California ConfabsAugust 1, 2015

A Wealth of Options in the Golden State By
August 1, 2015

California Confabs

A Wealth of Options in the Golden State
Microsoft’s annual xDM meeting staged its food-truck welcome reception at Anaheim Convention Center’s Grand Plaza. Credit: Filmateria Digital LLC

Microsoft’s annual xDM meeting staged its food-truck welcome reception at Anaheim Convention Center’s Grand Plaza. Credit: Filmateria Digital LLC

When it comes to extraordinary and diverse destinations in which to meet, few states rival California. It has nearly 900 miles of coastline, iconic-status beaches, multiple oceanfront cities where it’s possible to conduct business in the morning and surf or sunbathe in the afternoon, the dramatic Sierra Nevada range along its backbone and a charismatic ethos powered in part by a bubbling melting pot of cultures that have become integral to the state’s identity.

It’s not just California movie stars and celebrity athletes whose names are known across the globe; many of the state’s entrepreneurial business leaders have become household names, too. And in addition to being celebrated for its inventive cuisine and thriving restaurant scene as well as its beaches, resorts and hotels, California sits at the epicenter of the technology revolution that drives the world today.

Los Angeles and Orange Counties

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area is the second largest metropolitan area in the United States, yet each city offers planners something different.


The city of Anaheim in Orange County is home to Disneyland. While that’s a powerful draw for many groups, it’s not the city’s sole attribute. When Angel Hanson, CMP, event marketing manager with Microsoft, was considering sites for the company’s annual xDM meeting in 2014, she turned for the third time to the Anaheim Marriott. The group of 1,100 had 100 percent of the hotel’s meeting rooms and 75 percent of its guest rooms.

The hotel is located near the Anaheim Convention Center and a couple of blocks from Disneyland, making it a good choice for location alone. But Hanson says the hotel delivers on many levels. “This property has the latest and greatest in technology combined with top-notch service levels, making it a perfect fit for Microsoft. And the staff is hands down the best I’ve encountered in my 17 years in the industry. From sales to F&B to production to the events team and everyone in between, the service is amazing.

“The food,” she adds, “is outstanding. It has received the highest scores of any Microsoft event that’s been held around the world. The lazy-Susan style of buffet is a huge hit with our audience. Food is fresh, it’s hot, and it allows a quick turn-around time for attendees to get in and out while also allowing more networking time at the tables.”

In addition to hotel space, the group booked outside venues. The welcome reception was held on the Grand Plaza outside of the convention center, and an offsite party was set at the City National Grove of Anaheim. “We used the Grove of Anaheim for our attendee party,” Hanson says. “It has a great staff and great location. It’s a blank slate, and you can create the space to fit your event theme.”

Anaheim is “very affordable from room rates to venue costs. It’s a low-cost but a high-quality delivery.” — Angel Hanson

Anaheim offers choices. “Microsoft is a worldwide company, and Anaheim is a great location with many airport possibilities — there are three airports less than one hour away,” Hanson points out. “There are also many options for offsite venues, many properties to choose from. It’s very affordable from room rates to venue costs. It’s a low-cost but a high-quality delivery.”

Attendees also have choices when it comes to activities during downtime, thanks to the Marriott’s location. “There are many restaurants, shops and entertainment options within walking distance for our attendees,” Hanson notes.

It’s the hotel itself, however, that Hanson appreciates most. “The Marriott team made my job easy,” she says. “There were no surprises. The Marriott team is completely transparent and extremely organized, as is my team. I have three to four planning visits throughout the process, which allows us to do deep dives on the program details. xDM will be returning to the Anaheim Marriott for the fourth time this November, and we are looking forward to another successful event!”

Long Beach

The L.A. County city of Long Beach has 5.5 miles of Pacific Ocean beach, dozens of restaurants, plenty of attractions and the 400,000-sf Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. It’s also the launch point for adventure tours and cruises to Catalina Island, an hour away, where attendees can leave the urban vibe behind for a day of hiking, wildlife watching, kayaking and snorkeling.

