In one of the southernmost regions of SoCal lies the sprawling city of Costa Mesa, California.
This coastal town is part of Orange County, and it boasts a rich performance art scene, natural and manmade attractions, as well as a storied past.
It was once an agricultural land for farming and livestock, but because of development, it has emerged as a prime urban destination, with recreational facilities, dining establishments, and other attractions on every corner.
So if you want your vacation in a cosmopolitan setting that’s also near a beach, then this place is your top choice.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Costa Mesa, CA:
Enjoy a Family Day at TeWinkle Park
Named after the city's first mayor, TeWinkle Park is another picturesque outdoor facility in Costa Mesa where you can relax and enjoy a beautiful day with your family.
Verdant grounds, shady trees, and many modern amenities make this attraction a great destination for those who want to be with nature.
Perhaps the most iconic features of this park are the gorgeous two lakes covering most of the southeastern end.
These are connected by streams that turn into small waterfalls, and each lake has fountains that add to the beautiful scenery.
Wild ducks usually swim here, and you are welcome to feed them.
If you want more sporty activities, there are trails for running and four baseball diamonds sitting adjacent to one another.
You can also let your kids play and socialize with other children at the play structures located on the northeast side of the park.
Play With Animals at Centennial Farm
Another distinct attraction in Costa Mesa is the Centennial Farm, an interactive destination for kids and the young at heart.
It’s one of the attractions that highlight the region's agricultural heritage, with many sights and activities that will have visitors rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty.
Here, kids will have a first-hand experience tending gardens and harvesting fruits, vegetables, and other crops.
The hands-on approach will give them a renewed appreciation of the foods they eat; it might even convince those who don’t like veggies to finally try them.
And like any other farm, the facility has animals like pigs, cows, chickens, and goats.
You’re welcome to interact with these friendly livestock as they are always eager for petting, feeding, and the occasional hugging.
Trek the Trails of Fairview Park
Costa Mesa’s biggest park is Fairview Park, covering more than 195 acres of green spaces.
It is an important area especially for nature conservation, as it contains forested sanctuaries where local plants and wildlife are allowed to thrive without the disturbance of people.
But there is enough open space for various outdoor activities not allowed in the other parks mentioned, such as horseback riding, kite flying, and birdwatching.
It’s the perfect place to witness the local avian species, especially during spring when they visit the tall and beautiful wildflowers as they bloom.
The many trails lead to various park points, and one of the prettiest spots to visit is the riverbed with huge oak trees, patches of grasses, and native plants—a snapshot of what the region once looked like before human settlers arrived.
So bring your family over and explore all the hidden wonders of this spacious outdoor attraction.
Tour the Grounds of OC Fair & Event Center
OC Fair & Event Center is a 150-acre outdoor space where many thrilling and engaging activities are held.
It’s one of Costa Mesa’s most well-known attractions, attracting millions of people each month.
Within the grounds, facilities such as the Pacific Amphitheatre, Centennial Farm, and Costa Mesa Speedway hold distinct events on their own.
It’s also the venue of the famous Orange County Fair, happening every July when summer is just starting.
Aside from these events and locations, the facility has many other spots that you can go on and enjoy on any given day.
There are many rides like a large Ferris wheel, lots of food concessionaires, and over 150 other events held annually.
With the number of occasions celebrated here, you have a great chance of catching one even if you don’t plan ahead.
See What’s in Store During the Orange County Fair
Lasting for almost a month, the Orange County Fair is one the largest and longest celebrations in the US.
When summer comes, millions of people flock to Costa Mesa to enjoy the various delights, shows, and attractions that this fair has in store.
It was originally dedicated to horse races and livestock shows, which were meant to showcase the then largely agricultural heritage of the area.
Over the years, more carnival elements started to emerge, and today, it has become a famous family-oriented event where everyone can enjoy thrilling rides, great food, and entertainment by local and international performers.
And since it lasts for 23 days, you’ll have plenty of time exploring all the exhibits, special events, and other attractions of the fair.
Play a Few Rounds at Costa Mesa Golf Course
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, the Costa Mesa Golf Course is an excellent destination to play a few rounds.
The 36-hole golf course has verdant grounds, well-maintained fairways, sand bunkers, and a driving range that make for great gameplay.
In fact, it serves as the venue of the Costa Mesa City Championship, one of the state’s premier amateur golf tournaments.
After acing a hole in one, or if you need more fuel before finishing a long round, the clubhouse offers a great menu of delicious comfort foods and American staples.
There is also a pro shop where you can find high-quality golf clubs, balls, and other equipment.
