To say that California is diverse is an epic understatement. At nearly 164,000 square miles, the third largest state in the union is a glorious mix of ocean, desert, bread-basket valleys, dramatic rock formations, imposing peaks, sublime sandy beaches, wild lands and singular cities that draw visitors from across the globe. Its West Coast location gives it easy access from Asia and the Pacific, and a collection of busy airports from north to south bring in non-stops from across the U.S. mainland and beyond.
The Golden State stirs the imagination. Even those who have never visited know it through its many film and TV appearances. Simply put, California is a place people want to be.
Los Angeles County is immense. Within its 4,750 square miles are 88 cities and a population of more than 10 million. Its star quality and more than a handful of its cities are legendary. There are literally thousands of places groups might meet within the county, including a few lesser-known options planners should consider.
Rancho Palos Verdes sits on an evocative stretch of coastline south of L.A., between Santa Monica and Huntington Beach. Among its worthy resorts is Terranea, the choice for Littler Mendelson’s shareholder meeting in January 2017 with 675 in attendance. Bob Treadway, owner of Treadway Meetings, calls Terranea the perfect location for this event.
“Los Angeles and Orange County offer two great airports for our attendees, who come in from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Europe. The physical location, the views, the ocean and the wonderful Terranea team keep us coming back. Our group loves that we basically own the hotel for the three nights we are in town.”
Treadway says the group stays on property with the exception of two afternoons on which activities are offered in the general vicinity — on property, in Long Beach and Los Angeles.
“Terranea offers a total package,” Treadway says. “Flexible meeting space, top-notch banquet food and beverage, great restaurants, a spa and one of the best teams I’ve had the opportunity to work with in my years as a planner. We have become a family.”
Treadway made his first site visit soon after the resort opened. “The economy was shaky, my client’s upper management was worried that Terranea was not going to make it financially, and I was skeptical because it was so new. Melisa Rodgers at the resort told me it was going to happen for us, it did, and we start our 11th year this January.”
In terms of meeting space, Treadway says the AV and internet work well, and meeting rooms are well located in respect to accommodations. The larger picture for Treadway, however, is how the staff makes a difference. “As I always say in our pre-con, ‘This coming week we are a team, we succeed or fail together.’ We have succeeded every time. The property has always gone above and beyond.”
To others considering Terranea, Treadway says, “Be ready to ask for future dates once your conference ends. And ask for Courtney Gresham to be your Convention Services Manager.
If proximity to LAX is a priority, it’s hard to beat Marina del Rey, a waterfront playground just four miles north of the airport. Although only 1.5 square miles in size, Marina del Rey has six hotels — including a Hilton, a Marriott and a Ritz-Carlton — and 1,100 rooms, most providing walking access to almost everything the area offers. On-water activities give attendees plenty to do when not in meetings, from fishing and whale watching to kayaking, paddleboard yoga, parasailing and jet skiing.
Janet Zaldua, CEO of the Marina del Rey Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “Our hotels have recently undergone renovations and upgrades that delegates are sure to love. Plus, they’ll appreciate Marina del Rey’s proximity to LAX airport, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Playa Vista and popular L.A. attractions.”
In short, she says, “Marina del Rey is a smart choice for meeting planners looking for an impressive waterfront destination that offers clients the biggest bang for their buck.”
Sitting south of L.A., Long Beach is almost equidistant between LAX and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, giving planners two good options for bringing groups in.
The city’s star attraction for groups is the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center with three adjoining exhibit halls, two theaters, an arena, four ballrooms, two VIP lounges and 34 meeting rooms for a total of more than 400,000 sf of space. Some $50 million has been reinvested into the center, perhaps most notably in upgraded technology, which was announced last April.
“Long Beach is proud to offer the best network experience of any boutique-size convention center,” says Steve Goodling, president and CEO of Long Beach Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “The center and Smart City recently inked a deal to dramatically improve wireless connectivity for high-density groups. This means more people with more devices connecting faster.”
Last May the center started replacing core technological equipment with the most advanced wireless system available, with a goal of creating a network able to handle the needs of all major trade shows and special events. The new system increases the number of simultaneous devices supported by more than 350 percent.
“No other convention center will be capable of handling more capacity than Long Beach,” Goodling says.
In addition to technology, the center also has launched what it calls, “turnkey special event venues.” These venues offer built-in fixtures and amenities but allow planners to create and customize according to their imaginations and needs, while saving on costs. The newest turnkey space, The Cove, debuted last spring. Providing an “under-the-pier” fantasy aesthetic, the new space is located below the Terrace Theater.
The City of Angels is always evolving, offering something new to planners no matter how often they meet there. In 2017, several hotels of note opened. Dream Hollywood Hotel welcomed guests in July. The 10-story boutique property features 179 “hyper-chic” rooms and 11,000 sf of dynamic event space in The Highlight Room, located on the hotel’s rooftop. Among the restaurants is Beauty & Essex, a bi-level indoor-outdoor space with a 20-foot skylight and dramatic crystal chandeliers.
