15 Free Things to Do in Costa Mesa, CA

Free Things to Do in Costa Mesa, CA
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Home to Center Tower and Plaza Tower, the two tallest buildings in Orange County, Costa Mesa has seen considerable growth since its incorporation in 1953.

The Tongva and Acjachemen indigenous tribes in California were the first settlers in the area.

In 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano became the first European permanent settlement in the area.

Costa Mesa has become a mecca for entertainment and the arts, gaining the nickname City of the Arts.

However, the city is also a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts with lots of fun and exciting activities, whether you're a solo traveler or with your family.

Go for a hike, see historic sites, visit a museum, or sit at a park watching people wander past you.

Here's a round-up of the best free things to do in Costa Mesa, California:

Spend a Picnic Day at Tewinkle Park

Duck near the pond of Tewinkle Park
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Home to 30 picnic tables and grills, Tewinkle Park is the best spot for spending a picnic day with the entire family.

The 49-acre park also features ball fields for sports enthusiasts, play areas for the kids, and a pond with ducks, geese, turtles, squirrels, and birds.

If you also choose to picnic on the grass, there are plenty of areas to lay your blanket under a shady, beautiful tree.

Welcome sign of Tewinkle Park
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The park is vast enough for families to spend a day picnicking, with excellent walking trails to explore the entire property.

Share a picnic with your family or friends at Tewinkle Park, and make it memorable!

You can find the park on Arlington Drive.

Grab a Free Travel Guide at Travel Costa Mesa Visitor Center

Formerly known as the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau, Travel Costa Mesa Visitor Center offers a free travel planner to those visiting the city.

Get information about each attraction, event, and historical site, and get around the city at the visitor center.

You can ask assistance from the tourism staff for their recommendations and suggestions on what or where to go.

Itineraries, maps, and guides will be provided for a more leisurely staycation in Costa Mesa.

Visit Travevl Costa Mesa Visitor Center at Kalmus Drive in Suite C110.

Follow the Costa Mesa Public Art Walk

Costa Mesa was nicknamed the City of the Arts for a good reason.

Did you know that more than 20 contemporary artworks are sprinkled around the city?

You can see them through the Costa Mesa Public Art Walk commissioned by American arts patron Henry Segerstrom.

Many of these artworks are created by world-renowned artists, including Isamu Noguchi and Joan Miró, who graced the city with their masterpieces.

Each artwork has free audio information about each piece you can listen to on your phone, which is perfect for art enthusiasts.

Don't miss the Costa Mesa Public Art Walk and learn more about each artist and their backstory.

Listen to the audio tour for each artwork stop and world-class experience art right in the heart of Costa Mesa!

Hike along the Santa Ana River Trail

Nothing's more relaxing than taking scenic hikes while being surrounded by nature.

At the Santa Ana River Trail, you can enjoy a hike along the river with sweeping views of both the natural areas and parks.

The trail extends 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Orange-Riverside county line, linking residential areas, parks, shopping districts, and beaches.

This is a popular trail for hikers, cyclists, or even those who only want natural light from the sun or good exercise.

It's an easy trail for all skill levels.

Get your feet and boots ready and enjoy hiking at the Santa Ana River Trail.

You can head to Gisler Avenu in Costa Mesa to start your journey.

Celebrate the Scarecrow and Pumpkin Festival

Pumpkin patches, a grand parade, train rides, food, music, face painting, scarecrow decorating, and many fun activities happen at the Annual Scarecrow and Pumpkin Festival.

The festival started in 1938 but went on hiatus for seven decades since World War II.

It was celebrated again in 2013, continuing the city's cultural heritage and history through entertainment and the arts.

The scarecrow decoration contest falls into different categories: Best in Show, Spookiest, People's Choice, and Funniest.

The free event is organized and presented by the City Parks and Community Services Department.

There will be lots of fun activities that kids can also participate such as Princess Pumpkin Patch, stilt walkers, DJs, and an inflatable corn maze.

The Annual Scarecrow & Pumpkin Festival is celebrated in October.

Admire the Artworks at the Orange County Museum of Art

Exterior of the Orange County Museum of Art
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Another jewel in Costa Mesa is the Orange County Museum of Art, located at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The museum houses more than 4,500 artworks, focusing on California and Pacific Rim Art from the early 20th century to the present.

Its exhibitions include sculptures, traditional paintings, photography, digital, video, and installation art.

In 1962, 13 visionary women created a venue where art is appreciated and valued, establishing the Balboa Pavilion Gallery.

Facade of the Orange County Museum of Art
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In 1997, the museum was renamed Orange County Museum of Art and moved to its new home at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in 2018.

Admire these fantastic artworks and learn about the artists who helped shape the art history in Costa Mesa.

You can find the museum at South Coast Plaza on Avenue of the Arts.

Interior of the Orange County Museum of Art
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Let Your Dogs Play at the Costa Mesa Bark Park

If you're traveling with your dogs, they can also enjoy a few hours of socializing and playing with other dogs at the Costa Mesa Bark Park.

The two-acre park features two play spaces for small and large dogs, as well as for elderly dogs and with disabilities.

Here, your dogs can familiarize themselves and interact with other dogs their size.

