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Top Things To Do in Costa Mesa, CA: Shopping, Arts

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With shopping, restaurants, entertainment, parks, and consistent weather, there are a number of things to do in Costa Mesa, CA. Big on open space preservation, there are 29 parks for a wide range of outdoor activities. With its motto "City of the Arts", there are several venues to experience a great range of performances.

Incorporated in 1953 and located in South Orange County, Costa Mesa began as a farming community. It's 41 miles south of downtown Los Angeles and 88 miles from San Diego. The cultural makeup of the city is diverse with family friendly activities. Close access to highways (55 divides it) make it accessible. The major thoroughfare of Harbor Boulevard runs from Disneyland Park directly into the city. Some hotels offer a free shuttle to Disneyland making it ideal for travelers.

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  1. Arts

  2. Shopping

  3. Resources

Costa Mesa is is known as a premier shopping destination showcasing the latest brands in fashion. The South Coast Plaza is notable for the size. At present, it's the largest mall on the West Coast and the 4th largest in the USA. The ideal time to visit is from April to November for warm temps between 70 to 85. Here's our list of things to do in Costa Mesa.

1. Attend the OC Fair & Event Center. COST: depends on the event. Prices $2 to $25. Known for the Orange County Fair which typically runs July 14 to August 14, they have events throughout the year. Experience 23 days of food, rides, and exhibits. Parking: $7 - $10. OC Fair Tickets: $25 for adults, Senior(60): $18 and kids: 6 to 12 $18. Age 5 and under, Free.

Although it's one of the more popular things to do in Costa Mesa, the cost can get up there. It could run $100 for two if you go wild. With games at $10 a piece in addition to food and drink. It's advisable to buy a ride pass. 

The first fair began in 1889 shortly after the founding of the county itself. It offers a range of events outside the summer fair. Held by outside promoters who rent space, do your research. Each event has it's own parking. Food wise, don't expect healthy. Check out their calendar of events. 88 Fair Drive. Tel: (714) 708-1500.

FREE PARKING: Free parking & shuttle service is available on Saturdays and Sundays from the Experian parking structure. Bristol Street exit of the 405. 

TIPS FOR VISITING THE OC FAIR:

  • If driving, avoid rush hour on Fairview Rd., Newport Blvd., and Fair Dr from 5pm to 8 pm.
  • Take the OC Fair Express from any of 9 locations in OC. It runs non-stop for $4 round-trip. Get a coupon for $3 admission to the OC Fair.
  • Get free fair admission with the purchase of tickets to any Pacific Amphitheatre, The Hangar, and Action Sports Arena event.

2. Visit Fairview Park. Experience 208 acres of nature. Cost: Free. Popular for run and hikes. Ideal for picnics. During the summer free concerts are held each Tuesday. 2525 Placentia Ave.

Amenities include:

  • Barbecues
  • Basketball
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hiking
  • Running
  • Kite Flying
  • Model Airplane Flying ($25 permit required)
  • Picnic Tables
  • Restrooms

NOTE: Watch out for snakes and bees.

Goat Hill Railroad

Goat Hill Railroad

3. Goat Hill Junction Railroad. Cost: FREE. Donation requested. Ride on 1/8 scaled trains over a 5 mile layout. For things to do in Costa Mesa with kids, it does not get much better. Located in Fairview Park.
Tel: 949-548-7246
NOTE: Kids must be able to walk. 

4. Downtown Aquatic Center. Swim at an outdoor 25-yard pool. Swimming lessons, aquatic therapy. COST: $4/1 session, $38/10 sessions, $70/20 sessions. 1860 Anaheim Avenue.
Tel: (714) 327-7564.  

5. Relax at Tewinkle Park. Cost: FREE. With 49 acres, it's ideal for kids with an abundance of wild geese, ducks, turtles, a lake, gazebos, and waterfall. Popular choice for bridal parties. 970 Arlington Dr. (714) 754-5300.

  • Picnic Tables
  • Playgrounds
  • Tennis Courts
  • Baseball Field

6. Skateboard at Volcom Skate Park. Cost: FREE and pretty fantastic based on feedback. Rated as one of the best mid-size skate parks in Orange County. Notable pros have supposedly shown up (Don't trip). It's advisable to come before 11:00 am to beat the crowds. Bicycles and BMX bikes are forbidden. Hours: 9am-9pm. 900 Arlington Dr. (714) 754-5326.
NOTE: CLOSED Tuesdays from 9 am - 3 pm. 

7. Indoor Rock Climbing. With 12,000 square feet, what better way to learn? For season pros who need preparation, you can't go wrong. Cost: 1-Day Adult/$17, 1-Day Child (11 & under) $12. Shoes: $4.00 fro member, $5.00 for non. They have instruction and classes; even yoga. They also hold corp events & birthdays. Rockreation 1300 Logan Ave. HOURS:  Mon - Fri: 12pm - 10pm, Sat, Sun: 10am - 6pm TEL: 714.556.7625

8. Take Scuba Diving lessons. From beginners to pros they offer repairs, tank inspections, regulator service, and sell the latest scuba gear including under water photography equipment.  You can also obtain PADI Certification. Take training at your pace. Certification packages from $350. Max of 4 per class. See what it's all about and if they're right for you. Dive & Photo, 3033 Bristol Suite F. Tel: 949.476.8500.

9. Visit A Surfboard Shop & Manufacturer. Cost: New boards from $500. Whether your looking for a new surfboard to get started or in need of repair, this is the place. Locals swear by him since 1980. Hours: Mon–Fri 11:00 AM–6:00 PM. Vartanian Surf, 1779 Placentia Ave. Tel: (949) 612-7537.