“Long Beach, located in the center of Southern California, is one of very few cities that can boast an urban downtown waterfront with a convention center offering panoramic Pacific Ocean vistas,” says Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach CVB.

“Long Beach boasts all the amenities and excitement of a big city with the relaxed atmosphere of a seaside resort. The city combines ‘big-city vogue’ with the friendly attitude of a small beach town.

“Within an eight-block area around the convention center, visitors will discover major attractions, shopping, entertainment, nightlife and more than 125 restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. Plus,” Goodling adds, “Long Beach is freeway-close to all the major attractions of L.A. and Orange counties. Long Beach is also easy to get to, with service from three nearby airports — Long Beach Airport, LAX and Orange County Airport—all just minutes away.”

Los Angeles

The city of Los Angeles itself defies conventional description. Its status as the entertainment capital of the world and the sheer number of celebrities who call it home set it apart. It includes iconic beach towns and canyons (Venice Beach and Laurel Canyon among them), famous neighborhoods and streets (Hollywood Hills, Bel Air, Sunset Strip), one of the largest urban parks in the nation (Griffith Park) and arguably more celebrated entertainment venues and attractions than some countries can offer.

The Los Angeles Convention Center features 720,000 sf of exhibit space, 147,000 sf of meeting space and in June rolled out improvements to enhance customer experience. The city is well equipped to handle every type of meeting, from intimate and high profile with VIPs to mega conventions.

San Francisco

This forward-thinking city needs no introduction. It was No. 12 on Cvent’s list of 2014 Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States and planners know the city delivers an incredible attendee experience. Moreover, San Francisco is never static. There’s a lot of building and expansion going on, giving the city perennial appeal.

“San Francisco continues to be a favorite destination for planners and attendees alike,” says Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO, San Francisco Travel, the city’s CVB. “Even those who have been here recently will find new things to discover — transformed hotels, new restaurants, fresh venues and more. And of course, our world-famous scenery and icons never fail to impress. It’s really never too soon to return to San Francisco.”

In May, the city celebrated the groundbreaking for the $500 million expansion of Moscone Center. When it opens in 2018, the new space will provide more than 500,000 sf of contiguous space with 80-plus meeting rooms and three ballrooms, including a 50,000-sf column-free ballroom. With extensive sustainable features, the facility also is expected to receive the highest LEED certification possible.

San Jose

San Jose is experiencing explosive growth, and Team San Jose says attendees will be surprised with the destination’s cuisine, vibrant nightlife, major sporting events and unique attractions. San Jose offers attendees the quintessential Silicon Valley experience: serious business done in a relaxed atmosphere. Attendees will experience a range of post-convention activities in downtown San Jose with more than 250 dining and nightlife options, contemporary museums, edgy galleries and vibrant performing arts and entertainment — all within walking distance from the recently renovated San Jose McEnery Convention Center. Not only that, the convention center’s $130-million makeover introduced an additional 169,957 sf of flexible ballroom and meeting space with a modern design and state-of-the-art technology — bringing the new grand total to nearly 400,000 sf of flexible space.

Team San Jose says there are three great reasons for meeting planners to consider San Jose as a meeting destination:

Wicked Smart and Wickedly Fast. Upon arrival to San Jose, attendees are imbued by the contagious energy of innovators, thinkers and dreamers acting as the driving force behind America’s smartest city. The capital of Silicon Valley is home to 6,600 technology companies and has helped San Jose forge an unrivaled culture as the epicenter of innovation. Planners and attendees can maximize their connectivity capabilities with Wickedly Fast Free Wi-Fi at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Mineta San Jose International Airport and within downtown San Jose.

Bright Ideas Beyond the Breakouts. San Jose’s revitalized downtown offers a wealth of stimulating attractions and social settings to charge the conversation beyond the breakout session. With a vast selection of alfresco restaurants and cultural spaces, downtown’s atmosphere cultivates innovative thinking.

