Creative retreats in California’s capital and Sierra Nevada foothills
Coastal California, which gets so much attention for its stellar cities and beaches, also has more people and traffic jams—and depends on inland California for everything, including government, food, recreation and drinking water. Sacramento, in north central California is 90 miles northeast of San Francisco and 105 miles west of South Lake Tahoe. The Gold Country covers the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range foothills running about 200 miles from Sierra County, northwest of Lake Tahoe, south to Mariposa County, southwest of Yosemite National Park and the agricultural Central Valley.
The region’s heritage and pride endures today in a multitude of natural wonders, attractions and museums that celebrate the past and preserve the future. For planners, these attributes are a built-in antidote to the pressure of keeping an event fresh. As an area mostly known for its rugged surroundings, Old West heritage, pioneer spirit and fascinating meeting-friendly venues, the temptations for visitors are numerous. The California capital and its surrounding regions continue to flourish with expanding facilities, while holding the reins as a top regional magnet for meetings. Go for the gold.
Sacramento Convention Center
Located at the convergence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, California’s sixth largest city is known for its small-town charms despite growth over the past 20 years and its role as the heartbeat of the state government. With expansion in both population and commerce, a plethora of new meeting facilities and attractions have emerged.
Greater Sacramento is appealing for its year-round amicable weather and serves as the gateway to the Gold Country region and Lake Tahoe. During the California Gold Rush, Sacramento was a major distribution point, a commercial and agricultural center, and a terminus for wagon trains, stagecoaches, riverboats, telegraphs, the Pony Express and the first transcontinental railroad.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Sacramento provides a rich array of sites for meetings, training sessions, special events and conventions. Beyond the traditional hotel spaces, groups can gather in attractive sites ranging from riverboats to museums.
The Sacramento Convention Center Complex in the heart of downtown is host to more than 600 events each year. It has 134,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space divisible into five sections. Thirty-one meeting rooms are available, including a 24,000-square-foot ballroom. The center also has the 2,422-seat Community Center Theater and is near the 3,849-seat historic Memorial Auditorium.
The Crocker Art Museum opened its 125,000-
square-foot expansion in October 2010, which tripled the size of the facility and added much-needed gallery space and visitor amenities. Exhibits feature everything from classic works to contemporary art and sculpture. The new building creates one of the largest event spaces in Sacramento, with indoor/outdoor seating for 1,200. State-of-the-art education and program facilities include a 260-seat auditorium and meeting center.
Hornblower Cruises runs trips on the Sacramento River. Options include a paddleboat accommodating 250 people indoors and at outdoor tables and a sleek yacht for 120. Groups can choose narrated tours or dining cruises.
Suite at Citizen Hotel in Sacramento
WHERE TO STAY
Downtown Sacramento is known for its concentration of hotels in the city center within walking distance to the convention center, restaurants and cultural attractions. A few outlying properties more than suffice when a group needn’t rely on convention-center access. The 100-room Le Rivage Hotel is an elegant choice on the Sacramento River two miles from downtown. Its European-inspired architecture provides a warm, luxurious ambience. Many of the guest rooms and suites feature river views and private balconies. It has 9,492 sq. ft. of space, from a boardroom to ballrooms, along with outdoor areas—ample options for midsize groups.
Lionsgate Hotel at McClellan Park & Conference Center, about 10 miles northeast of downtown, is situated in the former McClellan Air Force Base-turned business park; it has 126 rooms with 11 meeting rooms across more than 30,000 sq. ft. of space, including the 6,370-square-foot Grand Ballroom and 5,010-square-foot Club Ballroom.
For downtown accommodations, the classics shine. The Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel, known for its foodie heritage and current F&B offerings, is adjacent to the convention center and has 503 rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Also across from the State Capitol building, and adjacent to the convention center, is the elegant Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Sacramento. It has 503 rooms and 28,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor space, including a rooftop fit for creatively themed events with skyline views. A $3 million-plus renovation in September included upgrades to the check-in area, Vines Cafe and Amourath 1819 lounge and meeting spaces on the second and 15th floors.
Lamda Alfa International, the Honorary Society for the Advancement of Land Economics, recently selected Sacramento for one of its two annual meetings. Tim Youmans, managing principal at Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and a Board of Governors member of LAI, chose the 198-room Hotel Citizen, a Joie de Vivre Hotel, located downtown, for the event. "We wanted to use a property that reflected our mission to promote innovative land use, urban renewal and historic renovations," says Youmans. "For our group of 70 attendees, the hotel was a natural choice. We used most of the meeting space available, including the Metropolitan Terrace, Park Plaza Ballroom and second-floor meeting rooms." The group worked with both the hotel sales staff and members of the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau staff. "Attendees found the hotel staff helpful and the rooms very good. It was also a central location for tours of urban development projects in the area," adds Youmans.
Evergreen Lodge, Groveland
The focus is on the mountains and rivers in Sierra County, the northern end of the mining region. It remains much as it was when fortune seekers combed the rivers and mountains in search of gold.
Unspoiled by incongruous development, the Lakes Basin region and western areas top many outdoor adventurers’ lists; here you’ll find more than 100 glacially formed lakes and ponds among a network of trails for hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, rafting and off highway vehicle riding. Historic lodges and restaurants speckle many of the stunning backdrops of the Sierras. Heading south, you’ll find more accommodations and meeting facilities along with historic Gold Country attractions and compelling scenery.
The cities of Folsom, Grass Valley and Placerville, near Sacramento, are popular options for groups seeking accommodations and meeting space off the beaten path with easy access to outdoor activities. Auburn, also on the southern end of the region, has a quaint historic feel.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
The 96-room Holiday Inn Auburn Hotel is a viable option for groups. Its contemporary rooms and public areas, including four meeting and event spaces totaling 3,372 sq. ft., are well-appointed. The Sierra Room and Auburn Terrace have views of the valley and old town. The 38-room Historical Cary House Hotel in Placerville can host small groups of up to 50.