In June, the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown opened at Wilshire Grand Center — all 73 stories of it with 889 rooms, a sky lobby on the 70th floor and 95,000 sf of meeting and function space. The hotel features a soaring open-air Skydeck, where a max of 548 guests can thrill to sunsets from the top of the tallest building west of Chicago.
Other 2017 openings included The Everly, a Kimpton property with 216 rooms; Hotel Indigo Downtown Los Angeles with 350 rooms; and for groups embracing the sharing economy, there’s the Freehand Hotel and Hostel, housed in the former Commercial Exchange Building in L.A.’s Historic Core, with 226 rooms ranging from traditional accommodations to haute hostel rooms (aka poshtels) with up to eight beds. The Freehand has a rooftop pool and lounge available for private events, stunning views complimentary.
“Our city’s unrivaled intellectual capital, incredible mix of ‘only-in-L.A.’ experiences and venues, and endless sunshine are fueling L.A.’s popularity as a premier meetings destination,” says Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. “Fantastic new hotels are opening their doors with frequency, diverse chefs are exploring creative territories, and noteworthy cultural institutions are choosing to call L.A. home. A truly irresistible magnet for collaboration, Los Angeles is the perfect destination for both corporate and incentive professionals to connect individually and innovate collectively.”
If planners are hesitant because of the fires, Wooden puts fears to rest. “The recent fires that affected residential areas of the city had no impact on our meetings sector and there are no smoke advisories or road closures that visitors need to be aware of. The three temporarily closed attractions — the Getty Center, the Skirball Cultural Center and the Hammer Museum — are fully operational and have been re-opened for weeks. We are thankful for our first responders and firefighters for their truly heroic work.”
Ventura County and its namesake city lie between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Among the meeting-friendly properties is the Ventura Beach Marriott, base hotel for two annual events of PanAmerican Seed, the breeding and research division of Ball Horticultural. Its industry-wide event, CAST, occurs in April with approximately 1,100 attending over five days, while the sales meeting runs in October, with 65 attending.
Janessa Bender, management team administrator and Spring Trials Event coordinator, says the location works well. “Because we have a breeding facility in Santa Paula, about 20 minutes from Ventura, it’s very convenient to stay in town. We love the downtown area of Ventura,” she says. “There are restaurants with all different price points where we can bring our customers during the CAST events, and the hotel is within walking distance to many of them. This is great for our staff who frequently travel to the area to visit our facility. And of course, having the beach nearby is a big plus!”
The group uses venues in the Marriott and outside of it. “We’ve had several big internal celebration dinners at Spasso Cucina Italiana,” Bender says. “We utilized one half of the restaurant for our group of 50. The food is always excellent and service is great. We held a scavenger hunt in downtown Ventura for our sales team one year, which was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about the city while looking for clues. We’ve done boat cruises in Ventura Harbor with Island Packers, and more recently a kayaking outing. All of these were excellent teambuilding activities. During CAST, we provide lunch onsite for our customers as well as some dinners. We’ve discovered an excellent caterer in the area, Season’s Catering, which we use now for all our catered events. The food is superb and customer service is top-notch.”
Bender says Ventura doesn’t have a lot of large indoor spaces for events but adds,” “The two main hotels, Ventura Beach Marriott and Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, have large ballrooms that have worked perfectly for our meeting needs.”
About the Marriott specifically, she says, “Ventura Beach Marriott is within close proximity of our facility. The service is always great, and we love that it’s close to the beach and many restaurants. As a company, we’ve been staying at that property for approximately 23 years. I generally work with Marie Castillo, and she has great customer service and has helped me tremendously with reservations, room arrangements, menu planning and all my event needs. And the food is probably the best food I’ve had at a hotel. We always have a welcome dinner and everything the chef prepares is tasty.”
Bender says there are no major challenges except during CAST, when many rooms get reserved outside of the room block. “The Marriott Ventura works with us to try and get our customers booked at a reasonable rate once those are full.”
She advises planners to set their room block at least a year in advance. “July/August is the hotel’s busiest time and when Ventura County Fair is held each year.”
The most defining feature of Monterey County is arguably the vast bay from which it takes its name; however, the magnificent coastline south of the bay, stunning state parks and beaches, internationally acclaimed golf courses and several famed towns, including Carmel-By-The-Sea, all contribute to the powerful allure of this area. And a new draw for meetings is the newly renovated $60 million Monterey Conference Center, which celebrated its grand reopening in January.
Among the state facilities planners can consider is Asilomar State Beach & Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, a historic property with lodging and conference space that has been used by groups since 1913. In October 2017, South San Francisco-based Genentech, Inc. held its research conference at Asilomar with 1,224 attendees.
