Costa Mesa, a destination city in Orange County, California is centrally located next to Newport Beach, Anaheim and Huntington Beach. Costa Mesa is known as the “City of the Arts” for good reason – home to the Segerstrom Center, the town boasts performing arts that will satisfy anyone’s taste for culture.

Added to that – there’s so much to be said for Costa Mesa – the city is close to sports, fine food and active adventures for your family. In this post, we’ll explore where to stay, where you should eat and experiences that are worth your time. So, with that, let’s dig in!

Where To Stay In Costa Mesa

During our time in Costa Mesa, we stayed at the Hilton Costa Mesa/Orange County. Centrally located on Bristol Street off the 405 freeway, the Hilton is a non-pretentious yet luxurious hotel for your stay. If you have a family of five like us, request two bedrooms that are adjoining rooms – which gives everyone enough room to stretch out. The pool is about 2 stories up and thoroughly entertained our 6, 8 and 11 year old children with ample playtime for dad and mom as well. 🙂

We were able to experience the Bristol Palms restaurant and enjoyed a gourmet breakfast buffet that was to die for. From fresh squeezed orange juice to pancakes to scratch-made omelets, Bristol Palms has it all!

What to Do

While in Costa Mesa, we experienced Rockreation, which started in Costa Mesa and now has locations in West Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Rockreation is a climbing gym, yoga studio and workout facility. It’s perfect for families and serious climbers alike, our kids took immediately to climbing, even our 6-year-old son! Our guide fitted us with climbing shoes and harnesses and explained the safety ins-and-outs. Throughout our climbing experience, it’s apparent at Rockreation that safety is number 1 and parents can feel safe and guided during their time ascending and descending at Rockreation. All five of our family members climbed various difficulty of walls, from easy to more advanced. Rockreation is a fantastic way to experience climbing, build confidence and burn energy all in one step.

If you love planes and aviation, a must-visit activity is Lyon Air Museum, which is right to the runway at John Wayne Airport. The Air Museum features historic World War II era warplanes, Army vehicles and race cars, all in an open environment where you can easily go under the planes and see under the bombers, including a B-25, B-17 Flying Fortress and many more. Our kids got a kick out of checking out the plane’s underbelly and seeing the bomb cavities.

One thing I thought was cool – there are oil pans underneath the engines of these WW II beasts, showing that these are functional planes, not relics sitting in some museum.

The Lyon Air Museum is just $12 for adults and $6 for kids over 5 and is highly recommended.

Looking for some family fun? Check out Angels Stadium in Anaheim, which is a short 15-minute drive from Costa Mesa. That’s one fantastic thing about Costa Mesa itself: the city is home to many great activities and amenities and other killer family experiences are just a quick 15-20 minute drive. The Angels played host to the Houston Astros and we had so much fun. There’s music throughout the breaks, keeping our young kids entertained. For food, there are lots of options beyond the typical “hot dog, soda and popcorn” typically found at most American ballparks.

At the end of the Angels game, we witnessed a fantastic fireworks display, which is normal for Saturday home games in Anaheim. Sadly, the Angels lost, but we had a great time anyway as Angels Stadium is an excellent ballpark to watch America’s favorite pastime in. Thanks to a partnership between Hilton and the Angels, Hilton guests can enjoy a fun experience at the park. Be sure to look in to it when you book your holiday at the Hilton.

On our third day in Orange County, we ventured over to Knott’s Berry Farm and enjoyed a day of rides, shows and theme park experiences. We kicked off our time there with the Wild West Stunt show right at the entrance to the park – it’s 13 minutes and is a perfect way to start your time off at Knott’s. Then, we hit Camp Snoopy, which is full of carnival-style rides for the younger kids, but even our 10 year old was into riding the Peanuts-themed rides.

We also spent time in the Ghost Town and had to hit classic rides such as the Calico Mine Train and the Log Ride. Knott’s is always compared to Disneyland – and as much as I love Disney, I’m thankful there’s an alternative just down the road. Knott’s has a fun theme with a mix of western thrills, Snoopy-land and roller coasters as far as the eye can see.

As a part of our stay at the Hilton Costa Mesa, we were afforded the South Coast Plaza VIP Package. With South Coast Plaza just a 1/2 mile from the Hilton, this package is a $20 add on to any stay at the Hilton and grants you VIP valet parking and a $100 gift certificate to any retailer or restaurant in the Plaza. As one of SoCal’s premium shopping destinations, the South Coast Plaza will satisfy any retail need – our kids thoroughly enjoyed the carousel. which is in the middle of the Plaza and only $1 per ride. We took care of some back to school shopping and had a fantastic meal at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.

Where to Eat

At the entrance of CAMP in the heart of Costa Mesa is an amazing bakery and coffee location called Blackmarket Bakery. This funky destination features egg sandwiches, delicious coffee and amazing sweet treats in a fun, industrial, pirate- themed bakery. We had the avocado toast (because of course, we’re in California!), egg/bacon sandwiches and an iced coffee to finish it off.
Our kids loved the decor of Blackmarket – and had fun playing on the Scrabble magnetic walls that are throughout the Bakery. The egg sandwiches were rich, filling and completely devour-able.

Blackmarket Cafe scrabble wallBlackmarket Cafe food shot

Do you love southern food with added SoCal vibes? Then check out Memphis Cafe, a southern food-themed quirky restaurant that offers comfort food with a twist. We sat outside to enjoy the SoCal late-summer weather and I had chicken and waffles while the kids had fruit, pancakes and eggs to start their morning. The service was on point and the food was downright delectable. Memphis Cafe’s food is rich, hearty and the perfect way to start your day.

Crack ShackRight next to the Memphis Cafe is the LAB, Costa Mesa’s anti-mall. In this wonderful collection of shops, boutiques and small cafes – fun decorations abound as well as  places to chill while grabbing a new outfit or grabbing brunch. We were there on Sunday morning and almost all of Orange County’s hipster population was enjoying Sunday brunch, it seemed. 🙂

One of the most-fun meals we had was at the Crack Shack, which is on the border of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. This is a fun place to grab a bite to eat – especially if you’re into fried chicken (that’s pasture raised in Southern California), biscuits and amazing coleslaw. At the Crack Shack, you order at a counter outside and go inside to dine, play corn hole or order a drink from the bar. After our long day, it was relaxing for my wife and I to share a beer while our kids played corn hole. Crack Shack has a cool atmosphere and we’d definitely recommend the chicken oysters, a cool twist on chicken tenders. The kids gobbled (get it?) them up!


Wrapping Up

As you can see, there is so much to see and do in Costa Mesa. The city is home to amazing experiences and being right in the heart of Orange County, fabulous sports and outdoor experiences are abound. In addition to the Angels being next-door in Anaheim, the Chargers NFL team has Costa Mesa as their home base, meaning you can watch them practice within the city during the late summer each year.

Disclosure: Travel Costa Mesa hosted our family’s time in the wonderful city. Thanks to Travel Costa Mesa and their hotel partners for our experiences, meals and overnight stay. While they hosted our time, our opinions can never be bought and are honest accounts of our fun experience in Costa Mesa. Enjoy!