Hit the big time with meetings in Greater Los Angeles
The streets of Los Angeles may not be paved with gold (that’s Beverly Hills), but any visitor to this Southern California city will soon discover that there’s no lack of red carpet to go around.
In fact, the land of movie premieres and celebrity photo ops is awash in the plushest of red runners, rolled out for the seemingly endless array of posh events that go hand-in-hand with the city’s reputation, and nickname, as the Entertainment Capital of the World.
But then, red carpet is to L.A. as fresh powder is to Park City, Utah. According to LA Inc., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, nine out of 10 special events in the city are hosted on a red carpet, while the color red has always been known for its stimulating, welcoming quality. Even more, red confers a meaning of great authority and a warm style of reception, and is a preferred choice to create an added sense of importance to an honored guest.
Regardless of any perceived reputation, it’s more than just Hollywood A-listers who are able to enjoy the kind of red-carpet treatment that Los Angeles has to offer. Meeting groups often find themselves embraced by a place that is much more accessible and appreciating of meetings business than they imagined, despite any impressions planners may have that the city is too big to care. “For this summer, we’re doing our ‘L.A. Rolls out the Red Carpet’ [campaign],” says Carol Martinez, associate vice president of communications at LA Inc. “It’s about L.A. being very welcoming to groups and visitors. The red carpet is kind of the L.A. welcome mat.”
The Conga Room at L.A. Live.
Before the red carpet is unfurled, any meeting or event in Los Angeles will likely require that your attendees bring a few extra essentials they may not normally have on their packing list, starting with a fresh tube of sunblock for daytime outdoor receptions (and the chance a free afternoon finds them near the beach). After all, L.A. enjoys an average of 320 days of sunshine per year with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. In fact, the city’s perpetually nice weather can be a problem for Hollywood movie productions, often forced to create their own rainy days.
Another must-have for the keyed-in attendee is a proper pair of sunglasses. And while they’re certainly important to keep the sun at bay when stepping out between meetings for lunch, a hot pair of shades is even more vital when the day ends and the bright lights of the big city come up. It’s all about the hip and happening in many sectors of L.A., and the importance of looking the part when living the fab nightlife, even if you’re just a meeting attendee passing through. It’s also an opportunity to see and be seen with Hollywood royalty at the many fashionable nightclubs, swanky lounges and chic restaurants throughout the city (so keep your camera handy).
But then, no city piques the imagination and beckons visitors (and meetings groups) to its borders quite like Los Angeles, conjuring up that old Hollywood magic with just the mention of its name, while for decades drawing wave after wave of dreamers and doers, creators and empire builders. Made up of a pastiche of neighborhoods and smaller cities, Greater Los Angeles sprawls for miles from the Santa Monica Mountains on its northern edge to the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the south, and from the Pacific Coast on its western border to the Chino Hills in the east. With residents from more than 140 countries speaking 224 different languages, you’ll find cultural and ethnic diversity in all corners of the city, from Chinatown and Little Ethiopia to Koreatown and Little Tokyo.
Trophy Room at The Los Angeles Athletic Club.
To the surprise of some, downtown Los Angeles is actually a lively destination well worthy of a visit, with the ability to not only host your meeting and citywide event, but also offering plenty of attractions and activities to keep attendees occupied and entertained for days (and nights). Gone are the times when shops shuttered their doors at 5 p.m. and tumbleweeds seemed to roll through the streets. Gone too are the words once used to describe the area, such as “promising” and “budding.” And while downtown is still growing, with more positive changes coming every month, the area has started to realize its potential as a rising star among L.A.’s many bright options.
Much of downtown’s renaissance, and gentrification, starts with L.A. Live—the open-air entertainment complex adjacent to the convention center that features numerous restaurants, bars and live performance venues.
With the complex now filled and in full operation, options for dining include Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, The Farm of Beverly Hills, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and ESPN Zone, among others, and all of them accommodating to groups.
Meeting-goers will also get a welcome reception at the complex’s entertainment venues, starting with the Conga Room, which specializes in Latin jazz and has hosted the Latin Grammy Awards. A larger option is the 59,000-square-foot Club Nokia, which can accommodate up to 2,300 and offers catering by Wolfgang Puck. Larger still is the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, with a total of 235,000 sq. ft. and a full bar on each of its three levels. The largest entertainment venue downtown is the 20,000-seat Staples Center, host to major concerts and events, including the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles at L.A. Live.
Easily the biggest news of all at L.A. Live, as well as for downtown, is the opening this past winter of the 54-story hotel tower that rises above the landscape like a beacon. Made up of the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, with 878 guest rooms and 77,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, featuring 123 guest rooms, and The Ritz-Carlton Residences, the property is ideally located near the convention center and is also LEED certified. It stands like an exclamation point on the statement that yes, downtown L.A. can now accommodate just about any size and type of group.
“The bureau started selling hotels at L.A. Live four years ago, because we start selling meetings and conventions so far out. It’s just real exciting that the hotels are now open and groups are coming to town—Pulsar was the first group to come and stay at the JW Marriott,” says Martinez of LA Inc. “L.A. Live, with the JW Marriott and The Ritz, that’s the final piece in the puzzle. Having more properties downtown gives more selection for planners.” Martinez adds that while construction has slowed in downtown of late, new building projects are on the books.
While the focal point of downtown’s resurgence has been the addition of L.A. Live and its related hotels, the surrounding area has long offered numerous attractions and unique venues for attendees to take advantage of. “One thing that’s interesting about downtown is they have an art walk [the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk], on Main and Spring streets, and there are a lot of art galleries and restaurants there,” Martinez says. “Another thing in downtown is the fashion district, where people go for bargains, to get textiles and all kinds of unique fabric and clothing.”