10. Buy or Rent a Bike. Two Wheels One Planet. Rentals: $15.00/hour, $35.00/Day. They hold weekly rides and monthly repair clinics. 420 E 17th St, Tel: (949) 646-7717. Hours: Mon - Fri: 10:00am - 7:00pm, Sat: 10:00am - 6:00pm. Sun: 10:00am - 5:00pm.

11. Visit the Gray Matter Museum. Cost: Free. Their mission statement is to promote live artist workshops, outreach programs and to display local artists. This not the LACMA, it's more boutique. 485 E 17th St, Ste 101. Museum hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. For events: cost $27 to $45 depending on the event; most are held in the evening. gmmaca.org

12. The Noguchi Garden. Cost: Free. A hidden sculpture garden across from South Coast Plaza, it's a great place for group photos. Designed by sculptor Isam Noguchi in 1980, it brings elements and characteristics of California in an abstract manner. 611 Anton Blvd.

13. Centennial Farm at The OC fair grounds. COST: FREE. A 3-acre working farm that educates about agriculture. Ideal for kids and adults. View livestovk while strolling thru the garden. Free parking provided there are no events. Hours: Mon thr Fri 1 to 4 pm and weekends 9am to 4pm. Tel: 714) 708-1500. 88 Fair Drive.

Arts & Entertainment


In addition to shopping, take in some of the best arts and entertainment in Southern California.

With the purchase of tickets to the Pacific Amphitheatre, The Hangar, or the Action Sports Arena receive FREE admission into the Orange County Fair. 

1. Pacific Amphitheatre. Costs: Tickets from $35. Located on the OC fairgrounds, it has held summer concerts since 1983. It hosts prominent artists ranging from music to comedy. Seating is all seats, no pit or GA. NOTE: Not known for good beers and with most events can be on the pricer side. They do have wine. 100 Fair Drive. Tel: 714.708.1500

2, The Hangar. A concert aviation style venue located at the OC fair. It features local and national bands. 88 Fair Drive. Tel: (714) 708-1501

3. Action Sports Arena. Also Located at the OC Fair, you can experience demolition derbies, motorcycle racing, bull riding, and canine shows.

NOTE:
1. For allergy suffers, best to keep something on hand.
2. Purchase to OC fair does not guarantee admission. First come, first served. 

4. Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Cost: varies, tickets from $25. From broadway to pop, rock, jazz, and even live film scores, it provides an impressive array of performances. During the summer, The Segerstrom Concert Hall holds outdoor screenings called "Movie Mondays" at dusk. Movies are projected on the side of the building. Food trucks provide good eats for each screening making it an easy choice.

In all, five separate venues occupy the premises. Home to Pacific Symphony, The philharmonic Society, and Pacific Chorale, it was designed by renown Argentine architect Cesar Pelli. He has designed some of the tallest buildings in the world. With state of the art sound, interior with crystal pendants, it is in a word magnificent.  Parking; $10. Tickets: (714)-556-2787. 600 Town Center Drive. 

NOTE TO GUYS:
Impress the lady by taking her to a symphony. Widen the palate. 
Lateness may result in you being held in the lobby. They're big on etiquette. Don't fumble it.

5. South Coast Repertory. Cost: Tickets from $22. Parking: $10, cash only. One of the most respected regional theaters in the country, it was awarded a Tony award. Time Magazine listed the theatre on its Top Five Regional Theaters in the US.  655 Town Center Drive. Tickets: (714) 708-5555

6. Lyceum Theater at Vanguard University. Local college theatre that is small without a bad seat in the house. Cost: Individual tickets $17, savings with season tickets. Parking; Free Tickets: 714.668.6145. Vanguard University Lyceum Theater, 2525 Newport Boulevard. 

NOTE: It can Be difficult to find. Slow down. Directions: Drive south, past Fair Drive and turn right at the third driveway. The theatre is located at the end of the parking lot.

Costa Mesa Shopping

Costa Mesa is known for great shopping. It has a wide range of boutique shops.

1. The Lab. Indoor/outdoor spot with a college vibe. An artistic setting with shops, coffee, record stores, live music, and organic eats. Plenty of places to sit outside with shade. Dog friendly. Parking: difficult but it depends on the time of day. 2930 Bristol Street. Hours: Monday-Thursday & Sunday 10am-9pm, Friday & Saturday 10am-10pm.

Bridge of Gardens at South Coast Plaza

Bridge of Gardens at South Coast Plaza

2. South Coast Plaza. With over 250 stores, it might take a while. It has just about every luxury brand imaginable. Expensive but you only live once. The Bridge of Gardens connects South Coast to Crystal Court. 3333 Bristol St.
Tel: 800-782-8888.

3. The CAMP. Outdoor shopping with a camping vibe, hence the name. Motivational feel good quotes on parking spaces and stairs. Small, artistic with monthly “Last Tuesdays” Sobeca ARTwalk, film screenings, and events. 2937 Bristol Street. Tel: 714-966-6661. Parking: Best before 11 am or after 2 pm. It's a challenge but patience wins a coveted spot. 

4. The OC Mix. Locally owned boutiques, courtyard, with outside seating. The atmosphere is reminiscent of a packing district. Good spot for a casual date. 3313 Hyland Avenue. Tel: 949 760 9150.

5. SOCO. Formally available only to the trade, it contains home furnishings, antiques, fixtures, and appliances from over 20 showrooms. Stores range from HD Buttercup, Roche Bobois, and Cisco Home, Gear Co-Op, and Design Within Reach (DWR). 3303-3323 Hyland Ave. Tel: 949.760.9150

bridge of gardens photo Credit By Nandaro via Wikimedia Commons

Suggestions

See anything we missed for things to do in Costa Mesa? Feel free to write in the comments.

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