L.A.'s valleys combine the expected and the unexpected
Scene: Exterior of the U.S. Bank Building in downtown Los Angeles at nighttime. The camera pans out to show King Kong at the very top of the building. King Kong roars loudly as the streets filled with people become more and more chaotic. A young woman shrieks and runs through the crowd. The camera focuses in on a man who points up toward the building. He yells, “It has someone in his arms!” The crowd runs and the camera zooms in on the woman’s face in the hand of the beast.
In 1933, King Kong made his debut, wowing audiences from the top of New York’s Empire State Building in the original film. The giant showed up again in 1976, and once again in 2005, always causing havoc on the fearful streets of New York City. Although the screenplays had their differences, they also shared plot similarities—a difference between the expected and the unexpected.
Today, it’s no surprise that King Kong is striking yet again. The unexpected, however, is that this time he’s in Los Angeles. Even more astonishing, visitors can see the beast in an intense 360-degree, 3-D show, created by filmmaker Peter Jackson, during the iconic Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. Yet another shock: The theme park is not located in L.A.’s city of Hollywood; it actually resides in the San Fernando Valley—one of three major meeting-friendly valleys surrounding downtown L.A.
These aren’t the only surprises you’ll find in Los Angeles’ lesser-known valleys, which hold countless options for your groups. “The [San Fernando] Valley is where the major entertainment studios are based,” says Michael Krouse, CHME, CMP, senior vice president of LA Inc., The Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “On the group side, what they specialize in is event venues. They also have a great system for getting attendees in and out smoothly.”
And, as Los Angeles County produces the vast majority of California’s entertainment output, it’s only fitting that you treat your group just like the stars. “When Ellen [DeGeneres] came to Warner Bros. Studios to do her show, they did her 50th birthday party and set the backlot up with a carnival theme—it was great,” Krouse says. It is also something you can do for your group, as the backlots and soundstages at the major motion picture studios are available for private rental.
In addition to the entertainment industry, L.A.’s valleys offer a lot of history, not to mention convenience. You may be familiar with Pasadena in the San Gabriel Valley for its Tournament of Roses, and the San Fernando and Conejo valleys for their regionally accessible airport (i.e., Burbank), but you may not know that the trio lies just minutes away from the metropolitan area. Plus, as the valleys are located north of downtown in between the city’s mountains, they are easily accessible via major highways or public transportation.
All in all, the three valleys have a lot behind the scenes that’s yet to be discovered, and are seemingly as unexpected as King Kong himself.
PASADENA AND SAN GABRIEL VALLEY
In eastern Los Angeles County, the San Gabriel Valley sits at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. This large, 400-square-mile valley enjoys a warm climate much like the rest of the county, and is home to more than 30 cities. Combined, the population is about 2 million residents that make up roughly a fifth of the population of L.A. County.
Most famous in this valley is the city of Pasadena and its Tournament of Roses, which takes place every New Year’s Day and is now in its 122nd year (2011’s theme will be “Building Dreams, Friendships & Memories”). The Rose Parade is such a draw, in fact, that more than 700,000 spectators watch along the parade route, and approximately 51.9 million Americans tune in on their televisions at home. “The Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl games are what it is known for, but Pasadena is really a historic community,” Krouse says. “It started as a suburb of Los Angeles and has kept its historic feel. People like it because it still has that charm.”
Complementing this charm, Pasadena offers the majority of the valley’s meeting venues.
According to Michael Ross, CEO of the Pasadena Center Operating Company (Pasadena CVB is a division of the operating company), “Pasadena is conveniently located nine miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, and meeting planners are pleasantly surprised to find that it’s extremely pedestrian-friendly.” Which is not so surprising once you know that Pasadena is home to 2,500 hotel rooms and 214,000 sq. ft. of total meeting space. “And within downtown Pasadena, visitors can walk between the Pasadena Convention Center, 1,200 hotel rooms and three shopping and entertainment districts,” he says.
Exterior of the Pasadena Convention Center.
At the Pasadena Convention Center, groups will find an updated venue (to the tune of $150 million), as well as a 55,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 18 meeting rooms inside the 28,000-square-foot conference center, the 26,650-square-foot East Pavilion and the 3,000-seat Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The expanded center has also implemented green initiatives in the areas of water use, electricity, recycling and traffic reduction. “Because of its commitment to responsible environmental practices, the facility is expected to receive LEED-Gold certification, making it one of the greenest convention centers in North America,” Ross says.
Surrounding the convention center are five major meeting hotels, including the 296-room Hilton Pasadena, which offers 28,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. On-site, groups can also enjoy the patio, located adjacent to the Grill/Bar 168, an ideal location for hosting small private receptions or an outdoor dining experience.
The largest meetings property in the area is The Langham Huntington, which has been around since 1907, hosting numerous celebrities along the way. Today, the hotel offers 380 guest rooms and 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including three ballrooms, 15 meeting rooms and three boardrooms. Outdoor gardens are also available for groups looking to take in some sunshine.
