One perfect day in Costa Mesa, CA

Spend a day in this O.C. town where indie shopping and the food scene have come into their own

Robin Jones

Sense of place: Between surf-centric Huntington Beach and posh Newport, the more suburban Costa Mesa never quite touches the coast.

At a glance: Strip malls, office parks, and car dealerships.

If you look a little closer: Hubs of creative start-up shops full of O.C. tastemakers in skinny jeans and flowy tops.

Birth of cool: The city’s first “anti-mall,” the Lab (2930 Bristol St.;, opened 20 years ago. These days, a DJ spins tunes in the courtyard next to vintage clothing stores.

Next on the scene: The Camp (2937 Bristol;, an alterna-mall across the street from the Lab, is especially good for lunch—from the pork bánh mì at East Borough ($) to the vegan chili of Native Foods Café ($). 

Newest addition: The OC Mart Mix (3313 Hyland Ave.; theocmart​, a few freeway stops away, has B. Candy, Savory Spice Shop, and Saturday sewing classes at Fashion Camp OC ( 

Stop in a secret garden: Hidden between two office buildings, California Scenario sculpture garden, created by famed artist Isamu Noguchi, has areas devoted to the state’s varying geography: There’s a mini redwood forest, a tiny desert, and a little mountain stream. Though it was installed more than 30 years ago, few outsiders know about it, so it’s usually quiet. 611 Anton Blvd.

Fun on two wheels: At one of the OC Mart Mix’s newest stores, Nirve Sports, you can customize the cruiser bike of your dreams, complete with a decorated saddle, special tires (Hello Kitty treads, anyone?), and a basket with a liner that turns into a tote bag. The shop’s outer walls roll up to the ceiling, making it even easier to wheel a bike out the door. 3313 Hyland Ave.; 714/948-6199.

A department store with a green twist: Pop into Seed People’s Market, a one-stop shop for eco-conscious living at the Camp. Check out the handcrafted jewelry, organic cosmetics, reusable bamboo utensils, and wooden baby toys. 2937 Bristol St.; 714/708-2277.

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