Perhaps no state in the union has the allure of the aptly named Golden State. And though every region of California has its own appeal, the state’s more than 1,200-mile coastline is in a class of its own.
It has starred in some of Hollywood’s most famous movies, celebrated in literature and in evocative ads, and it has drawn dreamers and doers to its shores since before California formalized statehood in 1850. It’s no surprise that many of the meeting destinations below are set along California’s Pacific coast, bays, marinas and beaches.
The city and bay have been immortalized in literature and song, but that alone would not be enough to bring savvy planners to San Francisco. With nearly 34,000 hotel rooms and more on the way, diverse culture, an inherent romance, renowned attractions, excellent transportation and meeting space galore, the city is a natural for meetings.
“Downtown San Francisco is a great place for international events due to location and airlift for attendees coming from all over the world,” says Stefanie Ordoveza, global events manager with OSIsoft LLC, a California-based software company.
In April 2018, 2,600 attendees participated in the company’s PI World 2018 event. “With our event at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, it’s an easy BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride from local airports and is located in an area with plentiful entertainment options for those interested in exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” Ordoveza says. “It also provides many options for you to grow your group in the space. We started with 1,000. Now we are over 2,500!”
“The Hilton San Francisco Union Square…is located in an area with plentiful entertainment options for those interested in exploring one of the most beautiful cities in the world.”
— Stefanie Ordoveza
San Francisco, she adds, “offers a wide range of options depending on what is important to you and your meeting, especially in terms of size, cost and atmosphere. The Hilton San Francisco Union Square is the largest hotel in the city that can accommodate our room block as well as meeting space needed to host our 2,600+ attendee conference without having to move to a convention center. Not to mention that its sister property, the Parc 55, allows us to do even more while providing the same quality service and feel.”
Like other planners, Ordoveza notes that it is people that make the real difference. “What we love most about hosting our event at the Hilton is the hotel’s team. The event services team is truly top-notch and each individual on that team becomes an extension of our own leading up to the event and onsite, making our lives a little bit easier when the event gets going. It’s always nice to see familiar faces who know pieces of our program as well as we do,” she says. “And that team continues to deliver exceptional results without forgetting a touch of hospitality or service. That goes a long way once the conference is in full swing and you’re running on fumes.”
For those who may not know the hotel as well, Ordoveza notes it’s important to be strategic. “The hotel has many different spaces in different locations, so it is important to share your ground plans with the hotel staff well in advance to ensure that you’re using the space in the most effective manner for your attendees.”
Affordable and accessible, with more than 2,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the city center and a convention center currently being expanded, along with other meeting-friendly transformations in the works, Sacramento is an excellent option for meeting planners.
Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento, puts it this way. “Sacramento has undergone a major transformation in the past few years. The Golden 1 Center, the cornerstone of the city’s downtown redevelopment, opened in 2016. The new Kimpton property, the Sawyer, was completed in 2017 adjacent to the arena. The new home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings is the most technologically advanced arena in the country and sources 90 percent of its food within 150 miles — a given in America’s farm-to-fork capital.”
In addition to sports, he points out, “the arena showcases concerts, theater and meetings. And adjacent to the Golden 1 Center is Downtown Commons, nicknamed DOCO, a three-acre outdoor plaza featuring concerts, entertainment, innovative restaurants, boutiques and a stunning $8 million Jeff Koons sculpture. Large murals brighten outdoor spaces in the central city and visitors sample and relax at the many craft breweries, coffee bars and wine-tasting rooms. And Money magazine recently ranked Sacramento International Airport (SMF) fourth among the top 80 U.S. airports.”
When it comes to Santa Monica, it’s hard to beat its accessibility to one of the world’s busiest airports while simultaneously providing “away-from-it-all beach-town” appeal.
Misti Kerns, CEO and president of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism, describes the town’s dual personality.
