Costa Mesa in Orange County, California has a population of about 112,000 and is the surf and action sports capital of America, home to companies such as Quiksilver, Hurley, Vans and Element, RVCA. We spoke with Mayor Steve Mensinger, Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch, and Public Information Officer Tony Dodero, to get the full story.
Costa Mesa was incorporated in 1953. As an influx of WW II veterans came home through the various ports in southern California, they saw what a wonderful place it was and decided to raise their families here. That prompted a housing boom right next to Newport and Huntington Beaches as well as one of the largest private boat harbors in Southern California.
“California then boomed as a bedroom community along with a lot of defense contractors,” explains Mayor Stephen Mensinger. “There was El Toro Marine Base and Tustin Airbase. Some of the blimps used to fly out of Tustin, and we have some huge historic hangers there.”
With its rich action sports landscape, Costa Mesa boasts a number of famous sports-related companies, which grew out of the area’s legacy as a manufacturing base. From the thirties through to the fifties, the area was all about boats; situated up the hill from Newport Beach were factories and boat manufacturers and a great deal of work was done with fiberglass and epoxy. Marshall Duffield, who started Duffy Boats, began making surfboards, and it became a natural evolution into related apparel and products like skateboards.
“We had an industrial area on the west side with the largest boat manufacturer in California in the fifties and sixties,” says the Mayor. “The industry and infrastructure was there, so we just became the place where you would want to make your surfboards and apparel.”
Being in such proximity to Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, there is a plethora of surfing spots. Surfing really took off in the sixties and to this day is still a very popular sport in this area. To serve the needs of local residents who were looking for new apparel and accessories to go along with surfboard styles, Costa Mesa became a destination for sports fashion. Vans, the famous sport, tennis shoe and skateboard company, got its start here.
Other retail offerings have bloomed as the community transitioned from rural to urban. The Segerstrom family built South Coast Plaza in 1967 and it has grown into a world-renowned shopping centre containing office complexes and high-end stores. Although built prior to the freeways, the plaza was strategically located at what would become the confluence of the 405 and the 55. It is the highest grossing retail mall in the world with $1.7 billion in annual sales, surpassing even The Mall of America in Minnesota.
South Coast Plaza has what is known as its “100 mile customers.” People drive from San Diego and Santa Barbara, bypassing Beverly Hills altogether. South Coast Plaza is so much more unique in the shops that it provides; there are many stores that cannot be found anywhere else.
There are over ninety restaurants in the South Coast Metro area alone and over 377 restaurants in Costa Mesa, and the city was cited a few years ago by Rand/McNally as having the best dining west of the Mississippi. With an area of only seventeen square miles, the selection of restaurants is stunning!
“Mastro’s is one of our most popular restaurants serving European and American steak. Another is Dim Tai Fung, an amazing Chinese food restaurant which is in the Plaza. I also recommend Seasons 52 and Golden Truffle at the very high end.” There is a very well-known Irish pub called Skosh Monahan’s and the popular Wahoo’s Fish Taco, which began right here in the city.
The combination of retail and restaurants are married in an eclectic and immersive experience within the South Bristol Entertainment & Cultural Arts District which has a micro brewery, the artistic CAMP retail center, the anti-mall called the Lab, and a diverse mix of additional uses.
About halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, Costa Mesa is a family destination with its access to beaches and nearby resorts like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. It’s close enough to the San Diego area for trips to the Wild Animal Park, Legoland and SeaWorld and close enough to Los Angeles for trips to Universal Studios and Hollywood.
“People travel from all over the world to come here from places such as Saudi Arabia and China. The proximity to John Wayne Airport is on our eastern border and there are some very nice hotels on the South Coast Metro areas as well as some tremendous restaurants.”
Costa Mesa also has the Segerstrom Center for the Arts which includes a repertory, performing arts centers, concert hall, and a future museum of the arts and is named after South Coast Pla-za founders Renée and Henry Segerstrom. “They have donated tremendous amounts of money to the arts and created theatre and performing arts centers that are the finest culturally in Orange County and perhaps the Western U.S,” shares Mayor Mensinger. This location provides stages for musicals, dramas, performance art, concerts, plays, dance, classical, jazz and cabaret in addition to the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
The local economy is mainly centered on retail and commercial businesses, but Costa Mesa is home to Cla-Val, a leading manufacturer of valves for water, aviation fuel, industry and marine applications. The company has been around for almost eighty years. The 1,600 employees at the facility can deal with all kinds of metals and supply customers around the world.
“We also have some aerospace component companies. They have a lot of metal and plastics manufacturing small businesses – component businesses – and a lot of large office headquartered buildings, like the auto insurance giant AAA, and tech firms like Experian and Emulex. A big employer, the Irvine Company has large holdings here along with the Segerstrom and Sakioka families with highrises around the South Coast Metro area.”
Costa Mesa is also a college town, with one of the largest community colleges in California, Orange Coast College, right in the middle of town. Private Christian Vanguard University is also located here and was listed by the Princeton Review as one of the best colleges on the West Coast. In addition, the city boasts the Whittier Law School and National University.
There is certainly a lot happening in Costa Mesa. The well-attended Orange County Fair has taken place here every summer across from the City Hall and features well-known acts like Alison Krauss and Willie Nelson.
On the west side of town, a mixed-use live/work development is under construction. “On the first floor, you have a garage and office space, and the living quarters are above that. On the fourth floor is a rooftop deck, and most of [the living quarters] have ocean views. We are getting new younger people into the community that can walk to restaurants, bike to the beach and live and work in their own downstairs. They tend to run about half the price of our single-family homes, so it’s been a very popular product.”
The true mixed-use community has industrial, retail, restaurants and residences all in the same area, resulting in less dependency on cars as people can bicycle to virtually any place within the city limits. “This is an exciting part of the renovation of the city.”
There are several large parcels of land from historical farming families near the metro area. One is the home ranch of the Segerstrom family, who have retained the original farmhouse like a museum and about forty acres that could be developed in the future into office and corporate headquarters. The Sakioka family has a parcel of about thirty-five acres which has yet to be developed along the freeway.
Costa Mesa has excellent greenspace in the form of parks and a city-owned golf course with thirty-six holes. ”Some very large parks like Fairview Park have significant wetlands. It is adjacent to the Santa Ana River boundary. We have excellent access to bicycle trails and Newport Back Bay is close as well as the waterfront, which is only one mile away. The mountains are close enough that you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. It’s a surf and turf lifestyle.”
It’s not hard to argue that Costa Mesa has it all.