An Idyllic Orange County Getaway
A few weeks ago I found myself in SoCal heaven — cruising happily around Newport Harbor with four good friends as we sipped wine and admired the impressive yachts and stunning celebrity homes lining the shores. We even saw a chubby seal lazily sunning on the deck of one of the ships we passed.
We were on an electric Duffy boat rented through Balboa Boat Rentals for two hours. These boats are comfortable and easy to board (good for me with my rather shaky balance). Our boat had a roof and clear plastic windows, although we quickly opened our windows because it was such a lovely day. You can bring your own ship captain since these boats are easy to drive. We were lucky to have a friend’s kind husband expertly take us around the waterways. You can also bring your own food and drinks aboard the boat, as we did. These boats typically rent for about $220 to $300 for two hours and reservations are recommended. (You can also rent kayaks, stand-up paddle boats, and runabouts.)
This was the idyllic beginning of our brief but wonderful overnight trip to Newport Beach and Costa Mesa — two charming towns that offer visitors an abundance of activities.
Of course there is so much to do in Newport Beach and we did enjoy walking up and down the boardwalk on the harbor where I found the most fantastic sock shop with fun footwear on almost every topic you can imagine from cocktails to sushi. (That takes care of Father's Day!) We’re planning another visit to Newport Beach soon when we can enjoy its delightful shops and enticing restaurants — and perhaps explore its many picturesque nature hikes and exciting water activities.
On to Costa Mesa and Our Hotel
This trip focused primarily on the delightful community of Costa Mesa, which is ideally located about halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles and a short distance from beautiful beaches.
Our home base during this quick visit was the stylish Westin at South Coast Plaza. Located close to John Wayne Airport, the Westin sits right across from South Coast Plaza where you can find many luxury retail outlets (from Prada and Gucci to Tiffany’s) and also many unique boutiques.
The Westin is the perfect place to recharge and refresh while you are in Costa Mesa. After a busy day of shopping and dining, it was so wonderful to sink into the welcoming comfort of the Westin’s well-known “heavenly bed,” with luxurious linens and a variety of comfy pillows. And I could have stayed in the spacious walk-in shower with rainfall showerheads all day. (But there was too much fun awaiting us in Costa Mesa so it was a quick shower.)
I loved the dramatic entry to the Westin which faces a terrace featuring a tumbling waterfall surrounded by lush tropical fauna. The Westin also offers guests a sparkling outdoor pool, spa, fitness center, and a gourmet restaurant and friendly bar scene. And your furry friends are welcome too.
Shopping in Costa Mesa
When we weren’t dining or drinking, we visited three unique shopping venues. If our schedule had allowed, I wish I could have lingered longer at each stop.
This indoor-outdoor courtyard includes top-notch restaurants and specialty food venues, designer show rooms, and a variety of unique shops, such as a specialty cocktail shop called The Mixing Glass where you can find everything you need to make smashing cocktails. I also bought appealing items at We Olive and Wine Bar, and at the Cheese Shop at OC Mix and Savory Spice. This is the place to grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee at the Portola Coffee Lab and spend the day. Or have lunch at Taco Maria, rated one of the top restaurants in Southern California. Or try ARC for open flame cuisine or the Greenleaf Chophouse for healthy favorites. You won’t go hungry after shopping here.
Meandering around these lushly landscaped pathways is an experience in itself. I can just imagine relaxing on a bench with a good book for an afternoon or sipping espresso at Vitaly, an inviting Italian coffee bar, while I savor the ambiance of this special venue. Oh and I would also buy a scrumptious pastry (as I did) from Blackmarket Bakery. Then I might take some artistically arranged flowers home from Patagonia. There are several beckoning restaurants here too, including the Old Vine Kitchen & Bar and Mesa Restaurant. And if you want something a bit stronger to imbibe, try the Salty Bear Brewery or a wine tasting at the Wine Lab where you can explore new wines (creatively offered in test tubes) and even enjoy a wine flight with a variety of different tastes.
