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Shopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of Style

Shopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of StyleShopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of Style

The So Cal shopping scene has a new capital of shopping cool: Costa Mesa, California. Anchored by the South Coast Plaza, one of the region's best-known luxury malls, three newer shopping concepts have put this town on the map as a fresh alternative to L.A. retail therapy.

South Coast Collection and the OC Mart Mix

A glimpse of the South Coast Collection from the busy 405 Freeway gives you no clue of the eclectic shopping and dining area tucked into the inner corridors of this vast furniture and design store complex. Plan to spend half a day or longer at "SoCo," as the resident vendors call it, exploring stores specializing in home design, fashion, and food. The newest area in SoCo is the OC Mart Mix, a collection of independent vendors with small shops set up in upscale flea-market fashion. The SoCo Collection and Mart Mix stores weave seamlessly with indoor and outdoor gathering spots offering communal tables, fire pits, fountains, and gardens.

Shopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of StyleShopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of Style

Some of my favorite stores: Rolling Greens, a beautiful new branch of this L.A.-based garden and home furnishings store, featuring a design bar where shoppers can pull up a trendy stool and take a class in floral design or candle making; Uni, an eclectic collection of home furnishings including enormous framed maps, industrial light fixtures, and table-top gifts; and the Vintage Wood Floor Company, with a collection of gorgeous made-to-order recycled wood floors. Grab a sandwich from a food vendor -- perhaps oysters at Shuck Oyster Bar or a coffee at Portola Coffee Lab.

Shopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of StyleShopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of Style

The Camp

At first glance, The Camp may look like the average strip mall. Like South Coast Collection, its neighbor on the other side of the freeway, it is an unusual, nontraditional shopping mall, described by owners as dedicated to an active, healthy lifestyle and mindful of environmentalism and support of the local community. That's what attracts vendors like upscale active clothing chains Patagonia and Active Ride, along with independent restaurants and wine vendors Ecco (locally farmed Italian food); Natural Food Café, (vegan); Wine Lab, featuring small-batch and organic wines; and Taco Asylum, specializing in non-traditional taco fillings like octopus. If you're making the rounds of Costa Mesa's shopping areas in one day, The Camp is a great spot to save for lunch.

Shopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of StyleShopping in Southern California: Costa Mesa Is the New Mecca of Style

The Lab Anti-Mall

Across the street from The Camp, The Lab is a small, funky indoor/outdoor collection of shops and a few restaurants, with a central hangout spot featuring communal tables and benches. The "Lab" stands for "little American business," and for the most part, that is what The Lab supports, with retailers aimed at a 20-something or young-at-heart crowd. Popkiller features Japanese-themed vintage clothing and gag gifts, Buffalo Exchange sells recycled clothing, and As-Issued is a local bookstore. Have lunch on the patio at the Gypsy Den, with a selection of healthy soups, sandwiches, quinoa, or sweet-potato salads, plus desserts and coffees. No younger-skewing shopping area would be complete without an Urban Outfitters, so despite the anti-mall's independent stance, you'll find a branch of this popular clothing chain here.

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