Join the Crowds at Pacific Amphitheatre
Within the OC Fair & Event Center is the bombastic Pacific Amphitheatre, a favorite by visitors and performers alike for the excellent accommodations and state-of-the-art amenities.
Seating more than 8,000 people, the large venue is frequently visited by some of the most famous singers, celebrities, and multimedia artists.
These notable people include Barry Manilow, Van Halen, and the Eagles.
In fact, the Pacific Amphitheatre was where Marvin Gaye performed his last song before his untimely death.
It is the ideal spot for summertime jamming, made more convenient with the many amenities and modern comforts installed within the halls.
So make it a must-visit destination in your itinerary, especially if you like to rock and roll in the middle of an excited crowd.
Shop Great Finds at South Coast Plaza
When in a busy metropolitan area, you can always expect a location downtown where you can shop until your drop.
South Coast Plaza is the premier destination for shopaholics in this part of California, but it’s not your ordinary retail space.
It is actually the largest shopping center on the West Coast, boasting 2,800,000 square feet of space and 240 stalls.
And since South Coast Plaza also has one of the largest concentrations of fashion retail stores in the whole country, fashionistas will have their minds blown at the sheer amount of stylish clothes for sale.
From luxury brands and fast-fashion shops to jewelry and gadget stores, the choice of established brands and companies in the mall is endless.
Whatever you need, whatever your desire, you’ll find in South Coast Plaza.
Catch a Show at Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Another world-renowned performance art complex in Costa Mesa is the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
It’s a premier destination that can seat more than 3000 people, with excellent acoustics, viewing angles, and amenities for a thrilling experience.
Perhaps the most famous feature of Segerstrom Center for the Arts is its sophisticated architecture, especially the interiors, which have immersive lighting and flowing forms that are a sight to behold.
But of course, people don’t just go here to admire the walls, seats, or decor.
The performances are the main reason why thousands of people come to the facility, and these include orchestra performances, dance recitals, live concerts, and theater plays.
All the elements combine to elevate any show and turn it into a transcendent experience.
Explore the Habitats of Talbert Regional Park
If you want to stay back from the bustling events and tempting shopping opportunities, why not spend a few hours at the Talbert Regional Park.
Situated adjacent to the Santa Ana River, this serene and scenic outdoor facility will give you rest away from the busy urban life.
With around 88 acres of lush grounds, the park is divided into six zones, each with its own unique plant life and terrain.
These replicate the original appearance of Costa Mesa before it was turned into an agricultural hub, so you’ll find coastal habitats, native grasslands, and even riparian woodland.
You’ll have plenty of time exploring these panoramic grounds, which are accessible by walking, running, and biking.
In the more open and accessible part of the park, there are picnic grounds with modern amenities, making for a convenient stay for the whole family.
See California in a Different Light at Noguchi Garden
Noguchi Garden is a one-of-a-kind facility that features minimalistic yet symbolic sculptures and installations.
These aesthetically pleasing and intriguing designs are created to mimic the landscapes of California—featureless light brown slabs for the deserts, patches of grass and shrubs, rows of trees representing the redwoods, and even small streams snaking their way in between cracks.
And for an authentic portrayal of the state, the sculptor used local materials and indigenous plants that are found all over the region.
With your imagination, you’ll be able to picture this representation of California inspired by Japan's bare but beautiful landscaping techniques.
Visiting here is absolutely free, so if you want to see another perspective of the Golden State, then make a stopover to this destination.
Immerse in the City’s History at Diego Sepulveda Adobe
For a glimpse into the past of Costa Mesa, a visit to Diego Sepulveda Adobe is your best choice.
This ancient structure has been around since 1817, and it is the second oldest building in Orange County.
It was built primarily to house the cattle herders from Mission San Juan Capistrano before it was handed down to different owners who made their own modifications to the house.
To bring back the charming adobe walls, the Costa Mesa Historical Society restored the structure and turned it into a museum.
You’ll find exhibits, collections, and artifacts that highlight the distinct eras of California: Indian, Mission, Spanish, and Victorian.
Visit the location to learn more about the city's history and gain a new appreciation of its colorful and eventful past.
Enjoy Shopping at the LAB Anti-Mall
Little American Business, or "The LAB," is a laid-back indoor-outdoor meeting place with businesses catering to the young at spirit.
In 1993, The LAB set out on its mission to change the monotony of shopping.
The LAB is home to a wide variety of shops and gourmet restaurants that are unique in mainstream retail centers.
Through musical events, revolving murals, graphic arts, walk-through galleries, and visual merchandising exhibits, they continue to expand the boundaries of creativity.
