Disneyland… Knotts Berry Farm… South Coast Plaza?
When it comes to the top Orange County attractions, it’s hard not to think of the local big-name theme parks, isn’t it? But believe it or not, Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland aren’t the only destinations that people will cross the globe for.
What destination gets more visitors per year than Disneyland? South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
Fun Fact: In 2019, Disneyland had approximately 18.6 million visitors come through the gates. South Coast Plaza had 24 million visitors.
So what exactly is South Coast Plaza? Calling it a shopping center is underselling it: South Coast Plaza is an opulent experience that merges showstopping architecture, museum quality art installations, masterfully-planned garden spaces, and gourmet food.
All that being said, there’s definitely shopping. In fact, South Coast Plaza was awarded the moniker “The Ultimate Shopping Resort” in 2004. The center’s unique mix of incredible shops and tourist-friendly amenities, combined with its luxurious ambiance, make it a premier destination for discerning shoppers. It doesn’t matter if they’re driving up the 405 or if they’re flying in from LAX… the world shops at South Coast Plaza.
What’s the story behind this lifestyle juggernaut? Keep reading to find out more about South Coast Plaza.
The History of South Coast Plaza
Sprawling across the South Coast Metro area in Orange County, South Coast Plaza has dominated Southern California’s retail landscape since 1967.
But before 1967, the area we all know and love as South Coast Plaza looked very different. Disneyland started on former orange grove land… South Coast Plaza was born in a lima bean field.
Yep, you read that right. Harold T. Segerstrom’s incredibly classy retail empire started in a lima bean field.
In 1966, Segerstrom and his cousin Henry Segerstrom took some of their family land and went from growing beans to growing a very particular kind of retail space. By 1967, the first iteration of South Coast Plaza was welcoming customers.
Fun Fact: South Coast Plaza is one of two privately held shopping malls in America. The Mall of the Americas in Minnesota is the other.
The mall’s original late 1960’s anchor stores, May Company and Sears, were joined by Bullock’s, I. Magnin, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue during the 1970’s. The opening of luxury giant Nordstrom was huge coup for the Segerstroms; the South Coast Plaza store was Nordstrom’s first step outside its native Pacific Northwest and marked the beginning of the brand’s expansion into the rest of the country.
With the prestigious Nordstrom willing to make South Coast Plaza their first home away from home, Henry and Hal Segerstrom had proven that they had the knowledge to woo high-powered retailers to their shopping center, and more importantly, could provide the kind of retail environment these stores wanted.
But Nordstrom was only the beginning…
For some people, success is a one-shot thing… but not for the Segerstroms. They built South Coast Plaza carefully, and they grew it the same way, with meticulous attention to what shoppers wanted.
Their strategy paid off: in 1986, South Coast Plaza added Crystal Court, a standalone expansion, as a freestanding wing across the street from the main mall property. More expansions, reconfigurations and upgrades continued throughout the late 1980’s through the 1990’s, always with a careful eye toward maintaining a high-class luxury environment.
South Coast Plaza had a $100 million dollar renovation in 2000 which joined the main shopping plaza and Crystal Court via a beautiful 600-foot pedestrian walkway called the Bridge of Gardens. It might just be the most beautiful and peaceful pedestrian walkway in California… it’s certainly a gorgeous and scenic way to access the west wing of South Coast Plaza where all of the home goods and furnishings retailers are.
Pro-Tip: You don’t need to be a millionaire to shop at South Coast Plaza. It’s a great shopping center for people watching, and there are enough art installations and social happenings to make it qualify as an art museum.
South Coast Plaza: A Very Fashionable Now
From the inverted bronze and ivory pyramid chandeliers in Carousel Court, to the Italian ivory marble floors and gorgeous water features throughout the facility, South Coast Plaza continually sets new benchmarks for luxury, comfort, and beauty… everything you need for an incredible shopping experience.
South Coast Plaza, like other retail outlets, is constantly working to stay relevant and offer the best selection of stores to its customers. But where South Coast Plaza truly excels is in the type of tenants they woo to their establishment.
Pro-Tip: South Coast Plaza has its own battalion of over 25 fashion stylists. They’re available for personal shopping, gifting, and more.
Several ultra-luxury retailers have stores here, forgoing building in rival shopping centers. Italian luxury products-maker Furla’s only California store is here, as is the flagship United States presence of the luxury watch brand Rolex.
Pro-Tip: Rolex is only one of a handful of luxury watchmakers at South Coast Plaza. Every single one of them has guards stationed at the door.
So, What Stores Can I Find In South Coast Plaza?
When it comes to retail entertainment, there really is no other outpost quite like South Coast Plaza. It has the highest concentration of ultra-luxury stores anywhere in Orange County. It’s the place to go if you’re looking to browse around:
- Christian Louboutin, located in the penthouse level
- Jimmy Choo
- Louis Vuitton (which has a secretive, invitation-only boutique on the third floor)
But alongside that ultra-luxe list of stores are a comfortable mix of shops that you don’t need to be a millionaire to shop in:
South Coast Plaza really does have something for everyone… and with 2,800,000 square feet of space to work with, it has a lot of somethings for everyone.
