The Westside Sizzles

Destinations

“Don’t just look at L.A. or LAX,” says Michael Krouse, senior vice president of sales at LA INC., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can have [high-end] or cost-effective meeting experiences with different price points even on L.A.’s Westside.” Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, the beach cities and the Los Angeles International Airport-area hotels that comprise the metropolis’ Westside never had the AIG-effect challenge of cancellations to deal with, notes Krouse. “Meetings could and can come regardless of the economic situation.”

Beverly Hills, with its tony neighbors Brentwood and Bel Air, along with the Century City and Culver City “movie industry production hub,” Krouse says, gives the Westside a “special cachet.” Malibu is generally considered the northern outpost of the county’s coastal options. There’s also an impressive list of properties near the 405 freeway and L.A.’s principle airport that offer the nimbleness to put together events on the fly. And the Westside puts visitors within five to 20 miles of many of the famous beaches in the region. A 22-mile paved bike path, known as the Strand, winds south along the Pacific Ocean from Will Rogers State Beach just north of Santa Monica to Torrance County Beach in Los Angeles’ South Bay. In between are the beachside communities of Santa Monica, Venice and Marina del Rey, followed by Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Torrance.

Beyond price and location, the West L.A. experience is the draw. “When the sun shines, that place sparkles,” recalls Beth Gangel, CMP, Western Union Financial Services’ senior manager of global events. Her 450-attendee Global Kickoff meeting at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes basked in a week of sunshine in February 2011. “People from all over the world could see schools of dolphins. We felt like we were in a resort and in a special place.”

Beverly Hills & West


“The Westside offers the most varied type of meeting experiences you could have,” says Krouse. The area vaguely encompassing the communities of Bel Air, Brentwood, West L.A., Century City, Westwood and Culver City is arguably one of the most attractive places in California to live and work. From posh to middle-class neighborhoods, this locale has it all. The 726-room Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City, with 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, is near the Westfield Century City mall and close to several bastions of the entertainment industry, including Fox Studios, the MGM Tower and Creative Artists Agency (CAA). And it’s adjacent to the 14,936 sq. ft. of meeting space at InterContinental Los Angeles Century City, which has 361 rooms and 148 suites. A group “can be a big fish [here] with a high-end experience at a fair and equitable price,” adds Krouse.

“We feel just like a village,” says Julie Wagner, executive director at the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau. “Beverly Hills meetings and events take place in one central location within an extremely walkable five-square-mile radius.” Hotels, restaurants and shopping—notably Rodeo Drive high-end boutiques—are within easy walking distance of many prime properties. There’s a mix of intimate hotel venues and major conference hotels that play host to celebrity events such as the Golden Globe Awards, held annually within the 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space at the 569-room Beverly Hilton. “This destination is focused on service,” says Wagner. “People who work here are used to working with a particular clientele and assist at the drop of a hat.”

Amy Cox, senior account manager at ALTOUR Performance in Minnesota, arranged a May 2011 quarterly board of directors meeting for 45 affluent participants from Pakistan at the 285-room Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. “They felt at home,” says Cox, “from the food they ate and a personal meeting with the executive chef to the luxury vehicles sent to pick up attendees coming in from LAX when arranged transportation broke down.”

The allure of the Westside extends to a variety of off-site venues. Wagner cites a private room at The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, as well as a private terrace overlooking Rodeo Drive at Chanel Beverly Hills. Groups can book the 1,012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater and Grand Lobby at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Beverly Center rooftop terrace with downtown views and a handy telescope delights guests at evening events for up to 150. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center in Brentwood has a private dining room for 54 guests and features views of mountains and downtown L.A. It can also host 2,000 in its outside event space and gardens.

   Redondo Beach Harbor Sunset courtesy of LA INC. 

LAX AREA

The country’s third-busiest airport is also close to the coast “so when you’re done with the meeting, you can go to the beach,” says Krouse. The area is convenient for fly or drive meetings, and most major meeting hotels are less than a mile from the terminals. Several properties offer 55,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space, including the 1,234-room Hilton Los Angeles Airport, the 802-room Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles Hotel, and the 740-room Westin Los Angeles Airport.

