CaliforniaFebruary 17, 2023

A Wide Variety of Venue Options Attracts Attendees By
February 17, 2023


A Wide Variety of Venue Options Attracts Attendees
Los Angeles offers a variety of venues to suit any event. Courtesy Photo

Los Angeles offers a variety of venues to suit any event. Courtesy Photo

For meeting planners looking west, the biggest challenge in selecting a site in California might be winnowing all the options down to the perfect choice. From the entertainment hub and cultural scene of buzzy Los Angeles and Hollywood, to the idyllic forest settings of Lake Tahoe, there is no shortage of backdrops from which to choose. And, from the sophisticated environs of intimate Monterey to Anaheim, home of the largest convention center on the West Coast, any size meeting can be accommodated.

For Jennifer Manley, group account director at experiential marketing agency MAS, California was the ideal fit for a human resources tech conference held in October. “Our client’s criteria for where to host the conference included states with a great climate and easy access for national and international travelers,” says Manley, who adds that the client wanted judicious COVID-19 policies and a location that embraced diversity, equity and inclusion. Also important: “A state that supports business from all sectors and sizes, from large, multinational corporations to small businesses and entrepreneurs. California fit the bill on all fronts.”

In selecting Los Angeles for the event, Manley explains: “To celebrate the return to [face-to-face] meetings after two-plus years, our client wanted a culturally relevant and high-energy city that is an iconic destination. We flipped the script on traditional conferences to create a campus setting that encouraged exploration and curiosity, keeping attendees on their toes and wondering what they might find around the corner. Downtown Los Angeles and L.A. LIVE, specifically, brought that vision to life.”

L.A. LIVE is at the western edge of downtown Los Angeles, and includes multiple venues, such as the Arena — formerly the Staples Center — a multipurpose indoor arena; Microsoft Theater, an indoor venue that can accommodate up to 2,400 guests; the Event Deck, a 90,000-sf rooftop deck suited for large-scale tents and platforms; Xbox Plaza, a 40,000-sf outdoor venue; and a 14-screen Regal Cinemas multiplex. Next door is the 5G-equipped Los Angeles Convention Center with 720,000 sf of exhibit hall space.

“It’s difficult to find a venue for 1,800 attendees that offers outdoor space, infrastructure to support keynotes and breakout sessions, broadcast capabilities and spaces for social gatherings,” Manley says. “The combo of Microsoft Theater, Regal Cinemas, Xbox Plaza and the Event Deck gave us the flexible space we needed, plus the technology and preferred vendors to produce an event of this scale. Considering security, technology, vendors and F&B, at times it was challenging to manage multiple venues, but that’s what had to happen to ensure a seamless guest experience.” Manley suggests that the video boards on Xbox Plaza would have been ideal for a brand takeover, but buying space entailed a significant media budget.

The 878-room JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE and 889-room InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown served as the event’s main hotels, due to their proximity to L.A. LIVE, and they matched attendee expectations. The JW Marriott is located almost next door to L.A. LIVE, while Manley says the InterContinental, four blocks away, offers spectacular views from its 70th-floor lobby.

One off-site event was scheduled, a closing party at Paramount Studios. “The events team was fantastic to work with and was a well-oiled machine,” Manley says. “They have premium partners, including Schaffer Catering, who thoroughly understood our expectations of quality and service. We had fun using Paramount’s New York City soundstage to announce next year’s location, New York City; it was a very L.A.-meets-NYC moment.”

Manley adds that it was a “daunting” process to work with more than 10 different sales teams, from hotels to event venues. “But … the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board helped us every step of the way,” Manley says. “The possibilities to curate a unique experience in downtown L.A. are endless. Just give yourself some extra time to plan and coordinate with multiple venues, hotels and vendors.”

While L.A.’s revitalization is focused on the downtown convention core, the 400-room Fairmont Century Plaza recently reopened following a $2.5 billion renovation that modernized the iconic property while maintaining touches of its history, including 24,000 sf of indoor meeting space. The 305-room Conrad Los Angeles opened last summer, a new downtown centerpiece designed by Frank Gehry — the first Conrad property on the West Coast — and offers 8,800 sf of indoor event space. Upcoming openings include the Moxy Downtown Los Angeles and the AC Downtown Los Angeles.

The $14 billion modernization program at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) includes major renovations to the terminals and a monorail that will connect all terminals to public transportation, allowing greater ease of travel to and from the city. It is expected to open this year.

