If family vacations leave you wondering what happened to having a little R & R, the answer lies in carving out time for an occasional adults-only weekend getaway. Staying local helps make planning your getaway less complicated and Orange County’s culinary, shopping, and arts capital, Costa Mesa, is the perfect destination for achieving the three critical components of Rest, Relaxation and Romance. A whirlwind tour of Orange County’s shopping and entertainment mecca reveals a myriad of experiences that entice you to stay awhile.
An itinerary built around us-time for a couples weekend getaway means it’s Adults-Only — kids, as much as we love them, are not part of the equation. I’m sure you’re familiar with the sage advice that life is all about balance: work and leisure, kids and adult time. This weekend is all about nurturing you and your partner’s relationship. So, once the kids and pets are squared away with their respective sitters; take a deep breath, throw some clothes in your carry-on, and head for the hills… I mean, the 405 freeway.
Follow your GPS to The Camp where the vibe is chill, the ambiance is mellow, and artistry and whimsy delight the eye. Even parking spots at The Camp provides an affirmation that life is good. Free valet parking is available, if self parking spots are full.
The Camp distinguishes itself as a green, eco friendly retail and dining community dedicated to environmentalism, mindfulness, and an active, healthy lifestyle. The atmosphere is casual and lively, with curved pathways that meander past shops and cafes in a natural setting that allows you to escape the bustle of the city. Enter Old Vine Cafe and be transported to a European bistro with open-air patio dining where one can feast on luscious crepes and hearty brunch fare, or duck into Vitaly Caffè, an authentic Italian coffee and gelato cafe, where silken gelato is made fresh daily and homemade pastas are to die for.
In Old Vine Cafe, Chef/Owner Mark McDonald has created a special place so beloved by loyal guests that he holds an annual anniversary party every July and invites them all to enjoy an afternoon of wine and a copious spread of appetizers, salads, charcuterie and cheese. Last year he celebrated 10 years and introduced the crowd to the gentleman who, in 2007, wandered into Old Vine and became Chef Mark’s first customer. The honorary diner delivered a heart-felt speech of appreciation that had some of us tearing up at how grateful he was to have a place to dine where the service, food and conviviality made him feel as if he were coming home.
The award-winning restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with menu items that reflect a focus on regionalism and the use of seasonal ingredients — a hallmark of Chef Mark’s culinary training in southern Italy. Old Vine Cafe is one of the few places in Orange County that serves breakfast/brunch every day until 3:00 p.m. Start your morning right with a Lavazza coffee or, my personal fave, the Thin Mint Mocha soju vodka cocktail (below). Beer, wine, and a selection of popular brunch and other soju cocktails are also available.
Select from delicate, totally scrumptious crepes such as the Ricotta Mousse Crepe above, their famous Baked Caramel Apple French Toast (pictured below), gut-busting omelets, comfort food favorites like biscuits and gravy, crispy paninis such as the Quattro Fromaggi, and garden fresh salads. Chef Mark’s passion for regional Italian cuisine is evident in dishes that feature proteins most Americans find unusual, yet are common in Italy and throughout the world. Be adventurous and try the Goat Omelet, the Torta de Lengua, or the Rabbit Mole. Evening diners can be found leisurely enjoying one of the four-course tasting menus, complete with expertly selected wine pairings which are often included in Old Vine’s popular “Six for Sixty” wine program.
Time to explore more of The Camp, honestly, it is truly a haven in the urban jungle. Conveniently located next door to Old Vine is Winelab Camp — a wine tasting room/retail store with a chill mid-century modern vibe, known for their boutique wines expertly sourced by owner/Sommelier Roger Richards.
What immediately catches your eye are the inspirational messages painted on the stairs leading up to a Bikram yoga studio that mark the entrance to WineLab. These phrases speak to the aura of The Camp and offer thoughtful intentions for self improvement and living a more authentic life. Saying a few to yourself can elevate your mood instantly.
Step inside and manager Kate or Edwin, one of the four somms at WineLab, will greet you with a friendly introduction to their wine program featuring three wine tasting flights served in Wine Lab’s signature test tubes. The wines change regularly to give you an opportunity to taste something new with each visit. Typically, they offer one White Wine flight (priced between $10-$16), a Red Wine Flight (between $10-$17) and a Top Red Flight (usually between $15-$25). The Top Red flight offers more expensive red wines that are often in limited supply. The staff is available to give you as much, or as little, information about the wines as you like, and if you like what you’re tasting, it’s available for sale in their retail section.
Funny how a few glasses of wine can work up an appetite! Take a leisurely stroll through the center, peek into Seeds Market or one of the independent boutiques, then duck into Vitaly Caffé for an espresso pick-up and a little nibble.
