Growing up in Orange County, I never thought I’d come full circle to writing about the places and cities that I grew up next to. Back then, to me, Orange County wasn’t necessarily a go to travel destination as I lived it daily. But as an adult, finding my way back home, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot of awesomeness behind the orange curtains, with places like Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, San Clemente and Costa Mesa - city of the arts (and more). When I took a month off from my world travels, I decided to putz around my own backyard, to discover what I had been missing all these years, and I found myself in Costa Mesa for a weekend with my dude. On the agenda - mostly shopping!
Segerstrom Center For The Arts
After arriving and checking in, we headed to SCFTA, a place I had never been to, but have heard of many times before. What I didn’t realize was how massive the arts complex was, or how beautiful the architecture was. There was an outdoor bar where we enjoyed a gourmet burger and cocktails before our show. We were graciously provided two tickets to see a performance of The Book of Mormon that night, which was hilarious, and played the part of the perfect introduction to what the city had to offer. Having lived in Manhattan for some years, the caliber of the performance, venue and experience was comparable to any show I had previously seen on Broadway.
More Info: Segerstrom Hall was designed by Charles Lawrence and features the distinctive Grand Portal arch and "Fire Bird" sculpture by Robert Lippold that have become emblematic of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It opened in September, 1986, providing Orange County with one of the finest performance venues in the nation. Segerstrom Hall seats nearly 3,000 people. It is an opera-house style venue with proscenium arch and 8,500 square-foot stage that welcomes the greatest dance companies in the world, Broadway’s top shows, operas and many other styles and genres of music and theater. Segerstrom Hall faces the Center’s 46,000 square-foot Julianne and George Argyros Arts Plaza, with Richard Serra’s imposing “Connector” sculpture and Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure.”
South Coast Plaza
I grew up coming to this fancy mall with my parents, and later with friends. I have fond memories of tossing pennies into one of the main fountains inside, as well as riding the carousel as a child. During the holidays, my parents would take us to see the lights at South Coast Plaza, as they always outdo themselves, year after year. The shopping mall is incredibly upscale but also has shopping for those (like myself) who are more accustomed to the more affordable, yet fashionable retailers. I was in the market for fresh pieces for my wardrobe, so I enlisted the help of SCP’s personal shopper service (provided as a courtesy to me for the experience). Additionally, I was given a pass into their Access Lounge, a private, VIP lounge for extra special mall guests (and apparently, me). Inside the suite, a dedicated room was set up with racks of clothing for me to try on and choose from. At the end of the day, it was more about the experience than breaking the bank, as I only picked up a few pieces that worked within the constraints of my budget. We ended our shopping extravaganza with a meal at AnQi, a visually stunning Asian-style restaurant with a contemporary twist, utilizing modern techniques and flavors. Although the food was superb, what left the biggest impression on me were the cocktails, especially the Pink Lotus, made with cotton candy, vodka, fresh pink grapefruit and orange juice & blackberry. The liquids were poured tableside, directly on top of the cotton candy.
More Info: South Coast Plaza is a renowned international shopping center and home to an unparalleled collection of more than 250 boutiques and 30 restaurants. The center’s shopping and dining collection includes coveted fashion and luxury boutiques, top jewelers, contemporary brands, and sought-after home furnishings retailers. Developed by C. J. Segerstrom & Sons and designed by Los Angeles-based Gruen Associates, South Coast Plaza opened on March 15, 1967 in Costa Mesa, Calif. South Coast Plaza has 2.8 million square feet of retail and dining space. The dining roster showcases diverse culinary influences, as exemplified by the paella at Vaca, the soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, the fresh seafood platter at Water Grill, and the famous garlic noodles at AnQi by House of An.
For a completely different type of shopping experience, the next day we spent the morning at LAB Anti-Mall, formerly a Goggle Factory (for lab goggles) which was transitioned into an outdoor retail and dining space 25 years ago, starting with breakfast at Memphis Café, a place that has been serving southern-style comfort food (brunch served all day) for 20 years. The outdoor retail and dining space is visually appealing and makes a great backdrop for photographs, as evidenced by the menu folks taking pics of themselves in front of different spaces around the space that day. It really is Instagram heaven there, so of course we indulged by snapping a few pics of our own. The vintage record shop, vegan bakery, hipster barbershop and other boutiques were all worth exploring, as was their sister property, The CAMP, which is a more health-conscious and eco-friendly and sustainably focused outdoor shopping and dining center.
What I never realized was how close Costa Mesa was to the Pacific Ocean and neighboring beach towns. It was easy to spend some time walking around both The Triangle, where we grabbed some Mexican food at La Vida Cantina, and the 17th Street Promenade Shops, which are located within a mile of the ocean, before driving over to the beach to give our credit cards a rest and our bodies some vitamin D.
Where To Stay
The BLVD Hotel, a fifty-eight room boutique played host for our weekend trip. The hotel is located conveniently off the highway, and was centrally located to get to all our shopping adventures, as well as the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Opened in 2014, it was clear that a once roadside motel, was transformed into a hip, chilled out boutique property, with wood-like floors in each room, accented with a sleek and contemporary design, subdued with earth tones. Walking into the room for the first time, I was startled by the massive wallpaper mural of a surfer directly in my line of sight, but after realizing it was two-dimensional, and not a random surfer in our room, I became a fan of the artwork, as it played well with the surfer-chic decor.