalez
  4. Shop & Dine Around South Coast Plaza
  5. Noguchi Garden
  6. Location 1980
  7. Eat Your Way Through 17th Street
  8. SOCO Collection & OC Mix
  9. Segerstrom Center for the Arts
  10. Costa Mesa Art Walk
  11. Visit the Orange County Museum of Art
  12. Check out the Craft Breweries
  13. Shop Around Paseo 17
  14. Check out the Vintage Shopping
  15. Pink Cafes at Coffee Dose & MicroDose

What is Costa Mesa known for?

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 shopping centers, 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.

How far is Costa Mesa from Disneyland?

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!

Is Costa Mesa worth visiting?

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!

Liked this post on what to do in Costa Mesa? Share the love below on Pinterest.