The play areas also have double-gated fences for the safety of each pet, so you don't have to worry about them getting aggressive against each other.

There are also plenty of shades and benches for sitting while you're watching over your pets.

The park also features water dispensers for the dog.

And don't forget to pick up after your dogs to maintain cleanliness.

The Costa Mesa Bark Park is off Arlington Drive.

Commune with Nature at Talbert Nature Preserve

Imagine stepping into a botanical garden with lots of wildlife.

That's Talbert Nature Preserve, a wildlife refuge where coyotes, butterflies, birds, rabbits, ducks, squirrels, and many more.

However, it's not just the animals that make up the preserve.

Beautiful wildflowers, native vegetation, grasslands, and many trees surround the entire preserve, getting you closer to nature.

The preserve is in Talbert Regional Park, with six different areas of diverse habitats along the scenic Santa Ana River.

It has nearly 200 acres of natural landscape with easy hiking trails perfect for all skill levels.

Talbert Nature Preserve is a perfect description of flora and fauna.

It's located off Victoria Street.

Catch a Costa Mesa Sunset at Fairview Park

Sunsets in Southern California are unmatched, and Costa Mesa doesn't disappoint.

The city has many spots to catch a gorgeous sunset, but Fairview Park makes the golden hour more special.

The 208-acre park is a unique open space with a backdrop of beautiful trees and natural areas, which makes the sunset more gorgeous.

There are also lots of wildlife, tall wildflowers, and native plants to see while exploring the walking trails and waiting for the sun to sink over the horizon.

You may also see people flying their kites, picnicking, biking, or even horseback riding.

You can find Fairview Park on Placentia Avenue.

See the California Scenario - Noguchi Garden

Trail at the California Scenario - Noguchi Garden
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In 1979, Henry Segerstrom commissioned Isamu Noguchi to make the sculpture garden known as California Scenario - Noguchi Garden.

The 1.6-acre garden symbolizes California's geographical characteristics.

It comprises six elements: Land Use, Forest Walk, Water Source, Desert Land, Water Use, and Energy Fountain.

The California Scenario - Noguchi Garden is also great for taking Instagram-worthy photos!

You can find it off in Pacific Arts Plaza on Anton Boulevard.

Step into the Past at the Costa Mesa Historical Museum

It's always nice to learn about the past, especially in the historic City of the Arts.

A vast collection of artifacts that tell the city's story are in the Costa Mesa Historical Museum, dating back to 5,000 years since the first settlers.

The museum preserves photographs, maps, artificial and natural objects, books, pamphlets, audio, and video recordings, manuscripts, and many more.

You'll learn more about the city's backstory and what life was like in the past.

There are also permanent exhibits, such as the Costa Mesa Timeline, which gives details and information about the city from its founding.

The Costa Mesa Historical Museum is open to the public every Thursday and Friday and is located on Anaheim Avenue.

Take a Selfie at the Costa Mesa Bloom

Blooming with the city's natural flora and fauna, the Costa Mesa Bloom mural makes a wonderful Instagrammable photo.

Local artist Aaron Glasson, who makes the earth's natural ecosystem the subject of his art, was commissioned by Travel Costa Mesa to create this art in the city.

The iconic mural represents the city's diversity and natural environments, such as trees, flowers, and leaves, in a deep inset at Triangle Square.

It was officially dedicated in 2019, attracting more attention from tourists visiting the city.

Glasson is a New Zealand native who has worked on murals from everywhere in the world.

Don't miss this colorful spot at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and 19th Street and take a great photo!

Drink Your Coffee at Vista Park

There's no other place to take and drink your coffee than Vista Park, especially when you kickstart your day.

You'll love that it's peaceful and quiet, perfect for a morning coffee to gather your thoughts.

The park also features picnic tables, but if you prefer sitting on the grass to catch early sunlight, it also has a nice green grass area.

Vista Park was named for its amazing views, including Huntington Beach and the coast.

Sunsets are also pretty here.

Visit the park at Victoria Street and enjoy your coffee!

Read a Book at the Orange County Public Library

If you're looking for a place to read a book in town, the Orange County Public Library in Donald Dungan Branch is a great spot.

The library holds a wide selection of books of all genres for kids, teens, and adults.

It also features modern amenities, making visitors more comfortable, including pleasant and decent chairs, study tables, rooms, and reading nooks.

If you want a more peaceful reading, you can reserve a study room, which is shared by a maximum of eight people, on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are also dedicated spaces for kids and teens.

The Orange County Public Library is in Lions Park on Park Avenue.

Catch Free Movie Mondays at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Exterior of Segerstrom Center for the Arts
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One of the summer highlights in Costa Mesa is the free Movie Mondays by Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The public can enjoy free movies under the stars throughout the summer at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza.

The outdoor movie series started in 2007 to draw people's attention to visit the Center.

Outdoor screen of Segerstrom Center for the Arts
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Check out the Center to join the community if you're in town during summer.

Bring a picnic and enjoy the Movie Mondays at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts!

Final Thoughts

As one of the crowning jewels in Southern California, the City of Costa Mesa beams with an eclectic lifestyle and fantastic tourist attractions.

There's no way that the City of the Arts doesn't make it to the top list of most-visited cities in the U.S.

Enjoy the free things to do in Costa Mesa, California!

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