What's cool in Santa Ana/Irvine/Costa Mesa, CA?
October 2, 2017 9:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be in the Santa Ana/Irvine/Costa Mesa area for a business trip next week--flying in to SNA and staying nearby. I may have a half day or so to wander around and do my own thing, but not long enough to get to LA, San Diego, or even really Anaheim. What's worth seeing and doing in the immediate area?

I like museums, architecture, food, coffeeshops, and boutique/vintage shopping. I like large-scale public art and installations. I'm a big fan of roadside attractions and other oddities. (Sadly, Atlas Obscura doesn't have much in the area.) I'm curious about the Santa Ana Zoo, but not sure how it rates--does it have spacious enclosures and well-cared-for animals?

Thanks in advance for your recommendations!
posted by capricorn to Travel & Transportation around Santa Ana, CA (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anaheim is directly adjacent to Santa Ana, so I'm a little bit unclear on your exact time constraints. If you can swing it, Laguna Beach is nice. Shops, galleries, food, beach. I haven't been to the zoo so I can't comment on that.
posted by primethyme at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2017

Best answer: A friend of mine was a keeper at the Santa Ana Zoo — it's a small zoo, so 'spacious' is relative, but the animals are definitely well-cared-for.

You might like the LAB Anti-Mall; the Gypsy Den inside there is an older coffeehouse with decent food. The Irvine Museum should be opened back up by next week; it's got a great collection of California impressionists. (Other OC museums) There's downtown Santa Ana for galleries. There's Old Town Orange for vintage stuff. For large-scale public art in that time constraint, you'll probably have to go to UCI or Chapman University.
posted by culfinglin at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Here's my input from staying in Irvine briefly (4 weeks) and visiting Irvine / Santa Ana for 1-2 day business trips a few times. (First of all, it's totally understandable that Anaheim seems out of reach if you're staying by SNA and have less than a day to go around.)

Basically, people make fun of this aspect of Orange County, but to a certain extent the malls really are where it's at. If you're coming from the midwest or something, the malls in the OC are really different. For example, good food. I really wish I had eaten at Din Tai Fung in South Coast Plaza, but I couldn't get in! You may seriously have to make a reservation, despite it being in a mall.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:05 AM on October 2, 2017

I notice a distinct lack of the outdoors in your list, but if you have any appreciation for incredible seaside views, Heisler Park is near that area. Touristy, but one of the single most gorgeous places I've ever been to, and that's coming from someone who hates beaches. Go around sunset or sunrise. Lots of shops, galleries, food in that area too.
posted by perplexion at 11:30 AM on October 2, 2017

Best answer: I lived in downtown Santa Ana ("DTSA") last summer. There's another Gypsy Den in DTSA, where I don't really think the food is decent, but they do have live music and all the other food around there is great: Lola Gaspar, right across the plaza, has very good hipster Mexican food and nice cocktails. Santa Ana's 4th Street (starting around Broadway and going for several blocks east) has at least two good coffee roasters in addition to interesting food options, and there are a few vintage boutiques in a walkable radius.
posted by xueexueg at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2017

Best answer: The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana has a really cool Antarctica/Shackleton exhibit at the moment. Their permanent collection is great as well.
posted by Arbac at 2:19 PM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

The City of Newport Beach has a large outdoor art exhibit/sculpture garden just uphill of the Civic Center Drive.

posted by dws at 2:39 PM on October 2, 2017

Another vote for Lola Gaspar.
posted by vignettist at 2:40 PM on October 2, 2017

Jonathan Gold's 101 list includes places in OC.
posted by brujita at 3:22 PM on October 2, 2017

Best answer: 2nding the Bowers Museum and South Coast Plaza (which is an eye-poppingly high-end mall, so it may fulfill your boutique needs).

The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, near UC Irvine, is open to the public and has lots of trails to meander through.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:17 PM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lived in Irvine for nine years. The San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary made those years bearable. Highly recommended if you have the time.

Since you like architecture, I'd also recommend the Newport Beach Public Library.
posted by socialjusticeworrier at 4:39 PM on October 2, 2017

If the half day is morning:
Get donuts and coffee at Rose on Orchid in Corona del Mar, then walk to Little and/or Big Corona. The earlier in the day, the better.

If the half day is evening:
Ruby's Shake Shack on PCH, followed by Heisler Park in Laguna, or Crystal Cove. Walk around Laguna art galleries. Happy hour dinner at K'Ya on the water.
posted by aquamvidam at 8:10 PM on October 2, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks again, everyone! I really enjoyed my stay - didn't have quite as much time in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa as I thought I would, but I still fit in a visit to the LAB and a walk around downtown Santa Ana and the 4th Street Market. I may be back in future years and I will keep everyone's suggestions close at hand.
posted by capricorn at 8:18 AM on October 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

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