Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Discoveries around Costa Mesa, CA – 10 Things to See and Do

For three weeks, Mark and I took care of a cute 7-month-old dog named Jaxx and a small apartment in Costa Mesa, California. I report on that sit here. We had never visited this area before and gladly drove the eight hours down from Northern California for some warmer, and hopefully sunnier, weather. Well, the weather was wishy-washy, but on the weekends and some late afternoons, we did our best to explore a few sites with our “happy go lucky” temporary pet. And, three times, the sun gloriously accompanied us with 70-degree weather (21°C). Here are the discoveries we made…

My personal discovery of one of Southern California’s missions

Newport Beach

Costa Mesa’s neighbor has a long beach and is no doubt very popular in the summer. Mark and I briefly stopped here to check out the waterfront, before we first showed up at our “new place”, since we had some time to kill. It didn’t look incredibly appealing to us and parking was expensive, so we never returned.

Balboa Village

Technically a part of Newport Beach, this touristy peninsula has a right to stand on its own. There is something to do for everybody, from amusement rides for kids to a plethora of bars and restaurants for adults to whale watching for the whole family. You can take a short ferry ride to quaint Balboa Island when the mood strikes ($2 per car + driver, $1 per person) or walk along the bay side or beach.

Whale Watching

More to be on the water again than to watch whales (we are spoiled in that regard, having sailed in the Caribbean and South Pacific for eight years), Mark and I took advantage of coupons to join a whale watch tour out of Newport Beach. For $12 each, we inhaled the sea breeze and followed one whale with a bunch of other passengers and boats.

Balboa Island

Mark and I took our car to this little getaway full of summer homes. Parking is free in the residential streets and one can walk around the whole island in less than an hour. The main street is packed with stores and restaurants, while the boardwalks are quiet areas (this time of the year) to stroll and enjoy a view of the water and the well-maintained rental properties.

Laguna Beach

On the warmest day of January, Mark and I went to Laguna Beach for the day. It promptly became one of our favorite Sundays. As we strolled along the waterfront with Jaxx and soaked up the sun, we felt happy to have come to Southern California. I wrote a separate blog post about Laguna Beach, which you can read here.

Huntington Beach

One day, the three of us drove to Huntington Beach and, while realizing it would not be as atmospheric – or warm – as Laguna Beach, walked a few miles along the shoreline here as well. Following a walking/biking path parallel to the beach is satisfying exercise. Dogs are not allowed on public beaches in HB, but somewhat up the coast, heading north, there is a massive dog beach (humans are also allowed :-)). It is often referred to as the best dog park in Southern California. Jaxx agrees!

Driving out of town, we almost got in an accident due to traffic aggression. When we accelerated after the light turned green, the driver behind us did not like our slow progress of our Prius. With screaming tires, he passed us and slammed his brakes right in front of us. Poor Jaxx flew forward off the back seat and when I helped him up again, the %&*# braked again, sending some pain through my twisted back. Luckily, no permanent damage was done, nobody hit us and we didn’t hit him, but we did call 911 and reported the car and the driver.

The driver of a convertible tells the traffic violator how dangerous his behavior is

Corona Del Mar

A ten-minute drive away, Corona Del Mar is another seaside town. The houses are enormous and the atmosphere is a tad snootier than elsewhere. Dogs are only allowed on the beach in the evenings and early mornings, so we resumed ourselves to walking above sea level on the sidewalks where this was possible. Twice we hoped to catch either sunset or blue skies and twice, the area was engulfed in a heavy bank of fog.

La Jolla

A bit further afield, La Jolla is a seaside community in San Diego. We stopped here briefly on the way to meet up with friends in the city. More about that later as well. Not expecting anything (we actually wanted to size up some electric bikes in a store here, but since it only opened at 10am, we had time to check out the waterfront), Mark and I – and Jaxx – were pleasantly surprised with what we found: a scenic shoreline with heaps of birds and sea lion colonies.

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park

On the last warm weekend day of our stay, I half hoped to drive back to San Diego and see some of the amazing sights there. But, this would mean more than three hours of sitting in a car on a beautiful day, something we had just done the day prior, on a cloudy day. We postponed a real visit to San Diego until further notice and went hiking in the surrounding hills instead. Orange County parks are generally not dog-friendly, so we were happy to find some trails in Aliso and Wood where doggies could have fun hiking as well.

San Juan Capistrano

I planned to take a sunny day off from work during the week, to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano by myself. It was only 25 minutes away, the forecast showed sunshine and my bag was packed. When I opened the door, a foggy environment greeted me. No way! I waited until noon to decide it was a bust. Then, I saw a small patch of blue sky (how I love my blue skies), jumped in the car, was annoyed with the GPS, drove circles and became discouraged by red light after red light. So, I turned back home, followed by white skies. Darn. I went for a long walk with Mark and Jaxx instead.

There was, however, one more chance to visit this mission, on our very last day in Costa Mesa, which promised to be very sunny. These last days at a house sit are usually filled with laundry, cleaning, packing up and loading the car. The only way to pull this one off, was to start my chores immediately after getting up at 6:30am. No email, Facebook or blog distractions! I left home at 11am for a three-hour immersion in this beautiful mission and some craved me-time.

The town of San Juan Capistrano also has a historic area with cute houses and restaurants. Upon my return to the apartment, we put all our belongings in the car, took Jaxx for a 45’ walk and greeted the owner, right in time to open the door for her.  🙂


  1. You packed an enormous amount into those 3 weeks! Some of the seaside cliffs look so pretty, and I love that you guys make such an effort to get out and about. Short comment today – we drive a truck out of DC tomorrow morning and 3 days later we should end up in Texas! Keep enjoying CA in the meantime!

