No one here is advocating that a meeting in Southern California in the summer should emphasize pleasure over business, but the bounty of outdoor recreation available is an inescapable fact for any group, and frankly one that should be embraced and incorporated into event schedules to make the most of your SoCal summer meeting. Not just that, but keeping your attendees holed up inside a meeting room all day without any outdoor playtime as reward is borderline cruel and unusual.
Because one thing you won’t find outside are gray clouds. As the song goes, “it never rains in Southern California,” which holds true for each of the main regions—metro Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Palm Springs and the Inland Empire. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year in any area of the Southland—beaches, mountains or deserts—it’s as close to a sure bet your event will see nothing but blue skies, while the outdoors beckons with warm summer days and nights. The fabulous weather has become a signature of the region, a draw for corporate groups and an attendance driver for association events.
“The weather is a big factor,” says Elaine Cali, vice president of communications for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, on the appeal of the region. “It ties in with that lifestyle that Southern California still holds, the brand of Southern California. It’s the casual lifestyle, and the scenery that people expect to see—the palm trees and ocean—with lots of things for people to do and see.”
Hotel Shangri-La spa in Santa Monica.
And the options for doing and seeing are dizzying. With more than 180 miles of coastline from Los Angeles to San Diego, the grand expanse of beaches and waterways along the Pacific Ocean is never far away. Depending on your locale, you can simply step out your hotel door from the many oceanfront properties in San Diego and Orange County. Or for inland meetings, it’s a 90-minute drive from places like Palm Springs or Riverside.
Once there, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what to do. Surfers ride the waves in every bay and beachhead along the coast, with structured lessons for the curious beginner available in many areas. Beach volleyball is king in Southern California, with professional matches (and large crowds) and a seemingly unlimited number of sandy courts and nets available to the public, with organized tournaments making for a great group activity. Meeting-goers can also take advantage of boat trips and fishing excursions with numerous private charters. There’s also regular ferry service to Catalina Island on the Catalina Express, a mere 90-minute trip from Dana Point, San Pedro and Long Beach.
Inland adventures are just as plentiful and popular. Golf is a year-round sport in Southern California, and many of the world-class courses can accommodate groups for full- or half-day outings, golfing demonstrations and tournaments. The various canyons and state and national parks are easily accessible—often found just beyond city borders—and provide for a host of activities, with hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding all readily available. And warm days mean cool comfortable evenings for exploring the cultural side of things, from a starry stroll to local restaurants to a cruise through the arts and nightlife scene of cities large and small.
Of course, meetings are the focal point for any group, and the facilities in Southern California are many and varied, from some of the largest convention centers in the country, to urban, boutique hotels and Five-Star, secluded resorts. The area is served by two major airports—Los Angeles and San Diego International—as well as several smaller ones, including John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Palm Springs International Airport and LA/Ontario International Airport in the Inland Empire. And getting from point A to B is a snap on Southern California’s famed freeways, as well as on miles of light rail and metro systems in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
But while the types of groups that assemble in Southern California are as diverse as the attendees who fill their rolls, once there they all share the common experience of great weather, superb attractions and fun activities. And with all the area has to offer, any attendee will find something to enjoy, especially in the summertime when the sun shines brightest.
“Even though they shouldn’t have, a lot of people went to the beach,” half-jokes Deidre Irwin Ross, CMP, director of conference services for the American Library Association in Chicago, who held their annual event in Anaheim in June 2008. “I saw a lot of tan librarians walking around. But really, they stayed on the show floor and spent time with the exhibitors, then went out,” she says.
Pool at the Riviera Resort & Spa, Palm Springs.
So, put the top down on that rental convertible, and enjoy your Southern California meeting. And though meetings aren’t meant for R&R, of course, a planned outing or built-in free time will keep your group refreshed, revived and that much more responsive to the business at hand. Oh, and don’t forget the sunblock.
Lounging in L.A.
A major international destination such as Los Angeles has something for satisfying just about any taste or preference, from the obvious (beaches) to the surprising. (Horseback riding in L.A.!? Just mosey down to the coastal city of Palos Verdes and Wagon Wheel Ranch for one-hour to full-day and moonlight rides.) And while the urban amenities you’ll find in L.A. are second to none, with world-class museums and leading-edge arts and cultural offerings, one of the most common images of the city is of fabulous people lounging in swanky venues.
The Kress in Hollywood.