Sustainably Savvy San Jose. San Jose’s visitor industry is putting its best carbon footprint forward with sustainable contributions from the convention center, airport and downtown hotel properties. San Jose is an environmentally progressive city, and Team San Jose-managed facilities recycle, reuse and repurpose 89 percent of all material waste.

Monterey County

Occupying an exquisite stretch of coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Monterey County is home to Carmel by the Sea, Pebble Beach, Big Sur and the city of Monterey. Collectively and individually, these towns make the county one of the most desirable in the nation. Cradled between the Pacific Ocean and miles of dramatic cliffs and undulating hillsides are sweet stretches of sand, many within state parks. To the east, valleys and vineyards provide a bucolic setting for memorable events, perhaps especially Carmel Valley. It’s here that the Forbes Four Star Bernardus Lodge & Spa sits, newly renovated this spring and under new ownership. The 57-room property on 28 acres of vineyards and gardens has long been an ideal setting for intimate groups. Now, with all guest rooms and public spaces redesigned, event spaces reconfigured and a new restaurant including a 25,000-bottle wine cellar, its star shines even brighter.

Sue Van Zeyl, office manager and executive assistant with Jackson Square Partners LLC, a California-based investment management group, brought a team of 35 to the lodge in May. “We’ve stayed at Bernardus three times now for our annual offsite, and each time it’s been great. Other resorts in the area don’t have the same cozy, warm, secluded feel. The location is perfect, and the new remodel is stunning. The property takes you away to tranquility. My team has had an extremely busy past year, so this is just what the doctor ordered.”

The lodge features 4,300 sf of indoor meeting space and 5,000 sf of outdoor venues. “Pretty much everything stood out,” Van Zeyl says. “The meeting spaces are the perfect size for our group. The staff was more than accommodating in helping me make our event run smoothly and anything I/we needed, we got.”

That included hanging a piñata and assisting with the group’s afternoon cocktails-appetizer-bocce-ball event, which Van Zeyl calls “always a must-do on our list.”

The group had breakfast and lunch during meetings and dinner onsite both nights. “Everything was mouthwatering,” Van Zeyl says. “We were going to have dinner in the Rose Garden but unfortunately it was too cold. The staff was able to set up the Harvest Room (my personal favorite) on very short notice. We will plan on the Rose Garden for next time.”

In the past, Van Zeyl says, they have gone offsite at least one night for dinner to Hyatt Carmel Highlands, an outing she calls worth it even with having to shuttle 35 people there. Participants also have played golf at Carmel Valley Lodge, Spyglass Hill Golf Course and others among the renowned courses in Monterey County.

The lodge’s newly expanded spa also was popular with the group. “The spa was used by everyone and more than once for some,” Van Zeyl says. “To see the relaxed faces on my team members when they came out of a treatment made me feel like I had done my job. The highlight was seeing my team happy and relaxed, and Bernardus was the escape we needed. I wish we could do this every six months.”

San Diego

When the team from North Dakota-based FBS, which makes an app pertinent to real-estate agents across the country, wanted a site for the company’s 2014 FBS Summit with 100 attendees, San Diego and Paradise Point, a Destination Hotel, delivered.

“We wanted a location that really felt like San Diego and not like it could be anywhere in the country,” says Kendra O’Brien, in the company’s customer projects and relations group. “The hotel grounds and meeting space gave our event the feel that we were going for. San Diego was a good winter destination for our customers and had reasonable flight prices from a variety of locations. We wanted a beachy destination feel for the event, and we got it.”

Tucked on its own Mission Bay Island but connected by road to the mainland and to SeaWorld, Paradise Point is both secluded and accessible. This fall, the resort will unveil its state-of-the-art 15,500-sf Sunset Pavilion featuring sweeping views of Mission Bay.

“Service at the hotel was excellent, and we were well taken care of,” O’Brien says. “Our event was held almost entirely onsite, with the exception of one social function. The hotel grouped our attendee rooms near our meeting space so attendees had an easy walk to our events. Our event manager, Everlynne Lleva, was attentive and easy to work with.”