The Lab seems like an outdoor art museum with artistic touches everywhere. I love the waterfall made out of brightly colored oil cans and you can also make a wish on the decorative metal wishing tree. (My wish: Can I stay here all day?) No wonder it’s affectionately called an “anti-mall” because of its innovative décor and clever shops. There is a surprise around every corner. It also offers a hair salon and barber shop. After shopping, you can refresh at the Nook Coffee Bar or hop over to Bootleggers Brewery where they have an array of enticing beers on tap. Then there are a variety of dining options — Habana, a tantalizing Cuban style restaurant that offers a welcoming bar and comfy indoor-outdoor seating. Seabird and Gypsy Den also offer great menu items.
There are a myriad of fabulous restaurants in Costa Mesa, but we definitely dined at one of the best.
A highlight of our trip was dining at AnQi Bistro, an elegant Vietnamese fusion restaurant with a captivating décor that is just as mesmerizing as its tempting menu. The lighting here is magical, as are the artistic floral arrangements and the extensive bar with illuminated bottles (a work of art in itself). Our group first enjoyed delectable cocktails such as the Heavenly Pear Martini made with Haku (Japanese craft vodka), Three Olives Apples and Pears, St. Germaine, fresh lemon and pears — and also the Oh-Mai Lychee Martini made with Haku, Soho Lychee, and fresh lemon.
As we relished these creative drinks, we also savored some exceptional dishes, including Filet Potstickers with a Cabernet Dijon Sauce, Fried Calamari with a Thai basil sauce, Kimchi Fried Rice, Shrimp and Lobster Wonton Soup, Lobster Dumplings, and luscious Hamachi and Albacore Truffle Sashimi. Every dish was wonderful, with a unique combination of tastes and flavors, but my favorite was the Roasted Garlic Noodles made with AnQi’s secret sauce, a signature dish not to be missed.
The highlight of the evening was a dramatic presentation where ice cream was made right at our table and then served on top of a delicious cookie —a dessert performance at its finest.
Several of the writers in our group went on a self-guided Costa Mesa Art Walk where you can find more than 20 one-of-a-kind pieces created as public art by such well-known artists as Joan Miro and Isamu Noguchi. These stunning pieces are amazing and you can tune into a guided audio tour and learn more about each piece. (Photo to left from Linda Stewart.)
Orange County’s moderate, sunny weather nurtures some beautiful gardens throughout the area and you can actually dine in the midst of the verdant beauty. We had an exceptional lunch at Café Jardin in Sherman Library and Gardens, where the California master of French cuisine, Pascal Olhats, has created amazing meals for many years. I enjoyed scrumptious Trout Almandine and felt like I was dining in the midst of the Loire Valley.
Sadly in some ways, Chef Pascal's celebrated restaurant has just closed so that the Chef can embark on other culinary pursuits, such as catering and teaching. We were privileged to enjoy lunch at Café Jardin on one of the last days it was open and we toasted Chef Pascal for his many accomplishments and wished him the best in his future endeavors. In the photo on the right, Chef Pascal is toasted by friend Deirdre Michalski and Chef Jessica Roy who has worked with Chef Pascal at Café Jardin for several years. Happily, she will be opening a new restaurant in the same beautiful Sherman Gardens setting. Her new restaurant, Cultivar, will have a California-inspired culinary focus with a plant-based menu. Many of the ingredients for her menu items will be from the edible garden being created on the property.
After lunch we wandered around the flourishing Sherman Gardens and savored the aromas and beauty of the greenery, blossoming flowers, flowing fountains, and enchanting sculptures around us. I’m so glad there is still going to be a fabulous restaurant in this romantic, beautiful setting.
I feel fortunate that we live only a few hours away from all that Orange County has to offer. While we were only gone for a day and a half, we really felt like we got away, yet we were not far from home. We’ll be back — for sure!