“With fresh ocean breezes, 300-plus days of sunshine, with iconic beach vibes and 40 hotels, Santa Monica offers corporate meeting attendees the perfect balance between meet and play. They will want to extend their stay. Our charming seaside town is full of unique venues and beautiful beachfront settings. It’s home to more than 100,000 sf of creative and unique event space and nearly 500 restaurants. All that,” she says, “and we’re located just eight non-freeway miles north of Los Angeles International Airport and well-connected to the greater Los Angeles area, making Santa Monica an ideal Southern California base for corporate meetings.”
Marina del Rey sits just south of Santa Monica, and though it’s tiny — less than two square miles — it’s a highly valuable piece of real estate in Los Angeles County and a superb meeting destination. It’s home to the largest man-made small craft harbor in the world, among other assets.
Debby DuBose, CEO and event specialist with Los Angeles-based Conference Solutions International, worked with a group of 260 for a meeting in Marina del Rey in December 2017.
“Marina del Rey is a unique destination as it’s within close proximity to the airport and is also near the beach,” DuBose says. “And there are lots of offsite activities close by, such as bike rentals, parasailing and paddleboard.”
The group was based at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, which DuBose calls “a beautiful property located right on the marina surrounded by yachts. They have great meeting space with natural light and one of the best club lounges I’ve ever seen. The rooms are very spacious with balconies providing incredible views of Los Angeles. The meeting space is very private and has a nice flow for prefunction and meeting rooms.”
The group did not use meeting or function space outside of the hotel, and DuBose adds that in addition to multiple food options and incredible views, the club level at the hotel has “an amazing staff.”
If planners are looking at beach destinations such as Santa Monica and Laguna Beach, DuBose encourages them to “add Marina del Rey to the list. The Marina del Rey CVB offers a lot of incentives to planners looking to save money, and the value at the hotels is much better compared to a lot of other cities.”
According to Visit Newport Beach, the town’s convention and visitors bureau, “A big reason to host a meeting or convention in a destination location is that when you remove yourself from your everyday surroundings, magic happens.”
That magic is augmented by more than 200,000 sf of flexible space and a diverse selection of hotels to choose from.
Experian chose Fashion Island Hotel for its EITS Annual Leadership Conference in June 2018. Patricia Trimarco, executive assistant to the CFO, and Yvette Ferencik, executive assistant to the CIO, worked together on planning the conference.
Ferencik says proximity to both John Wayne Airport and LAX were among the reasons for booking Fashion Island Hotel, but not the only reasons.
“They also offer recommendations for car transfer service, first-class rooming accommodations at competitive rates, a restaurant with a top-rated chef, spa service and a variety of meeting rooms and catering service on- and offsite. Also, the hotel is located within walking distance to the renowned Fashion Island Shopping Center. Fashion Island,” she adds, “provides an all-inclusive destination, which is critical to any conference.”
Trimarco notes that there was no need to book conference or function space outside of the hotel because, “Fashion Island Hotel has a variety of room sizes to accommodate every need.” In addition, she says, “We gave the hotel event coordinator our idea of doing ‘The Great Gatsby.’ He took our vision and brought it to life. He showed us a venue that was so perfect for our event. It was amazing. Our team is still raving about it. Job well done!”
But this wasn’t the first time the hotel came through for the Experian team. “We had our prior year’s conference at the Fashion Island Hotel and we were blown away by how they exceeded in all areas. It was a no-brainer to choose them again,” Trimarco says.
“We were very impressed with the sales team; they listened to what we wanted and made sure they delivered what was promised. We were introduced to the lead for each area of the hotel and they all exceeded our expectations. The view was spectacular and the hotel was very clean. We were impressed with the amazing food, service and accommodations.”
Ferencik agrees. “Our three-day conference encompassed all areas of the hotel, from dinners, meeting space, AV, catering, offsite special events and overnight accommodations for 100 people. The Fashion Island Hotel team worked closely with us on every detail and executed with perfection.”