From rafting on the American River—a serious team-building activity for any group—to visiting historic landmarks, activities abound for before and after meeting. Groups of 25–100 can gather for a casual lunch at the Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, and for history buffs, the Gold Country Museum in Auburn is a fine place to begin, with its replica of a hard-rock mine and displays depicting gold extraction methods.
About an hour-and-a-half drive south from Sacramento and two hours east of San Francisco,
Tuolumne County cities and surrounding environs combine the natural beauty of the foothills, lakes and rivers with a storied Gold Rush past. While often known as the gateway to Yosemite National Park, the miles of outdoor wilderness areas, wineries, ghost towns and railroad history attractions are worth a visit on their own. And the region has become a growing affordable-meeting destination.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys is an expansive venue for events. A boardroom holds up to 10 guests and the 2,132-square-foot Placer Room is an ideal reception setting for up to 190. The Heritage Room offers 2,542 sq. ft. for up to 140 for a sit-down dinner. The facility also has a demonstration kitchen and the Alhambra Music Room with a pipe organ. The winery cave area below makes for a spectacular and memorable dinner setting.
The Three-Diamond Best Western Sonora Oaks Hotel & Conference Center was awarded the "Plus" category designation by the brand and has 101 pleasant large rooms, an outdoor swimming pool and an onsite restaurant and lounge. Meetings can be held in the boardroom, Fireside Oak Room with space for up to 40 and Oak Glen Meeting Room accommodating up to 160. Larger groups can also access the nearby Sonora Aladdin Motor Inn, with 61 rooms, and East Sonora Conference Center, with room for groups of up to 120.
Don Pedro Lake is a place for swimming, fishing and camping, and Moccasin Point Marina has deluxe houseboat rentals that are perfect for small groups or team-building activities. The fully equipped cruisers have full kitchens, bedrooms and open deck areas—practical for hourly, single-day or overnight events.
Alternative Meeting Venues
Sonora is central to the region’s bounty. It has a bustling Old West flavor, eateries from casual to foodie-friendly, retro shopping and meeting space. The Sonora Opera Hall is a charming theatrical space with a stage that can accommodate 220 for presentations or up to 180 for sit-down dining. Just outside of town is the Union Hill Inn, a rustic property with multiple options for meetings. Spaces include a restored barn, a chapel and pavilions with room for up to 275.
While many hotels are geared toward tourists, several have noted that group meeting business is making inroads and have retooled to satisfy the needs of planners. Sonora has two primary sites downtown: the 111-room Inns of California with contemporary rooms and The Gunn House Hotel with 22 updated rooms and fresh homemade breakfast pastries. To the northwest in Twain Harte, The Lazy Z Resort has indoor and outdoor meeting areas as well as accommodations in cabins and cottages for 20–35 attendees.
Nearby Jamestown has a picture-perfect Old West main street with antique shops and dining options; the National Hotel & Restaurant serves continental cuisine for groups of 40 or fewer; and Gianelli Vineyards offers wine in its tasting room.
Groveland, better known as a gateway town for Yosemite travelers, is worth a side trip for small groups. Two small historic hotels, the Groveland Inn and Hotel Charlotte, both have B&B-style rooms and restaurants for small group events.
Bordering Yosemite, the Evergreen Lodge, set in a gorgeous forested landscape, is impressive. It has 90 well-appointed cabins and a larger house is also available. The site features an old tavern, a full-service restaurant and 10 indoor and outdoor meeting spaces. The largest, Tuolumne Hall, holds up to 150. Activities include outdoor barbecues, bocce ball, hiking, biking, snowshoeing and rafting.
Several attractions in the area also include unique meeting venues. Columbia State Historic Park, a preserved mid-19th-century town, is also an operating village where stagecoaches meander and the blacksmith shop is open. The old What Cheer Saloon is located in the City Hotel, which offers nostalgic Victorian rooms (with shared baths) and dining for up to 60. The Fallon House Theatre, still used, is another ideal spot; it seats 272.
Seven miles east of Sonora, the Me-Wuk Indian-run Black Oak Casino features nonsmoking gaming areas and a floor with a bowling alley, and it can host events in the elegant Seven Sisters restaurant.
The region is a film and television buff’s dream with settings for movies such as Back to the Future III, High Noon and Unforgiven along with television shows, including Little House on the Prairie, Petticoat Junction and Death Valley Days. The 26-acre Railtown 1897 State Historic Park, near Jamestown, features railcars and tracks used in more than 200 films, shows and commercials. Groups can book a parlor car for events and take steam engine rides April–October. Outdoor catering space is available and indoor areas include a museum and shop with rail-related items.
For golf enthusiasts, the Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course and Country Club, with an 18-hole championship course, is an ideal place to tee up, and then meet in the excellent casual restaurant, The Grill, which seats groups of up to 175. In Sonora, golfers can find tee times and meet at Mountain Springs Golf Club, which also has the course-view Banny’s Restaurant and a lounge.
Top Image: Railtown photo courtesy of the Sacramento CVB
Sacramento International Airport (SMF) is about a 15-minute drive (12 miles) from downtown Sacramento and about an hour-and-a-half drive from Sonora and Yosemite National Park. The airport offers direct flights from most major U.S. cities and is a major hub for United Airlines and Frontier Airlines. Currently, 12 major air carriers offer 158 daily flights.
Travel time to Sacramento from Oakland International (OAK) or San Francisco International (SFO) airports is nearly two hours or more depending on traffic. Amtrak service is available to Sacramento. Driving time to Sonora is also just over two hours from the San Francisco Bay Area.