There was one snag. “It would have been helpful for us to know ahead of time that the main restaurant would be closed during our event,” O’Brien notes. “We were planning on having that option available for our attendees.“

The group used the hotel’s catering extensively, which worked well, though one option was better for the bottom line. “We worked with the catering team to create a custom lunch menu around a carnival theme, and all of our attendees loved it. It included a tater tot bar, popcorn, ice cream treats and more, and it was done beautifully,” she says. “We also ordered a boxed lunch one day, and while it was fine, it reinforced that the lunch buffets are a much better use of budget dollars, as the beverages made it nearly as expensive as the custom lunch.”

The one offsite function was at another San Diego hotel. “We used the Andaz rooftop for a social. People loved the space and views and sitting around the fire pit. We would use that space again,” O’Brien says.

One highlight of the meeting for FBS employees came after the event, when the group gathered around a fire on the beach near their hotel rooms. O’Brien calls it “a nice way to relax after a long event.”

San Diego is a good destination for the FBS group, and O’Brien says they would return. She does suggest that planners considering the city take advantage of site visits because there’s a wide range of offerings. “Take advantage of the onsite visits to learn more about the service you can expect to receive during your meeting. When we were looking at hotels, there was a big difference in the service and support that we were given during our stay, and we chose based on that service. We were happy with our choice and heard lots of good feedback from attendees as well.”

O’Brien and her team also have high praise for the city’s convention group. “We worked with Jenna Bisesi at the convention and visitors bureau and would highly recommend that. Jenna helped us narrow our list of hotels, set up our stays and even picked us up at the airport,” she says. “The service was phenomenal and would make us more quickly consider San Diego for meetings in the future.”

From north to south, California lives up to its nickname. The Golden State offers a wealth of incredible cities, beaches, sun-splashed landscapes, one-of-a-kind venues and so many choices the only real difficulty for planners is narrowing down the possibilities.

New & Noteworthy

Just five years since the grand opening of the JW Marriott L.A. Live, Los Angeles, plans were announced by AEG to develop a 755-room expansion of the hotel. The new project together with the existing JW Marriott L.A. Live and The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles will contain 1,756 rooms and more than 200,000 sf of function space, making it the second largest hotel in California. Construction is expected to begin in late 2015 or early 2016, with the new hotel rooms and facilities scheduled to open in 2018.

In May, Hilton San Francisco Union Square, with 134,500 sf of meeting and event space, completed a multimillion-dollar upgrade of guest rooms. In February, Hilton Worldwide announced acquisition of Parc 55 Wyndham San Francisco, now Parc 55 San Francisco a Hilton Hotel. In April, Loews Hotels & Resorts acquired the 155-room Mandarin Oriental San Francisco Hotel, now renamed the Loews Regency San Francisco. Two hotels near Fisherman’s Wharf announced renovations: Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf completed a refresh of its 18,000 sf of meeting space and Pier 2620 Hotel Fisherman’s Wharf announced a multimillion-dollar renovation. Also finalizing renovations this year are The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco and Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

In San Jose, from sold-out soccer matches to international sporting events and corporate affairs, the 18,000-seat Avaya Stadium accommodates groups of all sizes. SoFA Market anchors the SoFA District, the visual arts and entertainment district of downtown San Jose. The Westin San Jose brand has unveiled an adaptive reuse of the historic Sainte Claire Hotel. The 171-room hotel is equipped with 10,000 sf of meeting space. The Fairmont San Jose completed a $524,000 upgrade to its main building breakout rooms and Hilton San Jose completed a $50,000 renovation to the hotel’s patio area.

The grand opening of the newly renovated Monterey Conference Center, which offers 41,000 sf of meeting space, will take place in early 2017. The first floor of the rejuvenated center is planned to open by late summer 2016. This modernization will infuse up to $45 million in physical and technological improvements. Located on Cannery Row in Monterey, the Wine Experience offers tastings, interactive classes, wine-blending and winemaking during which a group can create custom-labeled wine. C&IT

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