For individual attendees with time, Krouse recommends the LAX Gateway Hotels’ Ocean Express trolley service to the Manhattan Beach Pier, with shopping at Manhattan Village Shopping Center or Plaza El Segundo. The night-lit 18-hole, par-64 Westchester Golf Course, adjacent to the airport, is convenient and affordable. Nearby Dockweiler State Beach, famed for its LAX flight path views of aircraft directly above and hang gliders taking off from Dockweiler Beach Training Flight Park, is easily accessible.

BEACH CITIES

L.A. County’s beach cities each have their own distinct personalities. And their proximity to one another offer groups many options for enticing off-site programs.

Malibu

A celebrity enclave for the rich, famous and surf-loving set, this posh seaside village with boutiques and popular restaurants attracts small meetings to properties such as Hollywood mogul David Geffen’s 47-room oceanfront Malibu Beach Inn and its 16-seat boardroom. Famed for the golden sands and waves of Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach, otherwise known as Surfrider Beach, east of Malibu Creek, the community strung along the Pacific Coast Highway has many cultural options for event space as well. David Minkin’s Evening of Enchantment includes wine tasting, food and an award-winning master magician performing feats in a Malibu villa wine cellar. The Adamson House offers group tours of the property and gardens that prominently feature 1926–1932-era Malibu Potteries’ richly colored decorative tiles. Above classical Greek and Roman art at the Getty Villa, the Founders Room can hold 54 guests.

Santa Monica  

“Santa Monica is an urban environment located at the beach,” says Lauren Rogers, director of sales and services at the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau. In 2010, National Geographic named Santa Monica and its four-mile-long stretch of sand one of the top 10 beach cities in the world. The section of Santa Monica near the Pacific, she adds, is “compact and walkable, with expansive beaches,” where groups can practice yoga, take a trapeze workshop, learn surfing or take stand-up paddleboarding lessons. It’s an easy stroll from any hotel to shopping and dining at hundreds of  stores and restaurants.  

For 21 years, the American Film Market’s trade show has drawn 8,000 buyers, CEOs and exhibitors to Santa Monica. AFM Managing Director Jonathan Wolf uses 250,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and two dozen film theaters—and all of the 342 rooms at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, where furnishings are removed and replaced with office décor while the property closes for the week.

Carol Lemlein, a local resident and president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, planned the annual California Preservation Foundation Conference for 600 attendees at the historic Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in May. The hotel is known for a large Moreton Bay fig in the entry,  and receptions under the tree are popular. “People appreciate the preserved venues and history around Santa Monica, a good rate, and they enjoy Santa Monica Pier and the beach,” Lemlein says.

The well-known Third Street Promenade “is a vibrant combo of shopping, restaurants and theater,” adds Lemlein. The rebuilt Santa Monica Place high-end open-air mall has Santa Monica’s largest event space, the 44,000-square-foot L3 at SM Place.

Other Santa Monica off-site venues include the 35,100-square-foot Barker Hangar; the 27,000-square-foot, 3,000-seat Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, which closes for refurbishment in December 2012; the Broad Stage complex, with 538 seats and 10,000 sq. ft. of courtyard space; the newly opened Museum of Flying, with exhibits, aircraft, a boardroom and reception-style event space; five acres with ocean views and varied space configurations at the Annenberg Community Beach House; and the Santa Monica Pier with its iconic solar-powered Pacific Wheel, amusement park and covered 3,300-square-foot Pacific Park Seaside Pavilion.

Just south of Santa Monica is Venice Beach, where body-builders and the creative class mingle among the cottage architecture. Shoppers make a pilgrimage to the one-of-a-kind boutiques and art galleries along Abbot Kinney Boulevard.  

   Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills

Marina del Rey to Palos Verdes
 

“The largest marina in the U.S. has no beach, but there are plenty of places to sit and look at the boats going by,” says Krouse. Harbor cruises and chartered yachts for group excursions can be arranged nearby, he notes. Among them are the 75-passenger Tiki Mermaid; the Marina Hornblower and Hornblower Cruises Events’ Dream On and Zumbrota yachts; and FantaSea mega-yachts. The FantaSea and California yacht clubs, as well as the Marina City Club, also have meeting and event space.

The main meeting hotels are the 322-room Marina del Rey Marriott and 304-room Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey. The reborn 111-room Jamaican Bay Inn on Mother’s Beach attracts small groups.