The LAB includes a mosaic "community wall" project, a message installation on a wishing tree, group seating called "The Living Room," and much more!
Explore Vintage Cars at Crevier Classic Cars
Crevier Classic Cars are not just a modern, cutting-edge storage facility that focuses on holding distinctive, vintage, antique, collectible, and exotic cars.
They aim to appreciate the value of fantastic automobiles, spread that value to others, and secure automobiles for future generations.
Additionally, there is a vibrant community of classic automobile owners, enthusiasts, and connoisseurs who frequently meet to discuss their shared passions and interests.
It is the ideal and distinctive location for any special event, wedding, or business gathering.
Featuring over a hundred vintage, exotic, and rare cars on exhibit, your special event will have a beautiful backdrop and unmatched setting.
Watch a Play by South Coast Repertory
David Emmes and Martin Benson founded South Coast Repertory, a local professional theater, in 1964.
It is well known for being America's top new play producer.
Up to five world premieres of new plays are staged each season as part of the broad new campaign development program of South Coast Repertory, which includes a variety of classes, engagements, readings, and internships.
The theater season spans from September to June every year and features performances on several stages that draw from both the classic and contemporary theater canon.
Along with providing a variety of educational and outreach initiatives, South Coast Repertory has won the Regional Theatre Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement for new play creation.
Dine in a Relaxing Setting at Old Vine Kitchen and Bar
Old Vine has transformed cuisine in Orange County since 2007; for over a decade as the adored Old Vine Café, and most recently, as the enlarged Old Vine Kitchen & Bar.
The popular restaurant, run by owner and chef Mark McDonald and sommelier-owner Kate Perry, provides meals and late-night beverages in a relaxed, casual setting.
Old Vine is still steadfastly devoted to its tried-and-true guiding principles of showcasing regional cuisine, offering high-caliber products, and encouraging sincere relationships with clients.
It features a magnificent wine bar area with original metalworks by Mark Gerardi and more than 80 abstract paintings by Paul Kole.
Old Vine Kitchen & Bar offers extensive pasta specialties like beef tenderloin stroganoff, flash-fried gnocchi, and pork sausage ragu every day of the week for breakfast, lunch, and late-night dining.
Prepare to be Entertained at the CAMP
The CAMP is an innovative retail community in Costa Mesa's SoBeCa District.
It is a "green" meeting place with a laid-back and energetic vibe.
It is a well-liked option for the bohemian crowd, who frequently avoids tourist spots like national corporate coffee shops and retail centers.
The CAMP is home to several organic, wellness, and health-related businesses encouraging customers to lead active lifestyles.
The CAMP also serves as a live entertainment venue for gastronomic events, art walks, movie screenings, and music concerts.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Once you’re done with your tour of the favorite destinations in Costa Mesa, why not stop by these other nearby attractions?
Relax Under the Sun at Huntington State Beach
Since you’re already near the Pacific, why not drive for a few minutes to the vibrant Huntington State Beach?
There are many activities to try here aside from the standard swimming and sunbathing.
You can participate in the thrilling beach volleyball games, charter a boat for whale watching, or get on a board and try surfing.
The nearby establishments also provide delicious Californian staples and refreshing drinks if you ever find yourself craving food while playing under the sun.
Camp Amidst Wildlife at Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve sits on the city of Newport Beach, near the borders it shares with Costa Mesa.
This 1000-acre park has a wilder side than Fairview Park or Talbert Regional Park, making it a great getaway for those who want more thrilling nature-related activities.
From large swaths of marshland to the scenic Upper Newport Bay, natural sceneries abound in this area.
It’s a favorite for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers, as some endemic species and migratory birds call this place home.
Approximately 30000 birds come to this sanctuary for shelter and food during winter, including black rails, Belding's savannah sparrow, California least tern, and peregrine falcons.
If you want a chance to see these birds in their natural habitats, then one of the best ways to do that is by camping.
There are many sites that allow you to pitch tents and stay for a while to enjoy the view.
See Majestic Airplanes at Lyon Air Museum
As the name implies, Lyon Air Museum is an amazing facility that focuses on aerospace and aircraft history.
It is located in Santa Ana, and here, you’ll find airplanes of varying sizes, from huge passenger plans to propeller-powered aircraft.
Lovers of aviation and the art and science behind it will have a grand time exploring the facility's majestic (and occasionally rad) displays.
Dubbed as the City of the Arts, Costa Mesa is one of California’s best venues for performance and visual art.
And aside from human talent and excellence, the city also celebrates nature, agriculture, and history.
That’s why there’s something for the young and old in this charming city.
So check out this list when planning for your vacation to get an idea of the best places to be.