Pro-Tip: This shopping center is huge, and it’s easy to get turned around. Don’t be afraid to budget a whole day to explore, wear good shoes, and don’t be afraid to look at a map. Keep an eye out for landmarks: the Carousel is one of the easiest to orient off.
South Coast Plaza for Kids (and Kids at heart)
“My dad and I go to South Coast Plaza a lot. My favorite place is the LEGO Store. It’s got a random brick section where you can just build whatever you want, and if you’re missing a brick from your LEGO set, you can get it there. I really like the random minifig spot, too. You can build any figure you want there!” – Karsen W.
South Coast Plaza does more than cater to the luxury goods shopper. There are a variety of kid-friendly stores and restaurants. LEGO’s presence with their fun, brick-and-imagination themed store filled with helpful Brick Experts is only one of a handful of shops dedicated to children’s needs. South Coast Plaza’s thoughtful designers have clustered the kid-centric stores around the other big draw… the carousel.
Pro-Tip: Don’t worry… kids of all ages are encouraged to grab a ride on the famous carousel horses. The best thing about the South Coast Plaza carousel is… there are two of them.
South Coast Plaza and the Arts
South Coast Plaza was initially designed to be retail-centric love letter to the Segerstrom family’s love of art. The shopping center is a wonder of modern design. The original I. Magnin wing sprang from the planning desk of famed architect Frank Gehry, and the plaza garden designed by sculptor Isamu Naguchi won international awards (you can still enjoy it today).
South Coast Plaza continues the Segerstrom tradition of hosting art shows, art installations, concerts, and fashion shows to the present day. The nearby Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a gorgeous place to take in world-class shows, concerts, and recitals.
Pro-Tip: You don’t need to travel to London to get bespoke couture… South Coast Plaza has its own made-to-measure service.
World class culture and art plus world class shopping should equal world class food, and South Coast Plaza doesn’t disappoint.
There are over 30 eateries here, from classic diner fare to Asian fusion, casual to fine dining. Like the rest of South Coast Plaza, diners here are spoiled for choice. Try Din Tai Fung’s famous Taiwanese food, or fresh udon made from imported Japanese ingredients at Marugame Udon.
Pro-Tip: South Coast Plaza has eateries scattered throughout its floor plan, making it easy to pick up a snack and keep on exploring. Or opt for a global experience in the new 8,000 square foot The Hall: Global Eatery by Top Chef alum Amar Santana and partner Ahmed Labbate.
Things You Need to Know About South Coast Plaza
Address and Hours
South Coast Plaza is located in the South Coast Metro area of Costa Mesa. Google-map it at 3333 Bristol Street, Cosa Mesa CA 92626.
It’s open from 10AM -9PM Monday through Friday, Saturday from 10AM to 8PM, and Sunday from 11AM to 6:30PM.
South Coast Plaza welcomes ADA-compliant service animals, but pets aren’t allowed, so don’t forget to give your furbabies some extra treats before you leave on your shopping odyssey.
South Coast Plaza has an extremely talented and comprehensive concierge service. These folks are eager to assist visitors in whatever they need. Everything from package checks to money exchange, language assistance (in 40 languages!) is available at four dedicated concierge stations.
Parking at South Coast Plaza is free and plentiful in the surface lot, available on the street for a minimal fee with strictly enforced hours of availability (Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 8PM). A pay parking structure is also available. Fees for the parking structure are $1.50/hour, or $18 for the day, which is a pretty standard rate. If you’d prefer valet service to driving aimlessly through the lots looking for an open space, just pull up to any of the three valet stations. Valet parking is only $7.
Pro-tip: If you’re a frequent visitor to South Coast Plaza and you prefer the valet service, you might want to grab an annual valet pass. Get a year’s worth of outstanding valet service for only $150 and never have to remember where you parked again!
South Coast Plaza is more than welcoming to shoppers coming in from overseas. There are translator services for 40 languages, ranging from Albanian to Tagalog and a Travelex Worldwide Money conversion service. Many stores accept Union Pay credit cards.
Stroller and wheelchairs are available for rental.
Sensory warning: South Coast Plaza can be overwhelming due to high crowds and bright colors. If you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t tolerate these things, you might want to take breaks in one of the many green spaces available. The California Scenario is a wonderfully calming space.
A visit to the extravagant retail playground that is South Coast Plaza is a uniquely Orange County experience that everyone can enjoy. For shopping, enjoying the social whirl, or browsing the food offerings, you just can’t beat South Coast Plaza.
So… when’s your next trip?
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Kelly Smith is a freelance writer living in Southern California with one dog, two cats, two guinea pigs… and the rest of her family. She writes about Orange County, faith, family, special needs and tea, and world-builds science fiction universes on the side. Find her at www.bluerosecopywriting.com.