BELIEING ITS name, Costa Mesa technically has no coastline, landlocked as it is by Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. And like a classic middle child, it has frequently been overshadowed by its more glamorous siblings, with its biggest claims to fame being the South Coast Plaza mega mall and the O.C. Fair -- at least in some people's minds.
But this 16.8-square-mile bedroom community has been steadily establishing itself as a cultural epicenter. The site of a former lima bean farm is now a world-class arts hub, with seven performance stages, including the Orange County Performing Artscenter, South Coast Repertory Theater, the 500-seat Samueli Theater and a 46,000-square-foot plaza, complete with Richard Serra sculpture outside its entrance. Upcoming shows include Opera Pacific's performance of "Susannah," an American folk opera set in rural, Depression-era Tennessee (Segerstrom), two appearances by kids' singer Dan Zanes (Samueli), and Alan Ayckbourn's farcical play "Taking Steps" (South Coast Rep).
Instead of measuring Costa Mesa against neighboring beach towns, the city and its developers invite comparisons with New York's artsy neighborhoods such as SoHo and TriBeCa. In the works is an arts colony called SoBeCa (short for South on Bristol Entertainment, Culture and Arts), with solar-paneled artists' lofts outfitted with surfboard lockers.
Created by Isamu Noguchi in the early '80s, the California Scenario sculpture garden (611 Anton Blvd.) is a secluded spot that affords serene meditation in the shadows of towering office buildings.
ART OF SHOPPING
Art and commerce intersect at the Lab (2930 Bristol St.,  966-6660, thelab.com). The fashion-forward flock to this so-called anti-mall to score limited-edition sneakers at Blends ( 241-0666) and eye-catching hats from the international selection at ARTH ( 966-8350), or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi while sipping organic coffee at bohemian hangout Gypsy Den ( 549-7012). But the complex's standout feature is the ARTery, an exhibit space made of converted shipping containers where local artists are showcased.
NOW HEAR THIS
The $200-million, 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, below, is a state-of-the-art venue that can be acoustically fine-tuned, like a musical instrument, via echo chambers, retractable wood paneling and a lowering canopy. It opened in 2006.
EAT, DRINK . . .
It's got no sign and no website, but the O.C.'s most stylish crowd knows how to find Mesa (725 Baker St.,  557-6700), an edgy restaurant and lounge with a huge central bar and retractable roof. The menu, by John Sadao, a former chef de cuisine at AOC, is inventive and delicious.
Housed in a nondescript strip mall, the Detroit Bar (843 W. 19th St., 
642-0600; detroitbar.com) is
a multidimensional hot spot that features karaoke,
stand-up comedy, bands-in-residence and top-name DJ talent. Upcoming performers include Pharcyde (Saturday) and Helio Sequence