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Shopaholics outside of Orange County might not be able to identify Costa Mesa (population: 112,000) on a map, but they will certainly know where South Coast Plaza is. Fifty years ago, the vision (or folly) was to take a flat no man’s land of dirt and grass close to where a new freeway (the I-405) was being built, and develop it into a high end luxury mall. It was a crazy idea that actually worked. Currently celebrating its 50th birthday, the South Coast Plaza has stayed ahead of retail trends to become the largest shopping mall not just in the Southland, but the entire West Coast of the United States. With cash registers ringing up over $1.5 billlion in sales annually, South Coast Plaza is a leader in experiential shopping with prestige brands and retailers such as Prada, Gucci, YSL, Chanel, Dior, Jimmy Choo and Eileen Fisher.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, surfers, skateboard artists, designers, chefs, and other cultural creatives priced out of gentrifying LA county neighborhoods began exploring Costa Mesa in the late 1980s. Lured by less expensive inland real estate yet still easy driving distance to decent waves, Costa Mesa has become the de facto capital of product development and supply chain management for some of the world’s top surf brands like Volcom, Hurley, and RVCA.

From mid-July to mid-August, Costa Mesa becomes one of California’s entertainment capitals when it hosts the Orange County Fair, which celebrates the farming heritage of the “coastal plain” (that’s Costa Mesa, in Spanish). At the other end of the cultural spectrum, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a stunning, multi-faceted space that houses a 3,000 seat opera house, a theatre, and a welcoming public plaza that features numerous works of compelling modern art.