Nearby is the Sheraton Pasadena Hotel, with 311 guest rooms and more than 11,523 sq. ft. of meeting and banquet facilities. A perk for meeting attendees, the property offers a complimentary shuttle within a three-mile radius for exploring the city’s historic landmarks and attractions, such as the Norton Simon Museum and The Huntington Library.
Other options include the Four-Diamond Westin Pasadena, which features 26,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 350 guest rooms, and the Old Pasadena Courtyard by Marriott, with 10,000 sq. ft. of function space and 314 guest rooms.
To take in Pasadena’s “rosey” spirit, hold your event at the Rose Bowl Stadium, host of the Rose Bowl, as well as numerous community events throughout the year. Planners can use the national landmark for special events in venues that include the press box, the Court of Champions Courtyard, the locker room facilities or the new media center.
Stop and smell the roses—literally—at the Garden of Flowing Fragrance at The Huntington Library. Inspired by the centuries-old Chinese tradition of private gardens designed for scholarly pursuits, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance combines nature with literature and “strives to give deeper meaning to the landscape.” Private events require membership here; however, the garden is still an informative and enjoyable visit for your attendees.
The California Institute of Technology shows off for the brainiacs in your group, as it’s one of the finest academic and research institutions in the world. (It’s where the invention of the Richter scale took place.) Events and meetings can be held here in two auditoriums, the U.S. Geological Center or numerous outdoor spaces, with a maximum indoor banquet capacity of 800 guests.
Get inspired in a different way at 300 Pasadena, a bowling alley with a twist. Offering a chic and fun atmosphere—plus state-of-the-art lanes, floor-to-ceiling video screens and casual dining—the alley has hosted events for big-name clients such as eBay, Google and Capital One.
THE GREATER VALLEY
Along with Pasadena, the greater San Gabriel Valley has plenty more to offer groups, with meeting venues spread throughout in cities such as Pomona and the City of Industry.
In San Gabriel itself, groups can unpack at the Hilton Los Angeles/San Gabriel, a full-service property with 222 guest rooms, including 22 suites that feature a jetted tub and wet bar. Meeting space is aplenty here, with a 12,524-square-foot ballroom, an executive boardroom, a rooftop garden terrace and an additional 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor space.
Heading east, and away from downtown, you’ll find the 650-acre Pacific Palms Hotel & Conference Center. Recently renovated, the hotel showcases multiple after-meeting activities, including a pair of Four-Star golf courses, as well as a new spa and fitness center. In addition, each of the nearly 300 guest rooms has a balcony, and there is more than 45,000 sq. ft. of function space, including the 12,000-square-foot Majestic Ballroom and 28 breakout rooms.
The big news in Pomona is the addition of the new 85,000-square-foot Fairplex Conference Center. Located on the 543-acre Fairplex campus, also home of the Los Angeles County Fair, the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel is a meetings-friendly property with 247 guest rooms and 11,000 sq. ft. of dedicated function space. For convention-sized groups, the hotel has the convenience of being located near the fairgrounds, which add 300,000 sq. ft. of event space.
SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
The San Fernando Valley, also referred to as the Valley of The Stars or simply The Valley, is the hub of a lot of activity for L.A. “The Valley is the home for entertainment,” Krouse says. And he couldn’t be more on the mark, as it’s where Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Bros. and NBC Studios are all based. “Everyone thinks of [filming] happening in Hollywood, but it really happens in The Valley,” he adds.
In addition to soundstages, San Fernando Valley encompasses the cities of Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Los Angeles and San Fernando. Making up a large part of the county, this valley is also a popular place for celebrities to call home. (In the past, celebs included John Wayne and Lucille Ball.)
Sheraton Pasadena ballroom set-up.
Today, with the more recent celebrity sightings of the Kardashian family (famous for their reality TV show), as well as Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, who both film their talk shows here, there are also plenty of places to stay. “The hotel product runs the gamut from the Marriott to the Hilton and Four Seasons. You have a lot of hotel product, as well as great shopping and dining options,” Krouse says. “And you don’t have to get in a car; it’s all right there.”
True to the Hollywood rumors, The Valley does have history due to the entertainment industry. Lesser known, however, is that the area is also fresh and constantly growing. It’s a well-kept secret, Krouse says. He also adds that the area’s hotels are located within established communities, making them feel more comfortable for visitors. “Going to a hotel in The Valley isn’t like going to a downtown hotel. It’s appealing to groups who think of L.A. as a big city, and once they get out to The Valley, they realize it can be more like a small-town feel.”
Major hotels in San Fernando Valley abound, starting off with Hilton properties in both Woodland Hills and Glendale. The 326-room Hilton Woodland Hills/Los Angeles is located in the Warner Center and provides 17,000 sq. ft. of function space. The Four-Star Hilton Los Angeles North/Glendale Hotel & Executive Meeting Center is located closer to the Bob Hope Burbank Airport (with complimentary shuttles available), and has 351 guest rooms and 19,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space.
