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Show Them How the Other Side Lives

Written By: Caroline Thompson Trendy Places Orange County

Los Angeles is filled with some of the best food and drink the world has to offer. It can be difficult to compete when your best friend from the big city comes to visit Orange County, but luckily local restaurant owners have been taking it up a notch. If you want to impress your cool LA friend with the flavors of Orange County, here are some places you can’t ignore.

Trendy Places Orange County

For Trendy Dining


If you want to take your LA friend out in Orange County, SOCIAL Costa Mesa should be at the top of your list. With the large, family-style tables and neon signage, your Instagram will thank you the next day. Try the Brussels sprouts for a light appetizer or the “You’ve Got Kale” for a crisp, invigorating cocktail. All of their cocktails provide a refreshing, unique spin on raw, natural ingredients. “I spent all my money traveling around Italy, Spain, Austin, New York, and chasing the best food and drinks out there,” explains Andrew, the co-owner of SOCIAL. “I wanted to bring that to Orange County and offer something completely different.”

Native Knowledge: Coffee fiend? SOCIAL has Thunderking, a pop up coffee shop, offering an assortment of delicious drinks.

SOCIAL Costa Mesa
512 W 19th St
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Trendy Places Orange Count

For a Night Out

Mesa is like three destinations in one. Depending on what time you arrive, you could be walking into a hip, low-key restaurant, a buzzing happy hour or a packed dance floor with bottle service all around. “There really isn’t a place like Mesa in Orange County,” says Chris, the Assistant General Manager. “It’s kind of like a mini Vegas or LA in the middle of Costa Mesa.

If you’re a seafood fan, you can’t go wrong with the Cast Iron Skillet Mussels, especially if they’re prepared “chef style.”

Native Knowledge: The most popular cocktail that Mesa offers is called The Clash. But you may want to have a glass of water within arm’s reach because this spicy refreshment will have your eyes watering in no time.

725 Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA  92626

For Dinner and a View

Since Pacific City opened its doors in the early summer months of 2016, a trendy, high-class switch has flipped in the downtown Huntington Beach area. Sure, you can still frequent the dimly lit dive bars that line Main Street, but if you want some fresh air and a quality cocktail, Pacific City now provides that option. Start off at St. Marc where you can fill up on greasy treats from the bacon bar, then head over to Bluegold for farm-to-table dishes and innovative cocktails. Once you’ve finished dinner, it’s time to wait in line at the Los Angeles-style bar, The Bungalow. Originating in Santa Monica, The Bungalow marries rustic interior designs with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. If you want to avoid an hour-long wait, we recommend you arrive early.

Native Knowledge: If you get hungry while you sip on sangria at The Bungalow, you can order food from Bear Flag Fish Co, located right below The Bungalow at LOT 579 at Pacific City .

Pacific City
21010 Pacific Coast Hwy
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

To Travel Without the Expense

Habana is a Cuban restaurant that provides the perfect spot for date night. Complete with low lighting and a romantic vibe, Habana offers the vintage ambiance and long-standing reputation that other restaurants can’t. “We know what works so the menu has pretty much stayed the same throughout the years,” says Kelsey, the restaurant’s General Manager. “Sure little things change here and there, but certain people have been coming to Habana since we opened 22 years ago and it’s amazing to have such a strong fan base.” We recommend the Chicken Empanadas to start out with and the Sangria Roja or Mojito Classico to wash it down.

Native Knowledge: Check out their new location in Irvine Spectrum, which will offer the same great menu items in a more spacious setting, including an indoor and outdoor bar, along with a large wrap around patio.

708 Spectrum Center Dr
Irvine, CA 92618

2930 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

For Taco Tuesday

You can’t experience Orange County without a proper Taco Tuesday night. Located in the heart of Santa Ana’s Artist Village, Lola Gaspar is the perfect place to experience this weekly holiday. Every Tuesday, they pay homage to the MexiCali culture by cooking their tacos outdoors on a grill over oak and mesquite.

Native Knowledge: If you want to blend in with the locals, grab a seat at the counter close to chef Luis Perez and his staff. Here you’ll find great friends and unforgettable food.

Lola Gaspar
211 W 2nd St
Santa Ana, CA 92701

To (Maybe) See a Celebrity

Don’t be surprised if you run into a cast member from “The Real Housewives of Orange County” in this chic territory of the Newport Beach Peninsula. Start off your Saturday with a delicious breakfast at Zinqué or Juice Served Here Marina Café while gushing over the opulent yachts of Newport Harbor. If you want to quench your shopping thirst, browse the contemporary fashions of Elyse Walker where you’ll find luxury brand names such as Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen. End your day at the world-famous Japanese restaurant, Nobu, which has opened their first Orange County location in Lido Marina Village. After dinner, hop on over to Lido Bottle Works for craft beer and live music. Lido Marina Village truly has an answer for all of your entertainment needs.

Native Knowledge: Looking to dock and dine? Hop on your boat and enjoy your meal from the comfort for your nautical vehicle.

Lido Marina Village
3434 Via Lido
Newport Beach, CA 92663


For Fancy Tacos

With a wealth of awards under it’s belt, Taco María is a must-see if you want to experience Alta California cuisine. After trying their gourmet tacos and the flavorful Quesadilla de Champinones, it’s no wonder Taco María has won over foodie’s hearts. If you’re celebrating an anniversary or birthday, this California-Mexican fusion offers a four-course meal packed with their world-renowned dishes for $75, or you can add wine pairings for a total of $110. It’s obvious that Taco María is not your average Mexican eatery.

Native Knowledge: Come for Sunday Funday brunch! Not only does Taco María offer classics like oatmeal and pancakes, but you can also munch on chilaquiles and Huevos Pescador.

Taco María
3313 Hyland Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Because There’s Nothing Like It

Downtown Santa Ana may not have been the ideal place to take your LA friend back in the day, but after recognizing its potential, restaurant owners began opening their doors with some of the best cuisine in all of Orange County. Playground 2.0 is a dinner-only experience where you can fraternize with the highly praised chefs while they cook your meal before your very eyes. With a variety of delicious dishes to choose from, you’ll leave with a full stomach and a smile on your face.

Native Knowledge: Playground 2.0 offers multi-course dinners featured around a theme. Be sure to check their calendar to purchase your tickets before you go!

Playground 2.0
220 E 4th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92701

For All the Photo Ops

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life at Vacation Bar in downtown Santa Ana. From custom-designed furniture made right up the street, to eclectic foods inspired by years of world traveling, this trendy establishment will blow you away. With cocktails named after the owners’ favorite destinations, we recommend the Tokyo, Japan made with ever-so-popular matcha green tea, or the Bangkok, Thailand consisting of traditional Thai spices and ingredients. You don’t have to book a flight to experience hundreds of flavors from exotic countries around the world.

Native Knowledge: Get out your camera! These drinks come in unique, trendy glasses that will boost up your Insta cred.

Vacation Bar
204 W 4th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92701


For a Unique Menu

The Recess Room is where adults go to play. They offer “modern American tapas with homegrown ingredients from the onsite garden” so it’s perfect for sharing a variety of dishes with friends. Choose from 24 craft beers on tap or sip on a specialty cocktail such as the Smoke & Mirrors with butter infused Lot 40 whiskey. The service is worth a mention—friendly faces are there to wait on you at every turn. Life changing food and excellent service makes for a great time at The Recess Room!

Native Knowledge: They also have a fantastic brunch selection on Sundays complete with Salmon Eggs Benedict and Cereal Crusted French Toast.

The Recess Room
18380 Brookhurst St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Where to Take Your Cool LA Friend in Orange County