Relatively low-key Manhattan Beach has a walkable 928-foot-long pier that provides a fishing spot for locals and great views of the ocean and shoreline. Krouse recommends that meeting attendees walk or bike along this section of the Strand. Inland, the 373-room Manhattan Beach Marriott, three miles south of LAX, spreads over 26 acres, with 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

The tiny, 1.4-square-mile enclave of Hermosa Beach offers beach volleyball, surfing, boogie boarding and fishing along its sands. At night, restaurants and entertainment venues are hopping. Kelly Solomon, corporate events coordinator for El Segundo-based Griffin Capital Securities, says her real estate investment clients fly in for a meeting and one-night stay at the 96-room Beach House Hotel Hermosa Beach. Her speeches to attendees often open with the fact that “dolphins breach out of the water every day.”

Solomon recommends that her financial advisor clients get to the beach during a stay. Union Cattle Co., a nightclub, restaurant and brewhouse near the pier, accommodates groups. The Comedy and Magic Club, where Jay Leno often performs, has group dinner and show packages, and the 225-seat main showroom and 90-seat lounge can be configured for multimedia educational or sales meeting presentations.

With the focal point of 1,400-slip King Harbor, the 66,748 residents of Redondo Beach live on the cusp of what locals call the South Bay. Meeting attendees can visit the U-shaped Redondo Beach Pier and International Boardwalk for dining, entertainment and shopping near the sands. Surfing, diving and kayaking are serious offshore pursuits. Planners can charter the 70-foot-long Ocean Racer, a 140-passenger speedboat, from Redondo Beach Marina or the 140-person 65-foot Voyager for sunset cruises, nature tours and whale-watching.

At the 346-room Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel, the chef’s table features a five-to-seven-course meal for a private party of up to a dozen diners. The resort’s 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space includes 15 meeting rooms and the Coral Ballroom.

The 1,457-seat Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, home to the Los Angeles Ballet, is available for meetings. The 1906 Queen Anne- and Craftsman-detailed Morrell House can hold 40. The former Redondo Beach Library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is now the 13,333-square-foot Veterans Park Community Center, exclusively leased for occasions, meetings and special events.

Further south, the land rises above the beach into bluffs 250-feet high to form the Palos Verde Peninsula, with posh Rancho Palos Verdes on top.  Best known is the 102-acre, 582-room Terranea Resort and its 50,000-square-foot Spa at Terranea. Meeting space includes the 18,000-square-foot Palos Verdes Grand Ballroom, 6,600-square-foot Marineland Ballroom, 15 breakout rooms, three boardrooms and 75,000 sq. ft. of ocean-view outdoor event space. Team-building activities include boat building, assembling a vehicle in a pit-stop challenge, scavenger hunts, mixology and cooking competitions. “The service is the best we’ve ever experienced,” says Western Union Financial Services’ Beth Gangel. “Terranea [provided] a comfortable, homey atmosphere where everyone could relax and let their guard down.”

Nearby, the Trump National Golf Club is known for the public Pete Dye and Donald J. Trump Signature Design 18-hole Trump National Golf Course. The Clubhouse’s ballroom seats 300.  The golf course allows public access to the beach.

   The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey

Torrance

“One of L.A. County’s largest cities has a great small-town feel,” says Heather Johnston, Discover Torrance’s executive director. “We’re a [1.5-mile-long] beach town with automotive and biomedical technology industries. We’re a quaint tree-lined city with 30 parks and one of North America’s largest malls; we’re safe and an extremely good value.”

While the huge, 2,275 million-square-foot Del Amo Fashion Center draws crowds, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. and American Honda Motor Co., Inc. both have their American headquarters here. As a result, both provide a decidedly Asian influence on local restaurant fare and on hotel décor, notably the 10,000-square-foot Serenity Gardens that opened at the 476-room Torrance Marriott South Bay. California Teachers Association Supervisor of Conference Coordination Mark Herrmann planned the Region 3 Leadership Conference in January here. What captured his attention was the property’s proximity to Del Amo Fashion Center and the beach. A few moments stood out: The general manager met with him on her day off and he received a “lovely hand-written note from the housekeeper each day.”

The Toyota USA Automobile Museum, with 300 vehicles including Formula 1 and concept cars on display, has open space that can be booked by groups for free. The 502-seat James R. Armstrong Theatre is fully equipped for meetings and seminars. In the center of Torrance, groups can tour the Madrona Marsh Wildlife Preserve, a vernal marsh and wetlands with hiking trails and some of L.A.’s best bird-watching.

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