With new hotels and so much to do close at hand, downtown is more convenient than ever, offering a walkable alternative in a city famous for its cars and traffic. You can also hop on a DASH bus, which operates exclusively in downtown, or ride the Metro Rail, offering service throughout the city, including direct lines to Hollywood, Pasadena and Long Beach.
Whether you ride or walk, a visit to downtown’s Olvera Street is a glimpse into Los Angeles’ Mexican past (the city was founded near here in 1781). Designated as a California State Historic Landmark, the street offers a traditional Mexican-style plaza with shops and outdoor cafes and taquerias, while weekend visitors are entertained by strolling bollero musicians and Mariachi bands.
Downtown is also where you’ll find a number of L.A.’s museums and performing arts centers, starting with the Disney Concert Hall, an iconic structure designed by Frank Gehry and home to the L.A. Philharmonic. A short distance away on Wilshire Boulevard is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and its Broad Contemporary Art Museum, currently undergoing a transformation to its 20-acre art campus.
Another option for a free afternoon, as well as for hosting events, is the 30,000-square-foot GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live, with a 200-seat theater and four floors of interactive exhibits. The museum, which opened at the beginning of 2009, can work with meeting groups to offer intimate performances from often-famous musicians who call L.A. home.
The largest venue in the city is the Los Angeles Convention Center, with 720,000 sq. ft. of event space, including 64 meeting rooms and a 299-seat theater. The center is also LEED certified—no easy task for an existing building of its size—and is adjacent to the Staples Center and L.A. Live, in what is now referred to as the convention center campus. For a real film and TV studio experience (where the series Mad Men is filmed), one of the only working studios downtown is the Los Angeles Center Studios, which offers six 18,000-square-foot soundstages, a 400-seat theater and the Flix café, all available for private events.
Citywide attendees have a number of options when it comes to hotels in downtown, including the Wilshire Grand Los Angeles, with 900 guest rooms and 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Place, offering 453 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
For eco-conscious groups, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, with 700 guest rooms and 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, was recently awarded the Green Seal for its efforts to conserve resources, prevent pollution and minimize waste.
Sports-minded groups, or those who wish to take advantage of top gym and fitness equipment, should check into the Hotel at The Los Angeles Athletic Club. The hotel recently completed a renovation to its 72 guest rooms, and offers an 80,000-square-foot fitness center and event space for up to 700. One of the swankier options in downtown is The Standard, Downtown L.A., which features 207 guest rooms, 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a rooftop pool and bar ideal for cocktails and lounging the evening away. Coming in mid June, the Luxe City Center Hotel—a former Holiday Inn currently undergoing a $10-million renovation—will be located directly across from the L.A. Live complex with 200 guest rooms.
Just look for the famous Hollywood sign in the hills to the northwest of downtown, head toward it on the Metro Rail Red Line or on Highway 101, and you’ll soon arrive at the cultural heart of L.A. Less a city than a playground for adults, Hollywood is filled with stars: look down while standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine streets and you’ll find sidewalks lined with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010.
W Hollywood Hotel & Residences.
The big news in Hollywood is the opening of the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences this past January, offering 305 guest rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. of event space. A natural for Hollywood, the hotel also features a rooftop bar, 25-yard lap pool and a 6,075-square-foot spa, and is part of the $360-million Hollywood & Vine development project. Down the street at the other end of Hollywood Boulevard near the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is the Hollywood & Highland Center, an entertainment complex with a variety of shops and restaurants.
Adjacent to the center is the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa, with 637 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Nearby is the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel featuring 300 guest rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and the home of the original Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. The current home of the Academy Awards is the 3,332-seat Kodak Theatre located down the street.
Guest suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
For a destination without any obvious tourist sites (no Empire State Building or Golden Gate Bridge), Universal City has become one of the most visited attractions in Los Angeles. For starters, there’s Universal Studios Hollywood, with the ever-popular tours of the film studio backlots, as well as rides such as The Simpsons Movie, Jurassic Park–The Ride and, opening this summer, King Kong, designed by director Peter Jackson. The park includes the 6,000-seat Gibson Amphitheatre and 9,600-square-foot Globe Theatre, both available for private events. Universal CityWalk, an entertainment complex not unlike L.A. Live that offers shopping and restaurants, as well as AMC Theaters and an I-MAX theater, is located within the studio and near many of the attractions.
NBC Universal Studios special events offers a number of studio backlot locations and sound stages for group events for up to 2,500 attendees. Hollywood-themed venues on-site include the Roman-inspired Spartacus Square, the showdown-worthy Western Street and the historic Stage 28, which features the Phantom of the Opera set from the 1925 film.
“What we do at NBC Universal Special Events is a family Halloween carnival, and we usually have around 2,500 people and take up three areas on the lot,” says Marisa Materna, special events manager for Camp Ronald McDonald For Good Times. “It’s a great space for us because it’s all-encompassing, and because it comes with all the power and all the extra things we need. One year we had to do the event off-lot because of filming, so we went to another location and ended up spending twice as much because we had to bring in everything—toilets, generators, food. So doing it at Universal saves us money in the long run because it’s all inclusive.”
Even though Universal City is a mere 415 acres, it offers several top options for meetings, such as the Sheraton Universal Hotel, which has 451 guest rooms and 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and completed a $30-million renovation just over a year ago. Other options include the Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City, with 483 guest rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, and Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn at Universal Studios Hollywood, offering 255 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
For more information on properties, venues and attractions in Greater L.A., visit smartmeetings.com/showcases/greater-los-angeles.