    • When the weather is nice, we feel like we have to go outside and do things. And, the dog had a lot of energy to make us even more motivated! 🙂 Have a safe drive tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather is better on “your” coast – rainy and stormy here in Oakland, unfortunately. I take it that you found a place in Houston to stay?? Looking forward to some blog updates! And, keeping my fingers crossed that the move will work out without too many “disasters”.

  2. I’m sorry we didn’t have more sunny and warm days for you during your stay here in SoCal. You’ll definitely have to come back when it’s nicer. You were able to pack a lot in, though, visiting several places I’ve never been. I’m so glad that you made it down to the Mission… it really is beautiful and so peaceful (when not filled with tourists).

    • Your mission was sure worthwhile, Janis! I liked the feel, the look and the history of it. And, the blue skies, of course. 🙂 When we only stay somewhere for a few weeks, or less, we find our spare time taken up by the “need” to explore and be out and about as much as possible. Here in Oakland less so. Mostly because of the weather, the fact that we are familiar with the area and the uninteresting location. We hope to be back in San Diego one day and take in all it has to offer! And, sitting on your deck in nice weather would easily draw us back as well. 🙂

  3. You did cover an amazing amount of territory in a relatively short period of time, Liesbet. We have relatives who live in San Juan Capistrano and we really love the area! Did you meet up with Janis on this visit?

    • So, I assume you have been to this mission as well, Donna? It is a cute and inspiring area, the town and the mission. Yes! We did meet up with Janis and Paul and had a wonderful evening together. Too short, but I was very happy to finally meet and connect with her. We hope to be back one day! But, I need to visit you first. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the virtual tour of socal coast. I haven’t been much further north from LA Jolla/Pacific beach area in a long time! Gorgeous photos, Liesbet, and you managed to get a few Sunny days!

    • Thanks, Terri. If you have a chance, check out this mission. I bet you your camera will not find a quiet moment there. 🙂 Sunny days are good, for the mood, the camera and the experiences…

  5. The California coast line looks amazing! While Matt lived in LA for a few years, I have only ever been to the wine district. I can’t stand traffic, GPS, and red lights, and angry drivers – we are truly thrilled not to be on the road 3 hours a day. We had a Prius too, and just seeing a Prius seems to enrage some people – we had a few “Prius aggression incidents”. Glad you finally got some “me” time and saw the mission. It looks beautiful!

    • Yeah… the traffic situation and behavior of drivers gets to us every time we hit the road. It does make us wonder whether getting a camper van is the right choice for our next adventure. So funny you had a Prius as well. Nope, we are not very loved on the road! So many wine regions in California! Our next house sit is in one as well, for two months. 🙂 I’m sure you are not missing your long commute. Enjoy the sun, the sea and the beach for me…

  6. The Mission looks absolutely beautiful. John has been to conferences in La Jolla / San Diego but I don’t think he ever actually sees anything!

    • I used to think a job with many business trips would be perfect for me (even though I wouldn’t know what that would be): you get paid a very good salary, you get to collect air miles for private use, and you travel the world. But, I now now know that, just like John must have experienced, these trips are extremely tiring and you never get to see anything at all, except from the inside or from the air. At least that’s the experience of my brother and some friends.

  7. Not such a bad life, is it? 🙂 🙂 We’ve been to La Jolla. Unfortunately during June gloom, but it was still beautiful.

    • I had no idea La Jolla was such a popular place, until a friend of mine mentioned it when I wrote we might stay at her place in San Diego for a couple of days. I can only imagine how crowded it is during the summer! This life is not bad at all, as long as we can keep the travel and need to be free itch under control. 🙂

  8. The whale watching trip sounds like good fun, especially with coupons. Aggressive drivers are the worse – they can really ruin a day out.

    • You know, I am so worried when we are driving, especially on the highway. And that is all because of the other drivers who don’t pay any attention, are erratic or don’t know what they are doing. Mostly, because they are on their phones! Traveling by boat was much safer! 🙂

  9. I’m swooning over the pictures! So many amazing shots! You’ve reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve been on a whale watch – will have to do something about that this summer (on the East Coast, of course). 😀

    • Whale watch tours can be so expensive, without the guarantee that you actually see anything, whales or dolphins… Definitely check for some discount coupons online! A friend of mine went on a whale watch tour in Cape Cod last summer and she managed to observe them up-close while breaching. Sometimes, you do get lucky! 🙂

  10. This post brings back such good memories . . . we had Cambria berthed at a marina in Coronado Island (south of San Diego) for six months and really enjoyed driving around to all of the local sites. If you could get rid of all the bad drivers, California would be great!

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    • Visiting San Diego by boat sounds really nice! And, for a long enough time to explore the area in depth… We truly hope to go back to see the sights, and re-visit our friends. 🙂

  11. The California Cost got me speechless! You helped me discover new places which are definitely worth a visit, love this post Liesbet and Mark!

    • Thank you, Agness, for your visit to my blog and for your comment. I hope you get to experience some of the sights we enjoyed over there!

  12. What a great guide you have put together Liesbet! I find these articles so helpful when traveling to locations. You certainly packed a lot into your time there. Wonderful photos too by the way.

    • We seem to be pretty busy all the time – during the week with work and during the weekend with explorations. Especially on shorter stays, we feel like we have to try and take as much in as possible. Now, in Sebastopol, we can breathe again for two months. Except that we have to do things in the weekend, of course, especially when it is not raining! -)

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