Fortunately, lounging is a sport anyone can participate in, and for groups, the latest trend in L.A. is taking your event to the roof, often combining a jigger of arts and culture with your apple martini. The fourth-floor rooftop of the Petersen Automotive Museum is one such venue, with classic muscle cars from the ’60s and Ferraris from the ’50s, as well as great views of the Hollywood Hills for groups up to 250. Another is the Target Terrace atop the newly opened Grammy Museum in downtown’s burgeoning L.A. LIVE district, with music lectures and performances a popular accompaniment to events for groups up to 350. Or you can head to Hollywood and The Kress, the latest and hottest of the area’s new clubs, with four floors available in any combination for groups, and a rooftop featuring fire pits and private cabanas.
For a day at the park, you’ll find a surprising amount of green space in L.A., such as the spacious Griffith Park just north of downtown and offering a number of hiking trails. If you want more action-packed fun in your park, then Universal Studios Hollywood is the place to be, with numerous attractions including the Simpsons Ride and new Creature from the Black Lagoon. For groups, the park also features a number of indoor theaters and outdoor studio lot space for themed events, while nearby NBC Universal (nbcuni.com) is now hosting The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brian.
Major and Unique Venues
As something of a no-brainer, hotels throughout Los Angeles have incorporated outdoor or rooftop space into their properties, attracting hordes of the hip and beautiful on warm summer nights. The Standard Downtown LA has the Standard Rooftop Bar (for up to 240), definitely on the see-and-be-seen list, as well as 207 guest rooms and 12,00 sq. ft. of total meeting space. The Sheraton Universal Hotel in Universal City features a roof garden, and comes with 451 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Nearby is the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, with 482 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. And at the edge of L.A. LIVE downtown is the Los Angeles Convention Center, with 720,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, and numerous meeting rooms totaling 147,000 sq. ft.
For a uniquely historical experience, the de-commissioned Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach at the southern end of Los Angeles County, features the Queen Mary Hotel with 314 staterooms and more than 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Baseball in San Diego
Some of California’s cities have a reputation for being not so pedestrian friendly, but San Diego is definitely not one of them. It all starts downtown in the state’s southernmost city with Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres major league baseball team, and at the heart of numerous hotels, restaurants and shops—all an easy stroll away. Besides attending baseball games (group packages are available), the park, built in 2004, has more than 20 venues available for private events, from the clubhouse to center field, for groups of 50 to 40,000 (for stadium buyouts). Just adjacent to the park is the San Diego Convention Center along the city’s waterfront, with 615,701 sq. ft. of total exhibit space.
Another decidedly walkable part of San Diego is the Gaslamp Quarter, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with more than 100 shops, restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. A baseball’s throw from the park and bordering the convention center, the quarter is an ideal place to spend an evening under the stars after a long day of meetings. Or, it’s a great way to cap an afternoon spent at one of the city’s beaches, or partaking in one of San Diego’s many outdoor attractions. Number one on that list is the famed San Diego Zoo, a short distance from downtown in Balboa Park and featuring more than 4,000 animals and thousands of exotic plants. Ride the Skyfari aerial tram for great views of the zoo (and surrounding Balboa Park) or take advantage of the venue options for private groups up to 4,000, including the Elephant Mesa and Mombasa Island Pavilion.
Banquet room in the Disney Animation Building.
Major and Unique Venues
San Diego has some 131 hotels with meeting facilities, and downtown enjoys the lion’s share with properties such as the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, offering 1,190 guest rooms and 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. You can also take your attendees to a livelier place such as the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter, which features the Rock Spa and Nobu restaurant, and plenty of action outside its front door. The Hard Rock has 420 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Farther north in San Diego, the La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the few in the county located directly on the beach. For surfers, it’s a dream location, and for groups, the hotel’s 128 guest rooms and 7,500 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space make for an ideal retreat-like setting on the edge of the city.
Continuing north, The Grand Del Mar is one of San Diego’s top luxury properties, with a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, 249 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Nearby is the 4,100-acre Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, with 37 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Surfing in The O.C.
Some destinations are forever fated to be tagged with an unofficial brand (e.g., Seattle: coffee on a rainy day; Phoenix: but it’s a dry heat!). Mention Orange County, and an image comes to mind of surfing along beautiful beaches (and all other manner of seaside activities) under sunny skies and warm breezes. The coastal cities and towns that make up the more than 40 miles of coastline in The O.C. have been attracting surfers and beach-goers since the sport first landed on our western shores, and standing tallest among those locales is Huntington Beach.
Officially dubbed “Surf City USA,” the evidence is found in the city’s International Surfing Museum with exhibits of some of the legends, as well as its hosting of the U.S. Open of Surfing and Surf City USA Marathon. Your group can even learn to surf like the pros at Corky Carroll’s Surf School, enjoy a sand-castle building competition (with professional guidance) or sit by a bonfire after dark. Other O.C. coastal communities include Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa, the latter represented by the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitors Bureau.