Vita means “life” in Italian and guests at Vitaly Caffé are pleasantly immersed in the “life of Italy”, the passion project of owners Maurizio and Barbara Cocchi of Bologna, Italy, who had a long-time dream to move to California and bring with them some of the best Italian-made foods and cooking styles. Bologna is considered the food capital of Italy and, having visited for the first time last fall on a Splendors of Northern Italy culinary tour with Chef Mark McDonald, I adored Bologna and wonder why anyone would want to leave!
Barbara and Maurizio are fervently passionate about Northern Italian cuisine. They wanted to create a modern, friendly and authentic Italian atmosphere and bring high quality Bolognese cuisine to Southern California. In 2011, they made their dream come true and moved their family to Orange County. In 2013 they opened Vitaly, bringing Italy to the OC. We consider ourselves lucky to have them in our community, illuminating us on the pleasures of dining Italian style. At Vitaly, guests experience dining in the homey atmosphere found around dining tables in Italian homes and restaurants. Savor an espresso, latte or cappuccino expressed from Filicori Zecchini, Italian-style espresso roasted in Bologna. Established in Bologna in 1919, Filicori is Italy’s oldest coffee roasters and still operated by the founding families: Filicori and Zecchini.
Taste the housemade piadina — a thousand year old flat bread recipe that was once prepared over fire pits and on stone in fireplaces by Roman troops during battle and by farmers or travelers that did not have access to an oven. Vitaly’s menu has a wide selection of Piadina (flat bread sandwich) or Cassone (warm piadina calzone pocket).
Whatever you do, don’t go home without a scoop of Vitaly’s artisan gelato, and you might even want to take some back to your hotel for a late-night treat. It’s that good! Both Maurizio and Barbara are certified Gelatieri — yes, there are Gelato schools and they are both graduates of Italy’s finest. Gelato is made daily from seasonal ingredients, always fresh, no syrups or artificial flavors are used. If your favorite gelato flavor is, say, fig – you should have it every day and stock up because it won’t be available when fig season is over.
You know gelato is fabulous and have heard it’s lower in calories than ice cream, but what exactly is gelato? The main differences between gelato and ice cream is that gelato is mostly made with milk, a little bit of cream, and sugar. Gelato is made from a foam and contains 5 to 20% air and ice cream is made entirely of cream and sugar and contains 25-50% air. Gelato contains 6-9% total fat while ice cream contains 8-20% total fat. The calories for one scoop of Vitaly sorbet or gelato range from 40 to 80 while one scoop of ice cream averages 137 calories depending on the brand.
We tasted a few of Vitaly’s pasta dishes made from their homemade pasta. As you would expect, the pasta sheets are rolled out incredibly thin which makes it lighter and more tender. The gnocchi is so tender, it will make you cry. Definitely make a point of returning for lunch or dinner to experience real homemade Italian pasta Bolognese style.
2937 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Open 7 Days A Week
7:00AM – 10:00PM*
*Individual Store Hours May Vary
Happy and satiated, depart The Camp and drive to your stylish accommodations for the evening, the Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, conveniently located within walking distance of Segerstrom Center for the Arts complex and South Coast Plaza.
Book your stay at world-class Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel and be rewarded with a luxury experience at affordable rates. The AAA Four Diamond-Awarded hotel impresses with an atmosphere of modern elegance and classic chic style imbued with an eclectic arts-inspired design and boasting an ideal location at the center of Orange County’s Theater and Arts District and world-renowned shopping hub South Coast Plaza.
The friendly reception staff makes every effort to ensure that your stay is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Amenities include a tranquil lakeside atmosphere with heated pool and jacuzzi, conversation areas tucked amongst the trees with comfortable seating and heat lamps, a well-equipped fitness center, and a stylish lounge serving craft cocktails adjacent to the property’s Modern American restaurant, Silver Trumpet.
Under the direction of Chef Hector Zamora, Silver Trumpet offers finely prepared contemporary California cuisine crafted from the freshest free-range and organic ingredients in a sophisticated dining room surrounded by tranquil lake views of the grounds or on the outdoor patio overlooking the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Awash with sunlight by day, the mood and lighting becomes more intimate by night. The restaurant is open to guests and the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The rooms feature contemporary decor with a striking black & white, art deco theme, a stylish gray sofa, and incredibly comfortable beds. I would stay here again in a heartbeat. In fact, my husband and I are doing the real estate shuffle and I’ve booked a few nights for the days that we are in-between houses.
The night is young, please circle back here to learn about the variety of evening entertainment and dining options that await you in this epicenter of Orange County — Costa Mesa, “The City of the Arts”.
3350 Avenue of the Arts
Costa Mesa, California 92626
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Disclosure: Our IFWTWA group was hosted by Travel Costa Mesa. All opinions are my own.