The hotel, she adds, “offers a destination that includes all requirements for a high-level conference, which enables meeting planners to coordinate with ease.”
All in all, it amounted to “excellent service provided by delightful employees,” Trimarco says. “There were no challenges and every detail was met.”
Like much of California’s southern coast, San Diego offers exquisite beaches, sailing opportunities and year-round idyllic weather, making it a destination for any month of the year. It’s a city where attendees and planners want to be, a place with attractions that draw visitors from around the world and that easily augment a conference schedule for groups of all kinds. Among its extensive selection of hotels are historic properties, beachside hotels, golf and tennis resorts and boutique options for smaller groups. According to the San Diego Tourism Authority, there are more than 135 conference hotels to choose from.
Additionally, the San Diego Convention Center features 2.6 million sf and is within walking distance to 11,000 hotel rooms as well as excellent restaurants and shopping, and the airport is a mere three miles away.
When the Ben & Jerry’s team from Vermont was looking for a spot for Ben & Jerry’s Global Franchise Meeting, January 2018, they chose Paradise Point Resort & Spa, set on a 44-acre island in Mission Bay.
“There was so much we loved about Paradise Point, but what stood out the most for our group was the lush island feel of the resort,” says Greta Barker, with Ben & Jerry’s global communications team. “The ideally located casitas were a great break from a 40-plus-story hotel. The beach bonfires were a great way for our group to continue networking after our official events.”
All of the company’s meeting events were held at Paradise Point, which features 80,000 sf of space. There was one off-property event, a one-day community project in San Diego, which Barker says was to “help give back to the local community.”
Barker calls the San Diego meeting “one of our highest attended and rated events ever. We can attribute that to an affordable hotel rate, a lot of flight options, ease of transportation from the airport and to the fact that it’s a family friendly resort with many tourist attractions nearby.”
Barker says she initially met with Paradise Point representatives several years ago. “I had met one of their sales agents at a Connect Market Place conference. At the time, they didn’t have enough large ballroom space to fit all of our events, but we continued to stay in touch. We had received a contract for another hotel out of the country for our 2018 Global Franchise Meeting, but even with the contract in hand we weren’t excited about returning to a venue we had previously been. We figured if we weren’t excited our attendees wouldn’t be either, so we picked up the phone and called Paradise Point out of the blue. Our sales rep informed us that they had just added a new pavilion space and that we would now be able to fit all of our large events. The rest is history.”
From the start, the planning process was a positive one. “Leading up to the event, we had very positive experiences with our meeting planner and the reservation teams,” Barker says. “Onsite, we were very pleased at the flow of our events due to the layout of the conference center. Our group is also made up of a lot of foodies, and the chef and his team really delivered! It was the best conference center food we have ever had.”
Barker worked with the in-house PSAV team for audio-visual needs. “They really knew the space and best options to maximize our look and feel but still stay within our budget,” she notes.
To other groups considering Paradise Point, Barker says, “Make sure you have enough rooms in your block since you will be blown away at how high your meeting attendance will be due to being at Paradise Point in San Diego! We’re already looking forward to going back in 2020!”
In terms of challenges, there was just one — not surprising when construction and renovation come into play — but Barker says the hotel rose to the occasion. “They only issue we had was that the planned renovation fell behind schedule a bit and not all the rooms in our block were updated prior to our arrival. But the team did an outstanding job of making sure our group was all in renovated rooms once people checked in.”
Barker credits the San Diego Tourism Authority with getting things started on the right track from the beginning.
“We worked closely with the San Diego Tourism Authority when originally looking at the San Diego market. They were fantastic at scheduling visits to the hotels, tourist attractions and alternative venue options for special events. It really helped our planning process to understand the area. It also helped confirm that we were on the right track of picking the right hotel for our group.”
Wherever you look in California, there’s a destination that offers a sublime mix of views, attractions, service and an enviable choice of hotel and meeting options. In addition, it likely also offers that quintessential something that only the Golden State has, and that attendees and planners want. C&IT