But The O.C. has a lot more going for it than just surfing. “I think [attendees] are surprised because the terrain is so diverse,” says Cali, from the Anaheim/Orange County VCB. “I think they’re not sure what to expect if they haven’t been here before, that the Anaheim Convention Centeris so close and walkable [from the hotels] and close to Disney, and there’s so much variety accessible to them.” The center is the largest in the area with 813,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa.
You’re never far from the happiest place on earth in The O.C., with Disneyland Resort centrally located in the city of Anaheim, an easy drive from all points (or shuttle from some hotels). Another resource for planning events in the area is the Irvine Chamber Visitors Bureau.
Besides the theme parties groups can hold in Disney and its California Adventure Park, there are plenty of nearby options beginning with the massive Anaheim Convention Center, with 813,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, including a 38,000-square-foot ballroom and 51 meeting rooms. Just adjacent are the 1,572-room Hilton Anaheim, which just completed a $70-million renovation throughout the property, including its 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the 1,030-room Anaheim Marriott with 82,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, which is finishing its own $22-million renovation. For a venue that combines business and pleasure, the nearby bowling alley at Strike Orange County offers meeting space, team-building events and 30 glow-in-the-dark bowling lanes.
In Newport Beach, The Balboa Bay Club & Resort is set on 15 acres of bay front near the tony Fashion Island shopping district, and has 160 guest rooms and suites and 23,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor event space. The largest property in Huntington Beach is the Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa, with 517 guest rooms, including 57 suites, and more than 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Located across from the beach, the hotel also offers two-hour surfing lessons from on-staff surf pros.
Golfing in Palm Springs
Most people wouldn’t think that a destination with “desert” in its name would be home to so many championship-level golf courses, but Palm Springs and its sister desert communities have been attracting professional and amateur golfers alike for decades.
“We have over 120 courses in the valley itself, between the eight cities, most of which are open to the public,” says Rick Leson, director of sales at the Palm Springs Convention Center. “Most courses are very willing to work with people, with a wide variety to please anybody. You can find a course where everyone can feel comfortable.”
And while summer can push temperatures up, making day golf uncomfortable for some, there’s still plenty of opportunity to get in a full round. “In summer, you have to just adjust your hours,” Leson says. “You learn to adjust a little bit, get up earlier in the morning, taking advantage of the coolness. But because we’re so close to the mountains, when the sun goes down at 7 it feels like a 15-degree difference.”
The Grand del Mar golf course, San Diego.
One sure way to cool off is to take the aerial tramway from the base of the mountains to a 14,000-acre alpine forest. Or simply wait until night, when it’s a pleasure to be in the desert under clear star-lit skies. With a cluster of hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries near the convention center, attendees can easily and comfortably stroll from one place to another.
Besides large properties such as the Wyndham Palm Springs Hotel with 410 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space (and soon to be reflagged a Renaissance after current renovations are complete), the area also has a number of hip and newly renovated hotels. The now swanky Riviera Resort & Spa was completely renovated at the end of 2008, and features 406 guest rooms and 45,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space. And the Parker Palm Springs, a popular hotel for the out-of-town glitterati, has 144 guest rooms and villas, and 5,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. Though not a hotel, the beautifully designed Palm Springs Convention Center is the center of attention every January for the Palm Springs Film Festival opening-night gala with a who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights (Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman, etc.). The center offers a total of 261,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Wine Tasting in the Inland Empire
Just outside L.A. and San Diego’s backdoor is its very own wine country in the Inland Empire (made up of San Bernardino, Lake Arrowhead, Big Bear, Riverside, Ontario and Temecula). Found primarily in Temecula Valley, a 27-mile span of rolling vineyards at the southern end of the I.E., the SoCal wine country features more than 20 award-winning wineries, including the South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, named the California State Winery of the Year, with 76 villas and more than 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
At the northern end of the Inland Empire you can find all manner of outdoor recreation (hiking, mountain biking, skiing) in the 670,000-acre San Bernardino National Forest, or at the mountain resort areas of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. For meetings, the Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa has 173 guest rooms and 23,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, and is near shops and restaurants of Lake Arrowhead Village. In Big Bear, the Northwoods Resort and Conference Center features 147 guest rooms and 9,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
For larger events, the Ontario Convention Center offers 225,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space in its state-of-the-art and eco-friendly facility. And in Temecula Valley, the Pechanga Resort & Casino has 522 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the Eagle’s View Ballroom atop a 14-story tower.