Costa Mesa, California – the Great Romantic Escape

What do you look for in a romantic getaway? Sumptuous accommodations? Delicious wine and cuisine? Laid-back ‘together’ time? If these are your desires for romance, look no further than Costa Mesa in Southern California.

With its array of cutting-edge restaurants, enviro-friendly retail centers and world famous cultural facilities, you’ll be in relaxation mode from the moment you arrive. Located in the center of SoCal’s Orange County, you can find yourself in the self-proclaimed ‘City of the Arts’ within no time, whether by car, Amtrak or nearby John Wayne (Santa Ana) airport.

Wine, dine, sip and relax at The Camp

Start your exploration at America’s first environmentally-sensitive shopping area, ‘The Camp’. This oasis of calm embraces a healthy living mantra. Native plants grow alongside winding paths lined with shops (some set up in vintage trailers) and romantic restaurant patios. It’s the perfect introduction to Costa Mesa’s entrepreneurial yet laid back spirit and a great place to stop for a quiet lunch.

Romantic courtyard at Vitaly in The Camp. (c) Hilarie Larson

Try local favorite Old Vine Café where Chef Mark MacDonald mingles fresh, seasonal and organic ingredients with his love of all things Italian. Nearby, Slow Food-certified Vitaly is the creation of owners Maurizio and Barbara Cocchi. Originally from Bologna, this charming couple is passionate about sharing their heritage cuisine and it shows. From the unusual piadina flatbreads, homemade pastas, creamy and creatively flavored gelatos, to the “best coffee” (“from Bologna, of course,” says Maurizio), Vitaly is a trip to Italy without the jet lag.

Make a stop at the Wine Lab where it’s always wine-o-clock!  This friendly wine shop and tasting bar strives to take the ‘snob’ out of wine and replace it with convivial exploration in order to find your personal taste in vino.  The staff is educated and entertaining, and brimming with information to help you try something new and expand your horizons. Wine flights follow the ‘lab’ theme – served in test tubes instead of carafes, and their wines on tap are high in quality and character. The pressurized kegs aren’t only kind to the planet with a lower carbon footprint, but they help to keep prices down, and who can argue with that?

Romantic rooms are a must

What an entrance – The Avenue of the Arts Hotel in Costa Mesa (c) Hilarie Larson

When it’s time to seek out your accommodation for the night, look no further than nearby Avenue of the Arts Hotel. With its impressively ‘artsy’ entrance, you might imagine you’ve arrived at a small, boutique hotel in a European hotspot, rather than the OC.  The music- and arts-themed décor in the tranquil lobby continues through to the spacious guest rooms.  All have relaxing outdoor views of the interior courtyard or the surrounding greenspace and man-made lake.  Add in first class amenities, gracious hospitality and unique charm and it’s easy to see why the hotel has been awarded a four-star rating from AAA, four years running.

Explore The City of the Arts

The world famous Segerstrom Center hosts famous artists and Broadway shows right in the heart of Costa Mesa. (c) travelcostamesa

You might want some private time to go exploring and you’ll find more than a few options within walking distanceThe Segerstrom Center for the Arts plays host to famous performers and theatrical productions from around the world while the adjacent plaza is often alive with local dance and music events.  It’s also part of the Costa Mesa Art Walk which guides you through the local streets and parks, highlighting magnificent statuary and art installments along the way.

If the ‘art of retail’ is what you’re seeking, look no further than the famous South Coast Plaza. When it opened in 1967, it introduced a new, exciting way to shop and not much has changed in that respect. You’ll find a bevy of famous designer names among the 250 shops, plus luxury features like valet parking and a VIP lounge. Not your average trip to the mall.

Find some ‘foodie’ together time with a cooking class at Sur la Table, also in South Coast Plaza. Their professional chefs offer a menu of seminars featuring international cuisines and seasonal recipes, plus tips and techniques. You’ll also receive a coupon for 10% off in their enticing store.

Costa Mesa is a hotspot for some well known and upcoming chefs

Vaca is the home of Top Chef runner-up, Chef Amar Santana, who created this ode to the great tapas bars of Spain and placed it in the heart of the arts district. His dynamic personality and Cordon Bleu training is reflected in their mantra, “Comer, Beber, Jugar” or “Eat, Drink, Play,” and it’s easy to do with a menu filled with creative cocktails, wines and tapas treats.

Cozy up at The Country Club in Costa Mesa. Is that Frank and Dino in the next booth? (c) Hilarie Larson

The Country Club is a new addition to the up and coming 17th street corridor. From the dimly lit ‘library’ entrance to the intimate ‘60’s-inspired booths, you’ll think you’ve stepped back in time to the era of The Rat Pack. Chef Zachary Scherer has created an Americana-themed menu that changes with the seasons to reflect all that’s fresh in the area. Tuesdays are ‘dinner & jazz’ nights, while the weekends feature music and dancing in the lounge. The fun, nostalgic yet modern vibe will make you feel like a member of the club.

More to Explore

After a cozy night at the Avenue of the Arts hotel, start the day with bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys at the hotel’s Silver Trumpet Restaurant weekend brunch. Another tasty alternative is the Crack Shack – a chicken- and egg-themed establishment offering the perfect ‘morning after’ menu. This new and still small restaurant chain aims to elevate chicken by using as many fresh and organic ingredients as possible and adding a creative twist to all the dishes, including fried! The outdoor environment and humorous ‘poultry’ themed décor will kickstart your day.

Walk off breakfast with a quiet saunter through SoCo– the South Coast Collective and the OC Mix. The shops in this trendy retail campus are centered around home design and specialty foods, so you’re bound to find some one-of-a-kind treasures to feather your nest.  Stop for a coffee or indulge in a rich, French pastry, or just browse to your heart’s content. On weekends, SoCo is home to the largest certified Farmer’s Market in Orange County adding local farmers, bakers and artisans to the already eclectic mix.

Before you head home, make one last stop at LCA Wine.  This small retail shop has a wonderfully curated selection with some unusual and hard to find bottlings. The small tasting bar at the back of the store lets you sample up to four offerings and the person who’s pouring is always a fount of information.  You’re sure to find something unique and delicious to cap off your romantic Costa Mesa getaway.

Looking for more romantic escapes?

Check out these terrific suggestions:


The author was a guest of  All comments and opinions are that of the author.

Hilarie Larson CSW FWS

Hilarie is a Certified Specialist of Wine and French Wine Scholar whose greatest joy is spreading the gospel of wine, food and travel. In addition to her own blogs at Northwinds Wine she contributes articles to Big Blend Magazine & Radio, Wine Folly, FWT Magazine, Wine Geographic among others.