Travel Costa Mesa Blog

Costa Mesa Then and Now: California Tourism Month

Posted on May 14, 2018 | 3:12pm | Travel Costa Mesa

May is California Tourism Month, where cities are able to share the value that travel and tourism have on their communities. This year’s theme is “Then and Now,” giving us the chance to reflect back on Costa Mesa throughout the years.


Since its incorporation in June 1953, Costa Mesa has grown from a quiet suburban community with deep farming roots to a world-class city featuring some of the best restaurants, retail centers and cultural arts in the nation, in addition to being the capitol of the action sports industry.


While it’s easy to recognize international shopping destination South Coast Plaza and the impressive Segerstrom Center for the Arts these days, the land they stand on was once covered in lima bean fields, while Costa Mesa’s up-and-coming Westside was once known as the “Hub of the Harbor Area” (the city’s slogan until it became City of the Arts® in 1984) thanks to its community of boat builders in the city’s industrial blocks. The LAB shopping center, a major destination for unique shopping and dining, was similarly converted from a defunct goggle factory 25 years ago.

As World War II came, the city became the location for the Santa Ana Army Base, which housed thousands for training where the OC Fair & Event Center, Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa Civic Center and Vanguard University stand today.


Today, Costa Mesa is a major hub of culture in Orange County as the home of Segerstrom Center for the Arts – which includes a 3,000-seat facility as well as the 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and 500-seat Samueli Theater — and the Tony Award-winning South Coast Repertory Theatre.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts is also home to Orange County’s Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale and, in 2017, opened the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza, bringing a new gathering place for the community and visitors to gather for free weekend events.


SOCO and The OC Mix, nearly a decade old, is home to the Los Angeles Times’ 2018 “Best Restaurant of the Year,” Taco Maria, solidifying Costa Mesa’s reputation as a foodie destination, or, as we like to call it, the ultimate Eatcation™ destination. Over the years, the city has attracted chefs and restaurateurs of the highest caliber and far beyond what the sleepy suburban town could have expected 65 years ago.


But boutiques and restaurants aren’t the only businesses in town. Costa Mesa’s business community has grown from being centered around farming and boat building to those like Deloitte, JD Powers, El Pollo Loco, Vans, Hurley and the LA Chargers football team.


If you really need proof of how the city has changed, though, just look to the Orange County Fair. Since 1889 the fair has brought the Orange County community together. Residents and visitors have been coming to the fair in its present location since 1949 to watch everything from ostrich races to pig races and demolition derbies while they eat their favorite summer foods. And while the ostriches may be long gone (but the pig races live on!) from the OC Fair’s calendar of events, the same spirit of community thrives as it returns each year.