Marina del Rey

Planners seeking an airport-close destination in the Los Angeles area might consider Marina del Rey, a beach community located just 5 miles from LAX. During the pandemic, Marriott International Inc. opened a pair of side-by-side waterfront hotels, the Courtyard Marina del Rey and Residence Inn Marina del Rey, with 159 and 129 rooms, respectively. The hotels offer 2,200 sf of event space and flexible indoor/outdoor capacity for up to 300 people. Options include a private waterfront room dining space and a large outdoor rooftop event space with breathtaking marina views.

Meanwhile, the Marina del Rey Marriott on Mother’s Beach has completed a nearly $20 million renovation of all 370 spacious guest rooms and suites. All rooms offer panoramic views that overlook the Pacific coastline, city and mountain views in the Los Angeles area. The property features 20,000 sf of flexible meeting space, including a rooftop ballroom with views of the marina and Pacific Ocean. Also overlooking the sails, the Marina del Rey Hotel completed a nearly $1 million renovation project, including a full redesign of the indoor and outdoor dining spaces of its on-site restaurant, SALT; and the pool deck and bar area. The hotel offers more than 10,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor venues, each with waterfront views.


In nearby Anaheim, the development of land surrounding the Disneyland Resort continues, which includes the 618-room The Westin Anaheim Resort across the street from the Disney parks. With design hinting at Anaheim’s citrus history, the hotel is equipped with 47,542 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space. The 23 event rooms and 18 breakout rooms are named after original Anaheim orange brand labels, and all offer state-of-the-art technology, including color-changing LED ceiling lights, remote-control lighting and sound panels, large TVs in breakout rooms with videoconferencing capabilities and on-site Encore Global A/V services.

Located at the Anaheim GardenWalk, a short stroll from both the Anaheim Convention Center and Disneyland Resort, sits the 446-room JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort. The hotel is infused with modern décor and augmented reality technology, with subtle design touches also inspired by Orange County’s agricultural history. The hotel features 43,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space, along with pre-function areas offering floor-to-ceiling windows. The Grand Ballroom measures at 13,440 sf, suitable for up to 1,400 guests, as well as 15 meeting rooms and breakout spaces.

Looking forward, a new Anaheim development anchored by the Honda Center will open in phases starting next year. Known as ocV!BE, the 115-acre project will include a 5,700-capacity concert venue, more than 30 restaurant concepts, four public plazas, office space and two new hotels with a planned 550 total rooms.

Greater Palm Springs

Carrie Jennissen, associate director, special projects for the BARR Center, says many of her Midwest- and East Coast-based clients look forward to meetings in California — for the state’s weather and unique scenery. For its first event after COVID restrictions were lifted, the BARR Center selected Greater Palm Springs for a 700-attendee national conference held last April, drawing school administrators, funders and policy makers.

The event was held at the 512-room The Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa. With 129,000 sf of meeting space, including a 17,325-sf ballroom, Jennissen says the resort’s outdoor spaces, pools and walking paths provided a fun environment to a working conference. “The resort-style layout offered so many outdoors spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinners and receptions,” Jennissen says. “There is a variety of outdoor seating areas, fire pits and walking paths to support all our networking opportunities. We also liked being right on a golf course and able to host an event which we had never offered before.”

Jennissen says the resort’s general manager and staff were very accommodating, supportive and creative during the prep time and week of event. “So many of our attendees noted the fantastic staff,” Jennissen says. “Many of our team members shared stories about how helpful the A/V, food service and managers were. Having confidence in the hotel staff alleviated so much stress — someone was always there to problem solve.”

Jennissen continues: “All the food was great, and staff were helpful in making recommendations for budgets and themes. A/V offered creative lighting ideas for our general session so it would stand out and be different from our other spaces. We noted that you didn’t need to add as many visuals in the networking space, because the venue itself is pretty and the large windows brought the outside in. The large conference spaces provided enough space for us to host theater-style or round table meetings.”

Jennissen notes that Palm Springs Airport is not a hub for any carrier, meaning Midwest- and East Coast-based attendees had trickier flight itineraries. “And we couldn’t offer weekend extensions to our guests due to Coachella and Stagecoach events in Palm Springs during the month of April,” Jennissen says. “But the Greater Palm Springs Visitor Bureau was fantastic to work with. Their responses were timely and the connections so helpful.”

