On a recent sunny Costa Mesa afternoon, Erin Huffstutter sat on a bench in Vista Park — a prime viewing spot on "The Mesa," as she sometimes calls her city.
The Westside resident and mother of two wore a black dress dotted with white hearts, accompanied by black heart-shaped glasses, beaming smiles and eager laughter.
It's through those hearts, she says, that she witnesses her Costa Mesa, which, she admits, might make her the city's No. 1 fangirl.
And it shows, both in the tone and the name of I Heart Costa Mesa, an online features magazine she started this year alongside photographer Brandy Young.
"We explore and adore the city," Huffstutter said. "But the adore is a huge part of what we do."
The duo sees I Heart Costa Mesa as their lighthearted, quirky curation of the city, gathering the best of what they uncover and putting it online.
Huffstutter's pen name is the Mesa Maven. She uses playful language. Alliteration. Being silly.
"I think she has kind of a middle-school girl crush on Costa Mesa, and that's my voice," Huffstutter said of her alter ego.
The uninitiated can click on the site's "Why We Heart" tab for an explainer. Through words and a series of uniquely Costa Mesa scenes — a llama at the Orange County Fairgrounds, a skull mural at Taco Mesa, a ridable train engine at Fairview Park — the duo makes clear why they love exploring, photographing and writing about that city by the coast.
"We could go on and on and on … but we don't have to," the page says. "Because at the end of the day, what it really all comes down to is this: If you can't say something nice about Costa Mesa, you just don't really know her, yet."
Recent stories include a feature on Pitfire Pizza.
"So the next time you get a fire in your belly for pizza, consider your own pit stop at Pitfire," the Mesa Maven's story concludes.
A heart follows the conclusive period.
Other story subjects include the Gray Matter Museum of Art, Fermentation Farm and the Costa Mesa Historical Society.
"Modern Costa Mesans sometimes bemoan the speed and fluidity with which our area changes," Huffstutter writes on her historical society piece. "But after a visit to the historical society museum, a broader perspective of cultural transformation emerges. The lens of history reveals that Costa Mesa has a long legacy of reinvention; our region has ebbed and flowed, as readily as the nearby Pacific, for most of its existence."
Negativity doesn't have a place at I Heart Costa Mesa. A page titled "Behave Yourself" says the magazine is dedicated to "Costa Mesa Superfandom." Those debates and protests about the city? Take them elsewhere.
"We're committed to positivity and think a little unbridled enthusiasm is just what our city needs," the page says. "A bit of a break from all the crabby discourse. A chance to celebrate the good."
It asks readers to be respectful "for the kids," at least. Then there's a picture of kids — baby goats — at Centennial Farm.
I Heart Costa Mesa's trademark are those heart-shaped glasses. During interviews, Young has her subjects wear them. They help lighten the mood and garner smiles for the camera.
"The people are just amazing and awesome," Young said. "We just meet really cool people we wouldn't otherwise come across. It's really fun."
Huffstutter, a Costa Mesa resident since 2004, grew up in Fountain Valley but never ventured too much into the nearby city she now enthusiastically calls home. Her background is in advertising copy writing.
Young is no ordinary photographer. Rather, she's the magazine's "Costa Mesa-adjacent" photographer who lives in Huntington Beach, near the Santa Ana River. By her count, her home is exactly 989 steps from the Costa Mesa city sign on Adams Avenue.
"Come on, Brandy!" Huffstutter chided her. "Make the leap across the river. You can do it!"
Young often runs along the river trail, where she says she "longingly" looks on at Costa Mesa's parks.
Eventually, she may just make that final leap over.
"I'm trying to talk my husband into it," Young said.
Huffstutter quickly added: "And we'll have a party when that happens."
I Heart Costa Mesa is looking to organically expand with staff writers, videos, advertising revenue, maybe even some bumper stickers, T-shirts — and an office.
Until then, it operates out of Huffstutter's garage and wherever else she's writing.
"We have a lot of dreams," she said. "A lot of ideas come pouring out of us."
Added Young: "We drive around and definitely daydream about the future of what it could be."