California offers a highly diverse and vibrant economy, fabulous resorts and hotels, an abundance of unique traditional and unconventional meeting spaces and an unparalleled variety of stunning landscapes.
Janet Zaldua, CEO of the Marina del Rey Tourism Board, says the state’s idyllic weather helps lure groups. “Not only does the Golden State feature stunning backdrops, like our spectacular harbor here in Marina del Rey, but the nearly year-round sunny weather makes it easy and convenient to hold financial and insurance meetings and events in California, particularly Southern California, at any time of year,” she says.
“For attendees, San Francisco is one of the most welcoming cities in the world, and it’s an incredible place to meet,” says Nicole Rogers, executive vice president and chief sales officer for the San Francisco Travel Association.
Sarah Bondar, chief operating officer for The Charles Group Inc., planned three events — a reception for 600 people, an entertainment event for 900 and a dinner for 200 — for an F&I group in San Francisco late last spring. She used the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and City View at Metreon for the events.
“The venues were a key factor for the events, and we custom created a theme and decor to enhance the venues and create one-of-a-kind experiences,” Bondar says. “The staff at each of these venues was very helpful and assisted us with local regulations, preferred vendors and advice related to the needs at their specific venue.”
San Francisco has plenty of outstanding meeting venues, including two suitable for very large meetings: the Moscone Center, the city’s leading convention and exhibition facility, and the Chase Center, home of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors
During the pandemic, several new hotels opened, including Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown SOMA, 1 Hotel San Francisco and the Beacon Grand.
Across the bay from San Francisco, Oakland has been steadily adding more features to make it a very appealing destination for meetings and events. “’The Town’ has beautiful traditional venues, industrial warehouse space, lush, park-like settings, outdoor options and attractions,” says Peter Gamez, president & CEO of Visit Oakland. “Offering an award-winning culinary scene, an artistic vibe and numerous places for creative, interactive off-site events, Oakland has it all.”
Oakland has seen a recent rebound in business and leisure travel. “Planners are asking for indoor and outdoor options, and Oakland has many, ranging from traditional garden settings to industrial vibe venues,” Gamez says.
Sacramento has been one of the quickest markets to recover in California. “Our core businesses are the California state association and national association markets,” says Jeff Dougherty, director, California state association sales with Visit Sacramento. “Being the state capital, we are fortunate that many of these association groups have been eager to return to in-person meetings.”
Sacramento is a very walkable city, with downtown hotels surrounded by dining, shopping and entertainment venues, all within easy walking distance. The enlarged SAFE Credit Union Convention Center allows two large conferences to take place in the building at the same time. The Golden 1 Center, situated in the heart of Sacramento at the Downtown Commons, is the first-ever indoor/outdoor arena.
Hyatt Regency Sacramento is a luxury hotel featuring 505 guest rooms, while Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel features 503 guest rooms. New to the city are The Hyatt Centric Downtown Sacramento, a luxury hotel with 172 guest rooms and Clayton Club, a rooftop bar serving lite bites, extensive cocktail offerings and occasional live music.
One big advantage San Jose has in attracting financial and insurance meetings is its easy accessibility to cutting-edge modern technology. “Financial and insurance meetings require the latest in technology, and as the capital of Silicon Valley, we are well-equipped to provide the most up-to-date capabilities,” says Frances Wong, director of communications for Visit San Jose. “Plus, our walkable meeting campus that includes four performing arts theaters and our numerous downtown restaurants, bars and breweries allows for business connections to be continued off-site for an authentic meetings experience.”
Perhaps the most exciting news for planners is the 805-room Signia by Hilton San Jose, which debuted last spring, taking over the space formerly occupied by Fairmont San Jose. Silicon Valley’s largest hotel, the property is located downtown, just steps away from McEnery Convention Center, which offers 520,000 sf of meeting and event space. Two hotels are connected to the convention center — San Jose Marriott and Hilton San Jose.
Monterey County has seen a gradual increase in meetings and events during the past several months, and is well-positioned to offer planners an abundance of choices, including versatile indoor spaces as well as outdoor areas such as beaches, vineyards, redwood groves and historic, Spanish-style courtyards. “Monterey offers a treasure trove of swoon-worthy and highly sought-after towns to inspire your meeting attendees, including Big Sur, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and Pebble Beach,” says Teresa Savage, vice president of business development for the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Considered Monterey’s largest meetings hotel, Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation that included redesigns of the lobby, guest rooms and suites.
Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay also recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. The property offers outdoor meeting space and is connected to the Monterey Conference Center, as is the Monterey Marriott, which also recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. The three properties provide 80,000 sf of meeting space and 700 hotel rooms. Another hotel, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, recently completed a renovation of its 290 guest rooms as well.
The Los Angeles Convention Center, located downtown, is not only an integral component of the Southern California area, but also is an enduring symbol of environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The facility offers 720,000 sf of exhibit space and 147,000 sf of meeting space, including 64 column-free rooms.
Meeting spots for large groups include JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, with 878 guest rooms; The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, Los Angeles, with 1,358 guest rooms; The Biltmore Los Angeles, with 683 guest rooms; and The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, with 123 guest rooms.
Touting itself as a city that blends the excitement and amenities of a big urban city with the warm, welcoming atmosphere of a beach resort, Long Beach offers an array of meeting and convention venues suitable for any event. The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center offers more than 400,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space, with new wiring for the latest technology as well as wireless capability. The center’s four large ballrooms include the Grand Ballroom, at 20,456 sf; the Promenade Ballroom, at 13,200 sf; the Seaside Ballroom, at 6,317 sf; and the Pacific Room, at 46,000 sf.
Convention hotels include Hyatt Regency Long Beach, which offers 531 guest rooms and more than 35,000 sf of meeting space, including the city’s only waterfront ballroom; The Westin Long Beach, which offers 469 guest rooms and 85,259 sf of meeting space; the Long Beach Marriott, which offers 309 guest rooms and 17,063 sf of meeting space; and the Hilton Long Beach, which offers 399 guest rooms and 30,905 sf of meeting space.
Situated in the heart of the Greater Los Angeles coastline, Marina del Rey is now experiencing a much shorter booking window for events. “Traditional meeting space takes a back seat here to creative waterside options, including many outdoor venue options,” Zaldua says.
Marina del Rey is appealing both to high-end corporate business groups as well as to tech industry giants that want a laid back but trendy meetings destination. Its largest property, Marina del Rey Marriott, recently completed a nearly $200 million renovation.
Another top choice for planners bringing large groups is The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey.
Jay Burress, president & CEO of Visit Anaheim, has noticed a new trend in groups visiting California. “Visitors now want to take time to step out of their meeting space to experience the sights, the sounds and the foods of a diverse destination like California,” he says. “Now, more than ever before, the boundaries between work and fun are blurred, making it a great time for travelers to reinvent the traditional business trip.”
Planners frequently book the Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) for their large meetings. The largest exhibit facility on the West Coast, the center recently underwent a $190 million expansion. The city also has two new AAA Four-Diamond hotels ideal for large meetings. The 466-room JW Marriott, Anaheim Resort at the Anaheim Gardenwalk features floor-to-ceiling windows.
The other AAA Four-Diamond property, The Westin Anaheim Resort, is on the ACC campus and offers 618 guest rooms. The campus is also home to three more hotels: Hilton Anaheim, with 1,572 guest rooms; Anaheim Marriott, featuring 1,030 guest rooms; and Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort, which recently completed a $33 million renovation and offers 490 guest rooms.
This cluster of resort cities — which includes Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella — has remained popular among groups, largely because of its wide-open spaces and enduring allure. “Palm Springs promises an unforgettable meeting experience,” says Carolina Viazcan, vice president of sales for Visit Greater Palm Springs.
The area offers a variety of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces, including the Palm Springs Convention Center, which provides more than 180,000 sf of meeting space. Excellent options are Hilton Palm Springs; JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa; La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton; and The Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa. Also, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells; Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa; and Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa.
The meetings business is steadily climbing toward pre-pandemic levels in San Diego. “San Diego has a wide assortment of hotels at different price points, so we can deliver the type of experience that planners are looking for, whether it be incentive-based meeting or more business-focused conferences,” says Kavin Schieferdecker, chief sales officer for the San Diego Tourism Authority.
One of the most exciting recent developments is Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton, which recently completed an ambitious $400 million master plan. All 757 guest rooms were updated and 75 new residences were added. Vista Terrace — formerly Vista Walk — which can house events for up to 300 people, has been transformed into an elevated event space offering views of the Pacific Ocean. The Del also recently opened the Southpointe Event Center, an all-new building.
Other outstanding properties for large meetings are Loews Coronado Bay Resort and InterContinental San Diego. Another leading San Diego hotel, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, recently unveiled The Pointe, its newest waterfront event space. Situated on the ground floor of the hotel, the space features refined details with the picturesque backdrop of San Diego Bay, making it an outstanding space for a variety of events. I&FMM.