The Marriott brand is also booming here, with the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills and the Marriott Los Angeles Burbank Airport. The Warner Center property shines with 474 newly refreshed guest rooms and suites as well as 25,000 sq. ft. of function space and a new poolside Urban Oasis with cabanas and a bar. The Burbank Airport property, along with convenience, offers 488 guest rooms, 50,000-plus sq. ft. of function space, including 22 breakout rooms, four VIP boardrooms and the latest in high-tech services. Outside of the meeting room, modern décor meets a state-of-the-art fitness center, two outdoor pools, cabanas and fire pits.
Groups can also meet at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn at Universal Studios Hollywood. With a recently completed $2-million renovation, it’s a great home-base and shows off more than 12,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space and 2,500 sq. ft. of outdoor space.
Truly exceptional to The Valley is hosting your event or meeting at a soundstage—there are more than 100 here—all working hard to film for the Silver Screen. First up, the home of King Kong’s new 3-D attraction, Universal Studios Hollywood. As part of the Studio Tram Tour, the new attraction will take groups into a soundstage and surround them with 360-degree 3-D video screens, complete with a shaking tram and real-life special effects. The options at the park are almost as vast as Kong’s hometown of Skull Island, with full or partial buyouts available. Team-building activities range from custom-created challenges and real-life game shows to personalized, puzzle-filled races through the park or on the Universal Studios CityWalk.
The theme park is a lot more flexible than you may think. “You can make our park your park,” says Audrey Kerr, CMP, with Universal Studios Hollywood Special Events. “You can buy a portion of the park or the whole thing,” she says—groups can range from about 500 attendees to as large as 20,000. “People don’t think of meetings here, but there’s the Globe Theater with an A/V package, unique food options (including Wolfgang Puck catering), and it’s all in the park. You can still do business and add a little fun at an affordable rate.”
The CityWalk at Universal is an exciting option even if your group only has time in between meetings to take a look around. At the CityWalk is the Gibson Amphitheatre, which provides a setting meant to impress. A major concert venue, the amphitheater has hosted nearly every music star, and offers 6,000 seats with the ability to create an intimate seating environment of 3,800. The multipurpose space makes the venue ideal for product launches and major convention groups.
NBC Universal, a division of one of the largest motion picture studios, is another great site for private events. Ideal for planners, the venue also comes with the Studio Special Events Team, which will help you plan your event on a soundstage or backlot movie set. The spaces are flexible, accommodating up to 800 indoors and 2,500 outdoors. If you’d like to incorporate team building here, they also have a Make Your Own Movie event, which allows your attendees to write, act and direct in their own movie on sets used in Hollywood blockbusters.
In addition, you can treat your attendees to a special event at Warner Bros. Studios, which can host from 20–10,000 in its studio backlot. Themed events here include such locations as the streets of Paris or Las Vegas, or groups of 36 or more can sign up for a VIP studio tour that comes complete with lunch on the famous backlot.
If you’d rather stay away from the bright lights, the Airtel Plaza Hotel can accommodate groups in 267 guest rooms and 22,000 sq. ft. of function space, including an outdoor garden, 18 meeting rooms and two ballrooms. What makes it unique, however, is that it’s situated on the Van Nuys Airport property, which means that private jets can basically drop passengers off at the hotel’s front desk (talk about VIP treatment!).
Approximately 30 miles northwest of the city of L.A. is the Conejo Valley, encompassing cities such as Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks and the hotel-centric Westlake Village.
Most notable for meetings is the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, which offers 270 guest rooms and 45,000-plus sq. ft. of meeting and event space. Located in the hotel is the California Health & Longevity Institute, known for its 360-degree approach to health and wellness, with fitness facilities and spa treatments. Wellness-themed meetings are big here, as well as customized packages that focus on team or company-wide health.
Manicured gardens and Mediterranean décor define the Hyatt Westlake Plaza in Thousand Oaks, with 262 guest rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space. Groups can take advantage of the Southern California weather in outdoor event venues such as an atrium and a gazebo.
The Westlake Village Inn is also nearby and spans 17 acres. Venues here include an outdoor fireplace (which comes with 2,800 sq. ft. of event space), a wine cellar and two meeting rooms that offer their own private entrances for your group.
- Bar Celona, Pasadena | Modern Spanish tapas
- Café Santorini, Pasadena | Authentic Mediterranean cuisine
- The Castaway, Burbank | Steak and seafood
- Mastro’s Steakhouse, Thousand Oaks | Upscale steak and seafood
- Parkway Grill, San Gabriel Valley | Regional American cuisine
The Valleys are accessible via numerous major and regional airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, San Bernardino International Airport, Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport and L.A./Ontario International Airport.
- Getting up close and personal with King Kong at Universal Studios Hollywood
- Celebrity sightings at NBC Universal
- Immersing yourself in culture at The Huntington Library
- Visiting the famous Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena
- Wishing you had your own private jet at Airtel Plaza Hotel
- A few hours at the Norton Simon Museum