“Asilomar Conference Grounds was chosen for this event many years ago due to its location and the conference center having meeting space to accommodate the size of the group,” says Elaine Taylor, Genentech program manager. “Pacific Grove is drivable from our corporate office. Using this location has to do with the culture and history of this conference, however. Attendees enjoy the beauty and laid-back environment at Asilomar.”
Taylor has been organizing the conference since 1999, but it was located at Asilomar long before that. “History dictates that our conference takes place at this location — the scientists love it.”
The conference runs wholly on the conference grounds with a couple of exceptions. “The first night, all attendees spent the evening at Monterey Bay Aquarium enjoying a private showing and strolling dinner. It’s a wonderful environment and allows attendees to feel special by having the entire aquarium to themselves.”
In addition, Taylor has to use several offsite properties for lodging as the group requires about twice the sleeping rooms available at Asilomar.
She says organizing a conference at Asilomar is different than at other places. “Asilomar is a grand, historic site, and you have to work within the parameters of the history and culture there. Meeting space is limited and spread out over the grounds. Depending on the size of your group, you have to be creative to make it work. We have a 100-by-100-foot tent installed for the extra space we require. We also use an underground parking garage and transform it into a very cool party space for evening events.”
Taylor calls the staff accommodating and easy to work with, and notes that all catering is handled through the property. “They do a very good job. They provide breakfast, lunch and dinner but also cater our special events. Everything has been well received by the group. For special events, I work with a party event decoration company. Outside vendors used are mainly local and know how to work within the special parameters of historic Asilomar.”
One “must” according to Taylor is that planners make a site visit and walk the grounds. “You need to see the conference rooms and lodging to get an understanding of the facility so you can make the most of what Asilomar has to offer,” she says. “It’s quite wonderful and different. Everything depends on the size of your group and what you’re trying to achieve.”
No California bayside city is more universally beloved and recognized than San Francisco, long a top meetings destination. San Francisco needs no introduction to planners; however, it always has something new, and the $551 million expansion of the Moscone Center is new in a big way, with completion expected this year.
The city calls it “more than an expansion. It’s an attention-grabbing, attendance-getting masterpiece on a grand corner of San Francisco.” When complete, Moscone will have an additional 157,000 gross sf of flexible meeting space, two new floors of column-free space including a 50,000-sf ballroom, expanded lobbies totaling 60,000 sf and cutting-edge technology. It will be at minimum LEED Gold certified.
Planners should keep in mind that the Moscone Center is within a few minutes of 22,000 of the city’s more than 33,000 hotel rooms, not to mention stellar dining and shopping.
Virgin Hotel San Francisco is scheduled to open in February with 196 rooms, while the Lodge at the Presidio should open this summer with 42 rooms in one of the city’s historic and most beautiful areas. As for renovations, Loews Regency San Francisco recently unveiled a transformation of its entire meetings and event space and rolled out a new program for groups on the 40th-floor Sky Deck, including breaks, morning yoga, and wine and cocktail events.
Approximately two hours north of San Francisco, Lake County is within California’s wine country, adjacent to Napa and Sonoma counties. Among its historic properties is the stately Tallman Hotel, founded by 19th century pioneers Rufus and Mary Tallman. The hotel was renovated in 2003 and reopened to guests in 2006. In 2008 it was added to California’s Register of Historical Resources as a Point of Historical Interest.
Peter Molnar, partner, Obsidian Ridge Wine Co., has organized multiple events for eight to 50 attendees, including retreats for Obsidian Wine Co. and meetings of the Lake County Winegrape Commission.
“The Tallman Hotel boasts an incredible combination of factors for a small/medium high-end group retreat,” he says. “It has beautiful private rooms nicely located around a common courtyard, warm and engaging staff and management that is incredibly accommodating. The Tallman has allowed us to showcase our new and exciting wine region and wines to groups of discerning national and international writers, tastemakers and fellow vintners.”
While he often makes use of offsite tent events in local vineyards for some meals, Molnar says, “The Tallman is the anchor and focal point of our hospitality.”
He describes the hotel as, “A remote and quiet spot for great group focus in an upscale but relaxed setting — the best in our region.” The meeting space, he says, is ideal for a strategy session for a small- or medium-sized group of up to 20 people and the décor is exemplary. “The space is convenient to guest rooms, it’s very quiet, the coffee is great, as are snacks and the staff is very attentive.”
Molnar notes that the porch also lends itself to small groups gathering to meet or enjoy drinks together and calls the hotel “perfect for an overnight or a two-night/three-day event coupled with local wineries and outings. It’s hard to communicate just how much guests love the Tallman and its blend of remoteness and sophistication,” he says. “I would bring any level of client, guest or group to the Tallman — and have!” C&IT