San Diego

For a 250-attendee business meeting for professionals in the food distribution industry, Suzanne Markarian, director of planning & purchasing at Landmark Incentive Marketing, says her client sought favorable winter weather and a change of venue from their traditional Florida locations. They still wanted a city that could be accessed from across the U.S. and also desired a location where they could hold their annual golf tournament — factors that led them to San Diego and one of the top golf courses in the country.

“San Diego has an airport offering accessibility from most cities and the hotel was close enough for an easy transfer,” Markarian says. “There was a wide assortment of choices when it came to selecting a top-end resort with quality golf. Ultimately, The Lodge at Torrey Pines was selected for its intimacy, the superb golf and the proximity to other activities.” The program was set for the 170-room lodge, with an additional room block at the 394-room Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines next door. But the pandemic forced the event to be postponed, and the lodge worked with Markarian and the client to accommodate the evolving circumstances.

“The client wanted a complete property buy-out, but not at a premium surcharge,” Markarian says. “The Lodge at Torrey Pines sales team made that happen, and worked with the Hilton to handle the overflow, adjusting their F&B minimum so we could be accommodated. They also gave the client exclusive use of the property. The leadership and owners at the lodge made every possible accommodation to rebook the program and worked with the client to waive any penalty. They honored all pricing and original conditions of the booking. In short, they were excellent partners, working in the best interest of the client to do what was needed in order to proceed with the business meeting.”

The Lodge at Torrey Pines overlooks the renowned 36-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course, situated on the coastal bluffs immediately north of La Jolla, and offers a full-service spa and fine-dining at A.R. Valentien restaurant. With more than 13,000 sf of meeting space, the lodge’s common areas are graced by outdoor painting, glasswork and wood-burning fireplaces.

“The resort is compact and very easy to maneuver for guests,” Markarian says. “The lodge does not have extra-large ballrooms, but they do have a collaborative relationship for guest room and function space overflow at the Hilton next door. The sales team was agreeable to everything — they flipped meeting and banquet rooms for us with very tight timelines in order to accommodate our itinerary. You’re not dealing with a huge brand and a lot of layers — the resort owners are proud longtime San Diego residents that put their name behind the quality that the hotel and its employees offer, including the exceptional sales and conference services.”

San José

San José is the gateway to Silicon Valley. Located an hour south of San Francisco, the destination specializes in diverse experiences amidst technological innovation and creativity. For planners seeking a “green” meeting destination, the City of San José has developed a community-wide climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Smart San José was one of the first plans aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement, promoting bold goals around energy efficiency, the electrification of buildings, transportation and water conservation. From partner hotels to the San José McEnery Convention Center to the Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC), San José’s visitor industry is collectively putting its best carbon footprint forward.

When meeting in San José, planners can enjoy a fully customizable approach, all under one roof, offering a combined 550,000 sf of meetings space within a two-block radius. Accommodation options are abundant, convenient and accessible. Downtown is just 10 minutes from Mineta International Airport and steps away from convenient public transportation, ride shares and scooters.

The 805-room Signia by Hilton San José is Silicon Valley’s largest hotel. It was recently reimagined following an extensive renovation, including a makeover of the lobby and bar, upgrades to the main entrance foyer and the guest registration areas. The property features 65,000 sf of meeting space, just two blocks from the convention center.

For its seventh annual Putting Care at the Center conference, the Camden Coalition of health care providers chose Sacramento’s SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. The event, held last September, drew 540 in-person attendees, with another 110 joining virtually.

Alice Smart, COO at Horizon Meeting Management, which planned the event, says Sacramento’s convention center, which just completed a $180 million renovation and expansion, proved to be a great venue for the conference. “The space is beautiful,” Smart says. “It’s so updated, and the staff is really easy to work with — they’re friendly and communicative.”

The convention center now has two ballrooms measuring up to 39,224 sf, along with 16 breakout rooms, plus the 159,500-sf exhibit hall. Two hotels are located within a block of the convention center, the 505-room Hyatt Regency Sacramento and the 503-room Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel. The hotels were central to a number of restaurants, which made networking over dinner easy.

Smart particularly lauds the Hyatt Regency, and had accolades for the Visit Sacramento team. “They were super instrumental in helping understand when things were going on,” Smart says. “Use your CVB in planning. Sacramento’s really stood out, and they were very helpful with dinearound options. I meshed really well with my event manager. We were able to plan things out far in advance, and in the end, we felt like we were each working with the same person.” C&IT


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